Archive for the “Emerging Church” Category

What’s missing today is a high-quality discourse on rethinking the design and evolution of the entire system from scratch.

The quality of the results produced by any system depends on the quality of awareness from which the people in the system operate.

(Otto Scharmer)

Since writing the first batch of posts on Missing Generations I’ve been lucky enough to be part of two events and several conversations which have expanded my thinking on some of the topics I raised.  I think those events and conversations have at least begun to produce a quality of awareness…

 

The Church is perfectly designed to achieve what we are currently achieving. (Alan Hirsch)

Those were the opening words of Alan Hirsch at a recent conference, The Shaping of Things To Come… in Scotland.  He and Michael Frost were talking through some of the thoughts from the book of the same name (The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century Church) and Hirsch was basically saying that our focus on pastor/ teacher leads to a focus on an intellectual style of engagement.  We have pretty much ignored other forms of ministry like apostle, prophet and evangelist.  That means we skew our thinking in one direction and that has led to the church we have today.

That analysis would certainly explain our present forms of worship and even our liking of austere buildings.  We could trace that back to the reformation and tie it to the Enlightenment but it also chimes with a second conversation I was part of with Brian McLaren.  The link below is Brian’s podcast at a recent conference and he was saying the same thing at the event I was at.

Brian McLaren at children,youth and a new kind of Christianity  http://www.woodlakebooks.com/files/CYNKC-Brian%20McLaren-Christian%20Faith%20and%20the%20Next%20Generation.mp3

His assertion is that we are telling the wrong story, or at least telling the story in the wrong way.  That stems from even further back than the reformation and Brian blames those pesky Greco-Romans and their philosophy.  He says that the story we tell is transposed onto Plato’s ‘Cave’.

greek philosophy diagram

So our version is:

christianity diagram

McLaren’s assertion is that our story is something very different.  Our story begins with the Exile.  That cycle of exile, rediscovering a relationship with God, returning and forgetting again.  Genesis is the prequel and the sequel is Isaiah and his vision of the kingdom which leads us to Jesus and the incarnation.

One of Hirsch and Frost’s thoughts is that we focus too much on one particular end of the story of Jesus.  We focus on the cross, resurrection and the return.  We forget the incarnation.  We forget an amazing and hugely significant part of the story, the life of Jesus, here on Earth.

Michael Frost talked about ‘excarnation’, the opposite of ‘incarnation’.  Excarnation means stripping away flesh.  I wonder if that’s what we have done in the way that we tell the story of Jesus, or in how we behave as Christians?  It would seem that rather than being an incarnational community, a community in the flesh, we have become in many ways an excarnational community, a community of thought.

If that is true then it has some serious implications for us.  We are, again, telling the wrong story.

And that leads to us doing the wrong things.  We focus on learning rather than sharing, study rather than community and maintaining an institution rather than participating in a movement.

Hirsch asked the question: Did you get into this to run a club or build a kingdom?  Why do we spend all our energy doing the former and not the latter?

I’ve come across this video in a couple of places now.  I think part of the trap of the club is that we are stuck in a cycle of property ownership and wages.  What if money was no object?  What would you do?

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Is the Church, all wretch and no vomit?

A final thought for now:

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Einstein

 

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What spiritual practices do you do?

Eh?  What’s a spiritual practice?

I wrote in my chapter of Inside Verdict that the church isn’t very good at helping members keep the promises they make.  I promised to read the Bible, to pray and to join with other believers in worship.

Reading the Bible is difficult.  So it’s nice that someone explains it for 15 minutes once a week.

Praying is hard.  So it’s nice that the same person prays on my behalf for a few minutes once a week.

Joining other believers in worship is ok.  So long as I’m able to get there at 11am on a Sunday and I’m ok with ‘joining’ meaning sitting in rows looking at the back of someone’s head (if it’s busy enough that there is someone sitting in front of me).

It’s easy to criticise, but I think one of the most profound failings of the church with all age groups is our failure to help people develop spiritual practices.

Most people reading this won’t know what I’m talking about.  We don’t even use the phrase in our churches.

