Church · community · Worship

Build Community: Yes, But How ?

In other posts I’ve been writing about the church and the inward looking mindset that often plagues us. I’ve suggested that the order of priorities that prevails much of the time: Worship – Community – Mission is the wrong way round and it should be: Mission – Community – Worship.

Even so, I want to say something about worship as the launch pad for mission. Worship is, or should be transformative. It should be the place where we are not sure whether we are in heaven or on earth. It should be the place where we are re-centred in our mission to make God’s love in Jesus Christ known.

In thinking about what constitutes this quality of worship, I came across the following in a book called ‘At Heaven’s Gate’ by Richard Giles.

Good worship springs from an authentic and palpable sense of community. Once we learn what it means to be a genuinely interactive community of faith, we shall draw forth from one another a whole range of talents and ministries to create extraordinary worship. Although worship can, and does happen at gatherings of strangers and on one-off special occasions, good worship at the local level, week in week out, depends very much on the quality of the common life enjoyed by that local community. Good worship begins with a whole and happy community.

It cannot be done the other way round, for worship used as a sticking plaster for a dysfunctional community will not last very long. …… Building community is the first priority therefore of a church intent on renewing its worship.

… It will require community building that will embrace many aspects of our community life, providing various opportunities for members of the community to get to know one another better, to listen to one another and strengthen the bonds that tie them together.

Coffee after worship; events that combine elements of worship; spiritual formation and socializing; small groups that provide opportunities to learn; worship and shared meals in a home setting; pilgrimages; retreats; outings; working parties to tackle particular projects. All are ways of building up a sense of belonging and purpose.’

Now if I had written this at any other time, we might pay attention to these words and set about paying more attention to these ways of building community.

However … this is not ‘any other time !’ If the above words have any truth, then Christian worshipping communities must, as a matter of urgency, seek to find other ways in this constrained atmosphere to build community.

For example,

  • Resourcing worship at home for families and encouraging ‘bubbles’ to worship together.
  • Being more intentional, as we were at the beginning of lockdown, to serve one another through helping out with shopping etc.
  • Small ‘whatsapp’ groups or similar. (I say small because my experience is that as groups get larger engagement gets less)
  • Working parties (currently up to six people) to do for example some local clean ups, or tidy church gardens etc.
  • Socially distanced walks for small groups. (Sitting in the garden together might be too chilly, but walks could work)
  • Using technology (eg Zoom) for group get togethers. My experience again is that the larger the number the more difficult it is. (Some people find this helpful, whilst others don’t).

This isn’t going to be easy, but getting some energy into ways of building community in churches seems even more crucial in these times.