When we look closely at the different aspects and effects of certain numbers in group life, the question gets raised as to whether or not these understandings of numerical dynamics can actually help us gather more intentionally.
So rather than being frustrated with different sized groups, when we get to know the dynamics of numbers, it is possible we can really begin meeting more strategically. If permission has been given to do church differently, why would we insist on meeting the same way, with the same format, even the chairs set the same way, in the same room, basically doing the same thing week after week?
Many are feeling significant disinterest with our basic larger weekend gatherings called “church.” Some of that sense of disconnect is not at all about the need to gather as the church but the sheer boredom with too many meaningless meetings built around the same old predictable formats of the “song, sit, sermon syndrome,” weekend after weekend.
Meetings or Gatherings?
No matter what we do with changing the meeting format, time, place, style, we are still called to get together. The Hebrews 10:25 mandate is interesting in that most translations use the term “assembling ourselves together.” For me personally that was always been a put off. The first thing that comes to mind is my old High School assemblies, large meetings where all the students filled the bleachers and the gymnasium floor for some special, usually boring, presentation.
The word is actually best translated “to gather together” (epi-sun-ag-ein). It could mean any number of people, even smaller numbers of people. No set quota of what constitutes a gathering, simply a gathering together.
Jesus uses the same word in talking about eagles (or vultures as some translate) gathering around a body (Luke 17:37), and/or a mother hen gathering her chickens under her wings (Matthew 23:37). It is hard to see large crowds in all of these pictures, with rows of chairs and platforms and programs. It seems more about a gathering around something. Maybe even something more like an intimate circle.
So, yes, we do need to gather or flock together as God’s people, and our verse in Hebrews 10 might even point us towards “more often” as we see that Day approaching. We do need to be near each other, in relationship with each other, and in communication with each other in order to do and be the “one another’s” so explicitly laid out throughout the New Testament.
Sometimes in our exotic attempts to create new kinds of meetings or new forms or new structures that will bring about that greater new place with each other, we forget some basic principles.
Life in God, in His family, is not about meetings as much as it is about His purposes in a meeting. It is what we are gathered around. It is what He does when we get together, or what He wants to do in the center of each gathering. It is about a connection not just a crowd, it is about affection, about fidelity, a feeling of being gathered around Him as we are gathered with each other.
No new structure will guarantee that, but it is about whatever He has called us to gather around.
Too often doing the same things again and again, giving into the habitual forms of Christian conformity can become a great enemy to true community. If we just go to the same pace and do the same things we assume we will experience community. Not so. It could even be that these kinds of early gatherings at the end of Acts 2 were not even planned meetings but really people caught in the act of being unable to stay away from each other. They just had to keep gathering around their new found life in Christ, and all that that meant.
We know they had a strict cultural Temple model, it shows up in the very next chapter (Chapter 3), as the miracle happens on the way to a certain hour of prayer at the Temple. So I am not so sure that what we see happening in the end of Acts 2 is because of necessarily a newly discovered agenda, a new plan, a new liturgy, a new curriculum, or a new manual, as much as their lives were so radically changed by Jesus, with many unable or unwilling to leave Jerusalem so they simply had to drop in on each other as often as possible to share that wonderful new radical life in God.
They weren’t going to house church because of somenewly designed revelation, they weren’t going anywhere, they just couldn’t stay away from each other’s homes, and getting daily involved in each other’s lives. Sure, they continued to go to Synagogue or Temple for a while, but Christianity was well on its way to becoming an unstructured lifestyle and growing relationships together rather than some new address to meet at.
We need to pray for one another during these days of transition. Many seem to echo this idea that they feel they are in what might be coming out of a “deconstructionist zone” or even coming through a season of “detox,” concerning their prior habits of meeting or gathering with other believers.
In this season the Jeremiah (1:10) wrecking crew is busy “rooting out,” “pulling down,” “destroying,” “throwing down,” what seems old, or antiquated, or non effective in the many ways we have gathered and seems to bestirring up a great hunger for the for His Manifest Presence, and a deeper, more authentic community.
I think it feels a whole lot like the first part of the Sunday Night TV Series “Extreme Home Makeover.” You know, the part when the existing house or structure gets demolished. The needy family is whisked off to some exotic vacation site as they watch their old house get razed to the ground via computer from a distant site. And then with full speed cooperation, the hyper-construction crews begin the remodel, the rebuild, accomplishing their task in record-breaking time.
Transition seems to always take us to extremes. Either old house or new house, but with so much work in the middle. Kind of like church, either fewer meetings or maybe even too many meetings.
We seem to polarize between extremes of passive isolation, try to survive outside the body in the “just Jesus and me phase,” or in the opposite of the frantic addiction to activities as we jet about looking for the next watering hole, the next glory fest, the next angel filled conference, the newest church in town, ad nausea.
We must not become discouraged; this transition of learning to gather differently will take some time. We are carrying a lot of institutional baggage as we have done meetings so many certain ways for so many years. And we don’t have to just throw everything out and wing it either. Instead we get to become even more intentional as we hear God’s voice together on how we are to now gather.
Predictableness or Planning?
If we understand that we have the freedom to gather differently in this “permissional time,” it means we can experiment with more intentionality and more direction, not less. And that we can actually use what we have learned about different-sized, different-focused gatherings to our advantage as well as God’s advancement of His work in us.
We of course could choose by default to let all of our gatherings remain stuck in the “sit, soak and sour,” mode of days past, or actually and delightfully and intentionally get God’s mind and plan for the different kinds of gatherings He wants to lead us into. He is very willingly to work with us if we will work with Him.