Christianity has a rich tradition of spiritual practice.  Prayer is one of them.  Meditation.  Fasting.  Walking the labyrinth.  Prayer beads.  Retreats. Lectio divina.  And yet we don’t talk about them, much less promote and practice them.

In fact, the very opposite is sometimes true.  We are suspicious of spiritual practices.  They are things that other religions do.

We have been shaped by the Enlightenment to such an extent that we now have an almost entirely cerebral faith.  God lives in our heads, not our hearts.  Except that’s not really anyone’s experience of God, is it?  We feel God.

I quoted a passage from Alice Walker’s book The Color Purple on Sunday:

Shug Avery asks ‘Celie, tell the truth, have you ever found God in church?’

Celie’s answers ‘I never did.  I just found a bunch of folks hoping for him to show.  Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me.  And I think all the other folks did too.  They come to share God, not find God.’

God doesn’t live in church.  God lives in everything.  We say it, but if we really believe that then how do we equip people to see God in everything and meet God everywhere rather than coming to church expecting to find God there and leaving disappointed?

Spiritual practices are a key to helping us have a deeper faith (and better mental health!).

The reason the Enlightenment left us with a cerebral faith was literacy.  People can read.  The church is only just catching up with this remarkable development.  Before mass literacy (that’s not a theological pun!) people needed someone to read to them and explain what things meant because they had no access to books.  That has changed.  Completely.  Our style of worship hasn’t.

So, what is worship for?

Someone once told me it is how we show God his worth.  I like that answer but it lays down a challenge.  If God means everything to us then shouldn’t worship be about everything we are and all that God means?

I think at some level worship needs to do three things; connect, engage, inspire.

Connect

Worship has to connect with people.  Deeply.  It has to help people connect with themselves, each other and God.  A sermon can do that.  Singing can do that.  Prayers can do that.  But so can other things.  Connection is one of the things Xers and Yers need.

Engage

Worship has to be engaging.  It has to draw people in and create a space where people feel able to engage without fear.  But it also has to engage with the world.  Worship can’t be a nice, safe spiritual bubble.  It has to reflect the joys and the struggles.

Inspire

Worship has to inspire change.  I’m fed up being told I fall short.  I know.  I get it.  Help me to be better.  Inspire me, don’t blame me.  We talk about forgiveness but it feels like someone keeps a list, and the list gets added to each week.  Worship needs to encourage us to be more and to make a difference in the world.

I keep returning to these arrows.

The balance and focus of spiritual practice and of worship is vital.  These are like chair legs.  The story is the floor (backwards and forwards).  If we neglect ourselves (inward), our church/fellow travellers (together), our community and world (outwards) or God (upwards) then we end up on a chair with uneven legs and we spend all of our time wondering why it is so hard to balance.

So, what spiritual practices are you engaging with?  What is worship for?  What should it look like?  And who should do it?

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I’ve been one for 20 years.

It began around 1989 when I completed the Boys’ Brigade’s King George IV officer cadet training and became a BB officer.

I’ve worked with young people and the adults who work with them for all of my adult life.  Most of this work has been in a church context and for most of that time I have been employed to work for a denomination.

I am a trained community worker with knowledge and skills in community building, group work, informal learning, social research and reflective practice.

I lead worship almost every Sunday in a variety of churches.

I teach ministers in training and in service and I lecture on a Youth And Community Work with Applied Theology degree.

No one has ever called me one.

In fact just the opposite.  People often ask me when I will become a proper one.  A minister.

They mean a Minister of Word and Sacrament.  A dog collar wearing, robed up preacher who is allowed to preside at Communion, conduct weddings and baptise people.

I don’t blame people for this.  That’s the only kind of ‘minister’ they know.  And that’s the problem.

That view of ministry creates a hierarchy of ministry with the Ministers of Word and Sacrament at the top and it doesn’t leave any space for the ministries that others perform.  That means that we don’t value those ministries.  In fact we don’t even talk about them in terms of ministry.

When was the last time you heard a Sunday school teacher talk about their ministry?  Or someone serving soup in a lunch club talk about their ministry?

Our understanding of ‘Ministry’ is killing the church.

Ministers (the word & sacrament kind) aren’t killing the church.  They are as much the victim of this as anyone else.

