Written by Dr. Larry Anderson
Saturday, 21 July 2012 00:00
Pastors today are scratching their heads wondering why their congregations are not excited about going out into the community to reach the people. The frustration of motivating the membership to commit to outreach is significant. What is being discovered is that people are not comfortable doing outreach because being neighborly is no longer natural. Many church goers cannot give the first and last names of the neighbors whose homes are located directly next to theirs. As a pastor, I’m noticing the lack of community has also made its way into the church.
Of course, church growth does not allow everyone to know each other’s name, however, there is also an intentional barrier being put in place to keep people at a distance. The consumer mentality says "I’m here to receive something, whether it is a good word, some nice music, or the casual fellowship, but I am not interested in giving something." Whether it is time, tithes or testimony, these are not areas most postmoderns are ready to release to their neighbor.
Small groups have been heavily relied upon over the last two decades to bring back the community, accountability, and fellowship in the church, but the question is, does it work? While reading some of the latest Barna research information, it was discouraging to see the lack of accountability currently within the church. However, in the miniscule percentages of churches that do have some form of accountability, the number one method of doing so was with small groups. In a culture of no absolutes and universal tolerance, judging anothers’ behavior and holding them accountable is viewed as antiquated and ignorant, at best.
Concerning community and fellowship, it has been discovered that if there were no relationships among the participants prior to the forming of the small groups, the chances of a community forming to the point of genuine intimacy and lasting fellowships were minimal. However, if friends with common interests in similar stages of life formed groups, the chances of these becoming a viable source of community increase significantly.
I’m looking to start some small groups this fall, and I’m praying that these groups will organically form and become intimate community settings which will surrender to the 'love thy neighbor' principle and prepare us to continue reaching out to our broader community and inviting them to join us in a relationship with one another and Jesus Christ.
Your feedback, experience, and advice are welcomed.
Larry L. Anderson Jr. is Assistant Professor of Practical Theology and the Director of the Urban Programs at Biblical. He is also the pastor of Great Commission Church, previously located in the suburb of Roslyn, PA, but now situated in the West Oak Lane community of Philadelphia to provide a holistic ministry to an urban setting.