This morning I was reading N. T. Wright’s Simply Christian and came across a great quote. I was actually sitting in the warm Arizona sunshine enjoying a few days of relaxation while I’m sure many folks were in church. I was, in essence having a time of communion with God as I read and enjoyed the sounds of nature that were so alive on this mild, desert morning. The words that especially caught my eye, and were so refreshing to me were describing the church,

It’s where you’ll find people learning to pray, coming to faith, struggling with temptation, finding new purpose, and getting in touch with a new power to carry that purpose out. It’s where people bring their own small faith and discover, in getting together with others to worship the one true God, that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

I find this so refreshing because it has nothing to do with the externals we tend to associate with “worship” today. Those externals of music, sound, style, programs, design and many other so called features churches talk about to market themselves to an uninterested, disengaged public. I find myself longing for authenticity, relationship, transparency, shared struggles, and in general being loved and accepted rather than judged. Why, in so many instances has church become a place for performance rather than community? 

I love getting together with a group of people and just being me; being accepted like I am and being appreciated in spite of how different I may or may not be from the others in the group. That seems to happen more outside the church than within. More with the so-called non-Christians than with those who call themselves believers. I wonder what that means! 

A community is a group of people who care about each other more than they should.

This quote is from a significant business book of 2000, The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual. I’ve been reflecting on that quote and have come to like it on multiple levels. When you place it within the context of Christian community it becomes especially interesting.

Have you ever been part of a group of people where things have just clicked? You loved being together. You’d do anything for each other. You looked for excuses to spend time with each other, and when you were together the conversation flowed effortlessly. By all outward appearances you cared about each other more than you should – at least that’s what some were maybe thinking.

I believe this is the kind of community Jesus speaks of, and longs for us to experience. The Acts 2 kind of daily gatherings where people just did life with each other. From the outside looking in I imagine there were many people who thought they cared about each other more than they should. But that’s part of what happens when there’s a supernatural kind of connection between people. You can’t explain all of the reasons why you just love being together.

I’m not talking about some kind of exclusive group that keeps others out; that’s not Acts 2 (the Lord added to their number daily). I’m speaking of true community where people join together largely because of shared experience, shared purpose and goals. A community where God is really at the center and life is truly a shared experience. You can call it whatever you like: Small Group, Sunday School, Church, Affinity Group, Organic Church, Body of Christ, Community.

No huge point here, just a reminder that God flows through community; the body of Christ.

I have admired Andy Stanley for several years now and believe there are obviously “good things” happening at North Point. Of course, that depends on how you define good things. More than a year ago a friend of mine who lives outside Detroit told me he was attending a North Point Strategic Partner church. I thought it was an interesting concept to have a church in Detroit fashioned after a church in Atlanta, and where you actually viewed Andy Stanley sermons on the screen. My friend said he was a little skeptical at first but really enjoyed the approach and felt it was being received well. After our initial conversation I didn’t give it a whole lot of thought.

Several days ago I ran across an Out of Ur post that brought the entire thing back to mind, and as I read it I thought, interesting… and disturbing. I always applaud creative approaches, and I really think the idea of a growing church replicating their efforts in another part of the city or even country is an interesting concept. Obviously things are working for them so why not take the same formula and put it into play in another location. It works for McDonald’s and a host of other businesses so why not church? Well, that’s where the disturbing thing comes into play for me.

I feel like church needs to be local. It not only needs to be led by local people but it needs to be contextualized to the local culture. We’re not selling burgers here, we’re sharing the good news of Christ’s forgiveness and experiencing life with each other. The idea is not to build up a kingdom, other than God’s. I’m sure Andy Stanley’s motives are pure but what’s so special about him and his methods of doing church that calls for franchising it around the country? Is this model the next version of televangelism? Is it the new form of denominationalism (like we need another denomination)? Are we losing the idea of the shepherd feeding the flock? Great idea or misguided concept? What are your thoughts?