As soon as you elevate one position above others you create a hierarchy.  We ‘set ministers apart’.  Set apart from what?  Life?  Responsibility?  Other people?  Sadly, it’s the later.  We tell ministers that they are special, different, called to something by God, and then we complain when they act like it.

I think the job of ‘minister’ is important.  I think that it is good for communities to have someone who is enabled to spend their time working to build and sustain the community, to inspire and lead, to equip and enable.

But that’s not what we train ministers to do.

We train them to do our theology for us.  That’s dangerous.  Not because they aren’t good at it but because it means we, the mere mortals in the pews, don’t have to bother.

I’ve worked as a youth worker.  People employ youth workers partly for their skills but also partly so they don’t have to do youth work.  Someone else will do it on their behalf.  I heard a phone in on the radio the other day about litter.  The resounding opinion of the callers was ‘I’m not picking up someone else’s litter.  That’s someone else’s job.’  And that’s how it is with ministry.

Often Ministers fall into the trap and play along.  And complain that people leave everything to them.  Congregations fall into the trap and play along.  They leave everything to the minister and complain that they don’t get to do anything.

We have a system that de-skills people, including Ministers.  For example, training in practical theology doesn’t make you a marriage or bereavement counsellor and yet we expect ministers to do these jobs, and with no professional supervision.  The good ones know their limitations and pass people on to those who can deal with these issues but too many think their theological training means they can deal with difficult situations.

At the same time we may have people in our congregations with these skills who feel unable to offer them because pastoral care is the Minister’s job.

We have a system that means we value 1 hour a week more than the other 167.  The sad think is we actually expect very little of people in that 1 hour.  Their role is to sing, shut their eyes, listen and put money in the plate.

This just won’t do.

In an organisation like this Builders will try to maintain what is.  Boomers will hijack any power that’s going (look around a kirk session, elder’s meeting or parish council and tell me that’s not true!).

Xers and Yers on the other hand will just go off and find places that their contribution is sought and valued, where their opinion is expected and their thoughts encouraged and developed.

Church needs to start to value the spiritual gifts of everyone equally.  The Sunday school teacher’s ministry is just as, if not more important than the Minister’s.  The person who makes the soup for the lunch club’s ministry is just as, if not more important than the Minister’s.  Growing faith and feeding people.  When did they become something less?

If we are going to persist with Ministers of Word and Sacrament their role needs to be much more about being the teaching elder they are meant to be.  Their role has to be about enabling, encouraging and assisting than entertaining and imparting knowledge using big words.

Their job is about making sure people feel that their spiritual insights are valued, helping people to discover and maintain spiritual practices (more on those later) that will sustain them and give them deeper insight and they must be about growing and developing community.

That means having different set of skills in addition to some theological training.

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In part one I thought about some of the sociological stuff around about generational characteristics and how they affect church.

Part of the issue these generational characteristics presents is different answers to the question ‘Who are we?’.  Even if each generation shares the same answer to that question the way they might express that is different.  That’s a tension, especially if those versions of how we do church don’t fit well together.

Identity is important.

How we express who we are sets the conditions for our community.

How we express the various parts of our story defines who we are.  That story points in all directions.

It points backwards to where we have come from, to the story so far.  It points forward to where we are heading, the journey will go on.  It points inward to us, and what we value about each individual.  It points together to who we will journey with.  It points outward to who we are for, who we serve.  It points upward, to God.

Every church has its story.  Even if that story has never been written down or spoken out loud.  We tell our story in our buildings, our welcome, our music, our worship, our conversation, our focus, our activities and every other single little thing we do as church.

People see and hear our stories and they decide whether or not to be involved with that story.

They make a choice and for the most part it’s hard to blame people for the choice they make.

Many churches choose to tell a story of decline, of slow decay.  I’ve heard ministers say that their job is like palliative care to help a church die in as pain-free way as possible.

Some churches try not to engage with anyone so their story won’t be heard.  That way they might not have to change.

What about the churches who do want to engage?  Part of their story is the manner in which people will find out about them.

Attractional Church

For years we have tried to attract people to church by doing special things. That’s called ‘attractional’.  If it’s big and shiny people will come.  To some extent that’s true.  But attractional models can’t offer the same level of big and shiny you can get elsewhere and, more importantly, they can’t offer depth.

