Two friends of ours—Millennials—don’t know each other. Yet in separate conversations I heard them use exactly the same word about a church in our community. The church meets in a building that, until a few years ago, had been a movie theater. Our friends, a man and a woman, at different times had each attended this church briefly, then left. She and days later he described the Sunday meeting as a “show.” Apparently the former theater building still draws an audience of watchers.
Participatory Path in Passover
Although young, these two are seeking an old way of gathering with other believers. A way that includes relationships, interactive body life, shared church. Two-way communication in church meetings is not a new idea. Christ-followers practiced it when they gathered back in the first century. During their last Passover meal, Jesus and his disciples engaged in a lot of back-and-forth conversation. Check it out. Count the “asked” and “answered” words in just John 13.
Paul called for the Corinthian believers to practice shared church: “So here’s what I want you to do. When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all: sing a hymn, teach a lesson, tell a story, lead a prayer, provide an insight” (I Cor. 14:26, The Message).
Monologue: One-Way Street
In his 1963 book, The Miracle of Dialogue, Reuel L. Howe says, “Monologue is not effective communication.” He based his statement on research done by the Institute for Advanced Pastoral Studies and other experts in communication. “Young ministers,” he says, “are disillusioned about the effectiveness of preaching and suspect that ‘telling’ is not a sure means of communication, but because they know of no alternative, they are caught in the one-way street of monologue.”
Less than a decade later Ray Stedman, in Body Life, lamented that “Christian meetings have turned into dull, stodgy rituals where many Christians gather to go through completely predictable performances, all conducted in an atmosphere of ‘reverence’ which permits no interchange with one another, no exchange of thought, no discussion of truth, and no opportunity to display Christian love in any but the most superficial of ways.”
Soul Rest in Old Paths
So the roots of shared-church reach far back in time. Jeremiah the prophet quoted what the Lord said to the Israelites: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls” (Jer. 6:16). But today, far too many churches have not learned the power of walking in those “ancient paths” when they gather.
Millennials and others may not be able to articulate it. But they are looking for the kind of relational, church-body life seen in the New Testament. The Barna Research Group reports that, “The first factor that will engage Millennials at church is as simple as it is integral: relationships.” Barna President David Kinnaman says, “. . . the most positive church experiences among Millennials are relational. . . . huge proportions of churchgoing teenagers do not feel relationally accepted in church.”
Much of the one-anothering seen in the New Testament can be recovered in our main congregational meetings. In Curing Sunday Spectatoritis, 25 church leaders explain the paths they are exploring as they pursue that goal.