Finding the Balance between Gathering for Church and Scattering for Church

This email came to me from a pastor who has taken the missional community bug pretty seriously over the last five years.  He’s now wrestling with a question we get asked over and over. Maybe it is something you’re wrestling with as well.

Ken says, “I wanted to asked you what you learned about the gathering dimension of your community especially the every week worship pros and cons. We only meet all together once per month and I’m rethinking my hard stance on not “over celebrating” and would love your thoughts. Secondly. How do you keep folks from wearing out in mission? I. E. How do you keep a high bar for mission and support your leaders and core teams?”

My response: To answer the how we support our leaders, core teams, missional community leaders, we do an every 8 week village leader gathering to keep them visioned up, loved on, and do group coaching. So far that’s been enough. We also offer “coaching” whenever the leaders just need more of our time.  Most take us up on this once or twice a year but Matt and I see them informally all the time so we have a pretty good idea how they’re doing.

*As far as helping people not wear out, I think you have to coach them and ask them why they are so tired. Are they naturally integrating life with lost people into normal daily experience or are they over programming even their community time.  The biggest issue we see is people getting too intense about their weekly community. They drive it like a mega-church pastor has to drive program!

We keep a 2-1-1 schedule for our folks and they don’t seem to bring up being tired. So in a given month, we say, get together twice a month for a spiritual time around scripture/prayer, etc, once a month go serve people together, and once a month throw a party for friends together.  That’s just one thing a week so even if you do a weekly church gathering, it should not be that big of a deal.  Even on the “bible study” type of weeks, we discourage a two-hour talk.

For my own village, we experienced a deep time together just by downloading “sacred-space.com” and doing a 10-minute liturgy together followed by just talking. We were all hockey parents with practice 5 days a week so this was perfect and restful for our entire group.

The harder questions is the gathering/scattering dilemma.  We’re finding that people are succeeding and failing at all ends of this spectrum so it’s really hard to give you my impression. Because we started with a more scattered ethos, we’ve been able to do one week gathering-next week scattering; we’ve done every week gathering, and even this summer we had no gatherings because we didn’t have a building. Everyone did fine regardless. But now we’re back to weekly so we’ll see what happens.

Here’s my gut sense however: *** most Christians aren’t very incarnational and thus they need the gathering just to keep their heads above water. Yes, it does create a more consumeristic leaning but it doesn’t have to go that way as long as you create enough vision and opportunity for them to give their lives away.  So regardless, never “just do church.” Make the gathering heavy on vision, outward focus, speak often and fondly of what your communities are doing and keep a good pace of assimilation into training and non-consumer experiences.

For instance, we make everyone go through the TK Primer. And in a few months we’re launching a “barefoot primer” which is another 8 weeks in social needs experiences for all our people. And we’re going to mandate that for everyone in adullam and all our communities. So even with a weekly gathering, we’re going to keep kicking butt toward holistic/sacrificial/missional gospel life.

*Yes, I know everyone seems to think we’ve got this nail designs, but half of our communities are ‘barely missional.’  People are deeply broken and their brokenness hinders missional life.  Thus, having a gathering for baseline spiritual connectedness and entrance into the missional life is critical.

For a Midwest crowd, I think I would give them more gatherings but also add some gathered experiences that push them out. For instance we always take the months with 5 weeks and take everyone out to serve together.  We also take 4-5 Sabbath weeks off, like we did this Labor day. We take July 4th, Sunday after Christmas, and a few others to simply rest and that also seems to help people not be dependent upon a church service.