I think people are looking for depth.  They expect church to be a place where they can find people who will talk to them and share their hopes and fears, doubts and concerns and talk about God in a way which values their questions and opinions.

Attractional Church results in things like ‘Back to Church Sunday’.

I have no real problem with Back to Church Sunday if the aim is to get people who have just got out of the habit of coming to get back into the habit again.  But I suspect that’s not what most churches are thinking.

One of my tests for anything I do is ‘Would I bring my friends to this?’.  The answer is often ‘No’.  And before you jump to criticise… would you take your friends to church?  Would you ask your colleagues?  The guys you play football with?  The people at the gym or running group?

People leave for a reason.  If the only thing that was keeping people in Church was habit then Back to Church Sunday is pointless unless things have changed…

Relational Church

The one thing Back to Church Sunday has going for it is that it is born in relationships.  It’s about asking people you know to join you.

Relationships matter in church.  I asked someone who responded to Part 1 on Facebook why they left church.  Her answer was that when she had problems the people in the church didn’t know what to do, so they left her alone.  That’s not uncommon.

Being in a relationship is hard work, especially when things are tough.  Churches need to be places that decide to be there for the long haul, to commit to each other.

In many ways church has become a place that provides services (pun intended), most of which are delivered by the minister.  That can de-skill members and lead to an expectation and reliance on the minister doing it.

I’ll come back to ministers later…

Incarnational Church

Years ago Pete Ward wrote a book about youth work.  In it he talks about being ‘incarnational’.  That means being Christ’s representative in a community, being Christ-like.  I think I understand what he means but I’ve never been completely convinced that we can pull it off.

I think we try to love our neighbour.  I think we can help people who need our help but I also think that being God is God’s job.  We need to be something else.

A Mixed Economy?

Perhaps all churches will tend to be a mixture of all three approaches.  One of the characteristics of the generation gap in church is a frustration with a seemingly unchanging church.  Being aware of how people see us, how they encounter us and what they think of us might help the church to at least begin to see ourselves as others see us.

But we do see ourselves as others see us.

I could count the people I’ve met who think the church is as good as it can be on one finger.  People look around and they see a gap of generations.

Churches are innovating, people are creating new kinds of church community.  My concern is that these communities are ones created by the church as things that people might join in.  That’s not who sustainable communities are created.  Sustainable community is a slow, often painful process where people come together and explore who they are as a group.  That leads to an expression of church and that expression of church might look very different from the traditional model.  It won’t be the same with newer hymns and a bigger sound system.

It’s that kind of deep community we need to help to create.

That poses questions about the role of ministers, their training and how those new communities might be sustained and supported…

 

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This isn’t working! There, I’ve said it. I feel better already. I’ve been meaning to say it for a long time – in fact I can’t remember a time in the last 30 years when I haven’t thought it. Oh – it’s the Church I’m talking about, by the way.

‘The Emporer’s New Church’ by Stewart Cutler in Inside Verdict, 2003

It’s ten years since I wrote those words. Inside Verdict was a book that was supposed to tell a hopeful story about the state of the Church of Scotland as a response to Outside Verdict by Harry Reid. I remember being asked to write about the good things happening in adult education at the time. The problem was that there wasn’t much happening.

Instead of making something up I wrote about my concerns. I haven’t read that chapter for years so I picked it up this morning to see what I was worried about then. I wasn’t surprised to see that the issues I was concerned about then are the same issues we were still talking about last night. A disconnection with 3 or 4 generations, the lack of spiritual practices, a reticence to say what we stand for and the inability of people to escape structures that inhibit and just to get on and make change.

It’s funny how self interest sharpens focus.

The generation gap in churches has been evident for years. I remember my sister and I being the youngest people in our church at 15 and 18 years of age. The next youngest was my mother and father and then there was another 10 year gap. That wasn’t in any way unusual. At a succession of Youth Assemblies young people would consistently say that they were the only people of their age in their church.

This has become a big issue for churches now because people aren’t going forward for training for ministry. Peter Johnston has blogged about this and about the various characteristics of the generations; the builders, boomers, Xers and Yers.