When preparing to gather, go ahead and ask some leading questions. Where are you in your walk with God? Where are you in your relationships with others? So, why are you going to gather with this certain group? Where do you want God to take you, where do you want the night to go? What are you willing to do to get there?
Answers to these kinds of questions may help when you know what it is you are wanting or looking for in a gathering with others.
When Looking For Intimacy and Friendship
Try gathering in a smaller group. Maybe even a very small group. Maybe 3 or 4. Gender specific. With the purpose of learning to walk together as deeply committed, trustworthy and authentic covenant friends (Amos 3:3).
Hang out with these friends in such a way that as Neil Cole (Church Multiplication Resources) says in his simple outline, you create a place where sin is confessed in mutual accountability, God’s Word is read repetitively in context and community, and souls are prayed for strategically, specifically and continuously.
This kind of intimacy and friendship takes time, and will not be the only meeting you participate in. But it can be a very meaningful part of your growth together with a few others. Start with an hour or each week. over coffee, and watch it grow into spending significant quality time together. In these smaller groups no leader is necessary, no curriculum is necessary, no is workbook necessary and no training is necessary. Just a willingness to grow together and to grow up!
Neil Cole’s little pamphlet about these small but powerful Life Transformation Groups on his website at: www.cmaresources.org.
When Looking For Family and Faith
Try simple church with 5 to 15 people gathered around a full meal enjoying the ebbs and flows of life as a family. These cross-generational meals can include everyone, kids and all. We all have to eat; we all enjoy each other’s presence. And there during the buzz of the family-like meal we can hear, chat, interrupt, laugh, cry and pray together as an extended family.
When the meeting gets too large and the family-like dynamic changes, make necessary adjustments, and start new groups.
Do projects together, have outings together, go camping and bowling together. Involves the kids in different ways, as you basically enjoy an evening meal together with friends. And all of this can be highly attractive and contagious to your pre-Christian friends and neighbors, so keep some places at the table open for others. You just start by scheduling a meal, inviting others to come, and watch God do the rest.
When Looking For Prophetic Strategy and Spiritual Warfare
Find those spiritual warriors in your community who are fighting and winning spiritual battles. The ones who know how to pray, how to see in the Spirit, how to heal the sick and how to operate consistently in the authority of the believer. Basically, if you want to have a prayer gathering, find people who know how to pray.
This army is growing everywhere; start asking where they meet, what they do, and how you can share your specific and strategic needs with them.
These people are involved in intercessory groups; they are technicians with the Healing Rooms. Many are covert, and by no means drawing attention to themselves, and yet their reputations are known by the Spirit.
When you get together with these kinds of strategic people, the strategies will come in the meeting. The prayer direction, the national or international focus points. I heard of one group that watches the news channel and then pauses it when it calls for a strategic kinds of international praying.
Looking For Radical Worship and Celebration
Just listen for the sounds; you hear them everywhere these days. From boom boxes to huge sound systems. From iPods to finely-tuned stereos. Sounds of war, sounds of intimacy, sounds of celebration. Thunderous stomps over injustice, sweet, angelic melodious sounds for soaking and contemplation. Wild and crazy sounds that send you leaping and jumping. Romantic, and wooing sounds that have you in tears and silence.
Gather the musicians and singers and dancers around these sounds. Remember when David set aside the 4,000 musicians and the 288 singers to sing before the Lord 24/7. Then take these sounds to the streets, to the city parks, to the apartments courtyards, to the office complexes, to the coffee houses, to the beaches and of course to the cathedrals and chapels. Make room for the spontaneous sounds, not just the pre-learned songs of the day.
Find your own sound that builds with the others. And then give yourself to the full release of your sound, the participation of the instrument that you are. It is more about the sound you carry than your instrumental or musical talent.
Looking For Empowering and Equipping
What about walking through the Scriptures with some friends, asking freely and openly for insight, revelation and application. Gather a reading group around a certain agreed upon book, or listen to a CD/DVD series and discuss it openly. Even discuss it in public places, like a local coffee shop or a park, or the clubhouse at your apartment complex. Watch the curious interaction with others that God can cause in these open settings.
Gather some of your friends around someone’s specific life message. A local teacher or pastor in your community, one of the fathers and mothers in the faith that you all know can be brought into your group for great times of teaching and feedback and interaction.
Have several of these spontaneous gatherings to empower and equip each other. Keep asking God what He wants to say to you, and keep listening, as He will direct you to invite others who carry a certain timely message for your group.
Whatever You Do – Do it With Friends
Doing the Kingdom with friends is what Christ modeled for us. Life in God is not meeting-focused, but is relationally lived. The signal most pivotal verse in this season of my life about relationship and connection comes from Mark 3:13,14 as Jesus called the twelve to first be “with” Him, and then second, to “send ” them. Whatever you are called to do these days, do it with Jesus and with others.
This is no time to be stingy with creativity; this is no time to be boring or predictable. Do these gatherings with freedom and delight. Do them with new meaning, with bold intention, and radical passion. And don’t wait for all of these gatherings to be planned and scheduled by someone else, don’t wait for the special announcement to make the Sunday bulletin. Like Nike said, “Just do it.”
This is a new day of getting together. It is time to gather and pursue deep authentic faith communities all over our region as we celebrate our Creative Creator.
Gary Goodell is a former evangelist, pastor, college dean and instructor involved in ministry stuff for almost 50 years. He and his wife Jane live in San Diego, California USA and he is a father of two and grandfather of seven. As an author and consultant he is an itinerant mentor working with the international church planting movement known as Third Day Churches, that he and some friends founded in 2001. Third Day Churches now involves leadership and ministries in over 20 nations.
His two books, “Permission Granted To Do Church Differently in the 21st Century,” and “Where Would Jesus Lead?” are both available online.