There have been some notable changes which have taken place within many of our organizations and institutions, including the church. Among some of the changes within the church has been the shrinking of many “mainline” congregations in recent years. At the same time there has also been the apparent growth taking place within the “mega-church” movement, as well as a renewed interest in the creation and development of house (or home) churches. All of these factors would seem to indicate that significant changes have and will continue to occur as our culture transitions away from the modern era and into a postmodern period.
And yet, what is not so clear is if these changes have had any real impact on the way in which we now choose to identify and define the community (or communities) to which we belong. Has our moving away from a “Gutenberg” to a “Google” culture somehow affected or reshaped the way in which we now enter into authentic community with others? How important is it to us that those within our community share the same basic beliefs and ideologies that we do? Are the walls that we construct around our community solid and fixed; or are they more fluid and flexible, allowing easier access for others to come inside and to belong?
The 17th century poet and author, John Milton, has been credited with the quote: “Loneliness is the first thing which God’s eyes named not good.” And although much has certainly changed in the world since Milton first uttered those words, the one thing that has not changed is that we all desperately seek people to connect with and a place to belong. It’s who we are. It’s the way we were created to be. Yet how we choose to establish meaningful relationships with one another and the methods we use to keep ourselves connect as community continues to change and evolve. And there is no other place that this is truer than in the church.
However there is another dynamic at work in this community we call the “church” that is not found in any of our other friendships or relationships we maintain. For it is not just about a connection we share with one another, but also the connection we share with God.
The challenge for current and future leaders in the church will be to not only understand the dynamics and nuances of community construct within the emerging culture, but also be able to boldly navigate these waters as they guide and assist others toward a lasting and meaningful relationship with Christ and one another.
Note: Matt wrote this essay as part of a larger paper submitted for his ongoing doctoral studies work at George Fox Evangelical Seminary.