It would seem that Builders (65-80) were committed to rebuilding the post-war world and the church was at the heart of their institutional world.

Boomers (48-65) grew up in that post-war landscape with huge prosperity and opportunity. They have also known massive change in almost every area of life.

Gen X (30-45) is also known as the lost generation. They see the commitment their Builder and Boomer parents had to work and how their parents’ relationships suffered because of that. They are less likely to commit to leadership roles and value their own relationships much more highly. X-ers expect support structures and like team working.

Generation Y (Under 30s) are the children of Boomers so have experienced support and security. They look for meaningful interaction and fulfilment and expect to be able to question.

The wake up call around a lack of ministers makes me want to scream! Sociological analysis of the changing generations has been around for years and yet the church only gets interested because those changes threaten the organisational structure of an institution which caters primarily for Builders and Boomers.

One of the traits of Builders and Boomers was a need to work hard and provide a better life for their children. The impact of that was for Builders and Boomers to keep hold of responsibility and create institutions based on their perceptions of what their children would need, security, structure and consistency. However, those are the very things that Gen X and Gen Y kick against.

I’ve written about Bored Adults before. My theory is that we are still reasonably good at working with children and young people but that church is almost completely opposite to the active and engaging world of children’s and youth work.

This chart is based on Honey & Mumford’s work on learning styles.

It illustrates my belief that there is a significant difference between the things we do with children and young people which lean heavily towards the activist and the things we do in church where we lean the other way towards the theorist.

If learning styles are an indication of the kinds of activities people are likely to prefer to engage with then it doesn’t seem at all surprising that so few young people make the jump from youth work to church?

Activists learn best when:

  • involved in new experiences, problems and opportunities
  • working with others in team tasks or role-playing
  • being thrown in the deep end with a difficult task
  • chairing meetings, leading discussions

Activists learn less when:

  • listening to lectures or long explanations
  • reading, writing or thinking on their own
  • absorbing and understanding data
  • following precise instruction to the letter

Theorists learn best when:

  • put in complex situations where they have to use their skills and knowledge
  • they are in structured situations with clear purpose
  • they are offered interesting ideas or concepts even though they are not immediately relevant
  • they have the chance to question and probe ideas

Theorists learn less when:

  • they have to participate in situations which emphasise emotion and feelings
  • the activity is unstructured or briefing is poor
  • they have to do things without knowing the principles or concepts involved
  • they feel they’re out of tune with the other participants, for example people with different learning styles

http://archive.excellencegateway.org.uk/page.aspx?o=152477

Chalk and Cheese.

Of course these are preferences and people can work in both preferences as well as Pragmatist and Reflector. We each have elements of all four preferences but the leanings towards opposite ends concerns me.

But I think this confronts us with a fundamental question: what is the church for?

The different generations might answer this question differently and that’s the source of the problem. The Builders and Boomers got there first, so we have a church built in their image.

Gen X and Gen Y are not interested in hanging about until things change. They are much more likely to go off in search of something that fits better, start something else or just walk away completely.

So, I’m left with some big core questions:

  • about the balance of what we do as church and the real possibility of change while Builders and Boomers hold the reigns
  • about how the things we do and how we do them says so much about who we are, and who we are not, who we are for and who we are not for
  • why would people engage with something so far from their needs, wants, preferences and comfort zone

So, that’s the context as I see it.

Does it ring true in your experience? Am I asking the right questions or are there other more important ones?

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Iain mentioned in a facebook response to my last post that he hadn’t yet heard me talk about partnership…

I was struck by the comment because for me partnership is implicit in community engagement.

When I talk about how the church needs to engage with communities of course I mean with people but I also mean with organisations, agencies and institutions.

Perhaps it’s because my training is in Community Education that for me looking for people to work together with on things seems the natural thing to do.

Why wouldn’t a church want to share resources, make space available, support activities and work towards the well-being of its community?

But that doesn’t appear to be the natural response of lots of churches.  I think that’s what I meant in my previous post when I said that too much of that kind of activity is too dependant on the attitude of the minister or on whoever holds the power.  I shouldn’t be.  It should be the default position of all churches.

