In my last post, I wrote about a recent observation I made as a pastor of a small church ministering to folks who aren’t able to get access to pastors in the large churches they attend. While my intent wasn’t to call out megachurches for doing something wrong, it was to speak to the challenge larger churches face when it comes to creating space for people to authentically share life and equip folks for ministry, not just gather people for a church event.

The responses I received via Facebook, email, and face to face and phone conversations (yes, it’s true, people still communicate without the interment) affirmed that folks want to connect and want to be trained.

The question is, why isn’t this happening in churches everywhere?

The truth is, this isn’t a megachurch problem. Both large and small churches struggle in these areas. As a small church we’ve encountered our own challenges in calling people to engage in authentic shared life and equip them for ministry. At the heart of it, there are three trends of western culture that inhibit people from sharing in life together and being equipped.

1. Autonomy & Independence – The American way is one of self-sufficiency. We honor and up hold the story of the “self-made man/woman.” We believe those who are strong pull themselves up by their bootstraps and forge their own way. We believe being dependent on others is a sign of weakness. The result of this belief has led to functional isolation. We are around people all the time, but completely alone. We’re always connected, but our constant connection actually leaves us more disconnected.

2. The Focus on Image over Vulnerability – The advent of the online social network has reinforced our propensity to autonomy. It’s created a whole new avenue for voyeurism – we can easily peer into the lives of others without having to interact with them. Our social networks serve as a platform for us to digitally create a manufactured image and promote our mundane lives as more exciting than they really are. If left unchecked, we end up spending more time building our online image rather than sitting with people sharing in their struggles and joys and allowing them to share in ours.

3. Consumer Mindset – Whether it’s making a purchase in a store or ordering a coffee to go, we view a significant portion of our lives through the lens of a consumer. Two of the big questions consumers seek to answer are, “Was I served well?” and “Did I get my money’s worth?” If the answer to those two questions is “No.” it’s natural for a consumer to make a return, issue a complaint and/or take their business else where.

These three trends have significantly shaped the way Americans view the world and when these trends get brought into the church they naturally create barriers to community and equipping. Large churches are often criticized for playing into these trends. Worship services where the attender can remain anonymous. Book store, coffee shop and food courts make the church feel more like a shopping mall than a house of worship. And all the people on stage are young, hip and good-looking.

But the truth of the matter is size DOESN’T matter. People who lead and attend small churches are effected and infected by the same cultural trends as people who lead and attend large churches. In our 150 person church I’m constantly lured into thinking that if our church had the right “hip image” we’d see growth and be “relevant and successful.” I’ve also seen people in our tiny church resist entering into our community and move on to other churches because their preferences weren’t met.

So again, it’s not megachurch issue. The issue is whether or not the Church is giving way to the values and priorities of the culture or seeking to be an alternative community with in the culture.

I believe one of the ways to be an alternative community is to call people to more – more intimacy in their church relationships and more responsibility in church leadership.

When we follow the Jesus model of ministry (who, by the way, was good at drawing a crowd) – we observe that he didn’t build community and equip disciples as two separate activities. The way he equipped was through building community. He opened up his life and invited people in. He taught them about what he was doing in real-time and gave them opportunities right away to do the same thing. If we want the church to be a catalyst in reshaping the western worldview that’s impacted the Body of Christ, we have to call people to something deeper and something more than church attendance.

But I’m finding it’s not for the faint of heart. Life in community is messy. Investing in others is inefficient and slow. Allowing people to see the good, the bad and the ugly in your life is humbling.

Jesus’ words ring true when he says being his disciple will cost you everything. But, in the end, perhaps the price of not is higher.

Where and how have you seen our cultural trends invade the church?
Where and how have you see the church respond in hopeful ways?