Gathered and Scattered…can you have it both ways?!?!

I like to describe our church @LosAltosGrace as having a “conventional church skin” and an “organic church soul.” Yes we have a Sunday Morning Worship Service, Sunday School, Youth Groups, and even a Christian School. To the casual observer, we have a very conventional church. But the Biblical principles which are foundational for how our church truly functions are much more organic than conventional. This kind of “animal” can be difficult for some to understand.

One of the things that we have been moving into for the past ten years is seeing the “groupings” of our church family as “mini-churches” or actual “organic expressions of the church.” Those groupings are adult Sunday School classes, young adult ministry, and even our choir! A couple of my friends, Phil Helfer (one of our pastors) along with organic church leader Neil Cole co-authored an excellent book called Church Transfusion which deals with this very topic.

Well, last weekend our church had a family meeting…just like all families do. We talked about what has gone on in the life and ministry of our church in the recent past. We also talked about money and about how God has provided and what it seems He is leading us to do. One of the things that members of our family have started doing is saving towards buying new carpet for the auditorium. We actually took this as an indication that we could invite others to save for that too, and when it’s fully funded, we can do the work. (There are a few other things that we itemized to help upgrade our facility, primarily in the auditorium)

In honest questioning, a very faithful and active member of our spiritual family asked, “If the new normal for our church is “organic” and with churches in homes, why are we renovating the auditorium? You can’t have it both ways!”

Wow, what a great question! A very important question! A question I wrestled with and prayed about for much of the week. I finally was able to string together my thoughts and sent the following response:

I’ve thought and prayed about how to respond to your email. I didn’t want to do so with haste, and I hope that my delay hasn’t offended you.

LookingBothWaysIn short, I do think you can have it both ways. Our facility is merely a facility, but it gets A LOT of use. It houses a preschool and an elementary school whose ministry is important and needs these upgrades as well. Our auditorium is used by our church family at least 52 times each year on Sunday mornings. That is a value for us as a family. It’s a touchpoint for our family — a time touch base each week and do some important things together: worship together with other saints, expose ourselves to the Scripture, connect with others in our family relationally and provide an entry point for others who are looking to find God or a spiritual family. Some people can make it each week, some can’t. It is a gathering time that is an important value. It isn’t the sum total of who we are as a spiritual family though. Our Los Altos Grace family is scattered throughout Southern California. Each of them would know that right now the time when they can connect with the largest percentage of our family would be a Sunday morning.

Families have this same phenomenon. Mealtime for example. Supper maybe served at 5:30 or 6pm each night. Everyone in our family knows that, but sometimes Mindi can’t make it because she has class, or one of the kids have a ball game. We have a rhythm and a habit as a family. We set the table, pray, eat, talk about our days, laugh and we clean up after. When someone isn’t at the table we miss them. We don’t doubt their part in our family nor do we think they are being rebellious. We trust that as they can, they will be at the table with us. We like the gathering of our family. It’s a habit, a rhythm, but it doesn’t define our family. Our kids are part of our family when gathered, or when scattered!

I’d suggest that the church is the same…scattered and gathered. Not one or the other. There are thousands and thousands, make that millions of people in Southern California who will never come to our Sunday gathering. Our charge is to go and make disciples…so we are seeking to do that. To “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” and not to forsake the assembling of yourselves together (Hebrews 10). We want to be all things to all men so that by all possible means God might save some. We don’t do this perfectly, or maybe even that well. But it is our calling as disciples, and as a church. Some of our gatherings will be in homes, or parks or schools. We will probably always have a Sunday morning gathering at our humble facility at 6565 Stearns Street.

Also we hope that our spiritual family will become scattered and decentralized, much in the same way as our kids grow up and move away. They start families of their own. This is true of you as your children are scattered from your dinner table now. It is a maturity thing, and we want to see God continue to scatter our spiritual family as well.

I value your investment and leadership in our church family. I’ve learned much from you as you faithfully love our Lord and do His work… Thanks for your desire to call our spiritual family to a heart-felt and obedient worship of our amazing Jesus. I hope that is helpful for you and I’d love to buy you a cup of coffee and talk about this more if you want to.

___

What do you think?

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