The ones that do this flourish, the ones that don’t seem almost to set themselves in opposition to their communities, as though their church is some kind of holy huddle sheltering from the big bad world.

Engagement is relational.  You can’t engage with someone or something that doesn’t want to be engaged with.  That’s just nagging.

That’s not what we are called to.

This Sunday’s Gospel reading is Mark’s account to Jesus being rejected in his hometown.  The people in Nazareth know Jesus.  They know his mum and his brothers and sisters and they don’t want to be preached at by the carpenter’s boy.  Who does he think he is?  Not much unusual in that!

For me what’s more interesting is what comes next…

Jesus sends out the disciples to minister to engage with the surrounding villages.

‘Take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in your belts.  Wear sandals but not an extra shirt.   Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town.”

That’s got to be working in partnership with the community.  You can’t work like that without the collaboration of the community.  You’d starve!  To survive in that kind of relationship with a community you’d need to be bringing something pretty special to the table.

I think the church does bring many things to a partnership, not least a group of people deeply committed to working together to make the world a better place but we need to stop viewing the world with suspicion and start seeing the opportunities to work with our partners for good.

It’s maybe telling that the church has been much better at working with partners in foreign lands to solve problems far away than we have at working with our neighbours in our own communities…

Perhaps the placing of the two incidents in this week’s Gospel isn’t accidental after all…

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What if over the past 50 years an organisation had lost the majority of its members?

What should it do?  What should it change?

The decline in membership of the church in the UK has been well documented and plenty of words have been used on diagnosing the problem but I wonder how much time the major denominations have spent actually thinking about how they need to adapt and change to meet the challenge of being the church in a new way for a different kind of world?

There are two areas in which the church spends the vast majority of its ever dwindling resources: buildings and ministers.

It seems less than controversial to suggest that ancient church buildings are at best a mixed blessing and at worst a millstone around the necks of congregations.  They are expensive to maintain and inflexible.

It would also seem less than controversial to suggest that as the world has changed that the job of minister has also evolved.  It would seem strange perhaps that there is a continued emphasis on theological training, almost to the exclusion of anything else, when the role of minister requires so much more.

The Church of England has gone some way towards addressing the new world with its new category of ‘pioneer minister’ which frees people from the bureaucracy of the parish and allows them to build communities in new places and in new forms.

That was a bold step, and it seems to be working.

Something else has been quietly happening… some churches are growing.  I know, surprising isn’t it.

We’ve known for a while that charismatic and pentecostal churches have been growing but it also seems that churches which have positioned themselves as ‘open and afirming’ are adding members.  It would be great to see what it is that these churches are doing that is attractive but I’d hazard a guess that engaging with the wider community and providing spaces for people to build community and actually get to know each other beyond formal times of worship would be common to most of them.

My concern is that this kind of development is hugely dependant on the minister’s personality and interests.  Sometimes it is strategic, but not often.

That’s not good enough.

When will denominations recognise that more of the same will lead to more of the same?

As funds become scarce we retreat into sustaining what is and what has been.  We merge, link and unite so that we can continue to provide ‘ministry’.  No-one seems to be asking if that kind of ministry is what is needed.

Some denominations have community workers.  These people have training in both theology and community work.  These are recognised ministries and the people who perform them have the primary task of engaging with communities, organising projects and enabling people to meet the needs of their communities.

There are a growing number of youth workers and children and family workers who study both theology and community work.  These are not recognised ministries but they engage with people outside traditional church structures and work to enable people to meet the needs of their communities.

These community ministries are often viewed as extra, peripheral, something to be done if there is time and money to spare.  You could add chaplaincy into the same category.

Which brings me back to my initial question… what if?

What if we flipped our view of essential ministry?

What if rather than spending almost all of our money on crumbling buildings and ministry of word and sacrament we spent 90% of our funding on community workers with some theological training who had a strategic mission to engage with communities, build capacity and resource worship in those communities?

What if, rather than investing everything in maintaining a building for people to come and sit for an hour once a week we sold the buildings and we invested that money in places for homeless people to sleep, for hungry people to eat, for lonely people to meet others, and people’s homes became places where people gathered to worship, to plan and scheme random acts of kindness and deliberate acts of grace?

What would that kind of church look like?

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