I miss neighborhood churches. I know, I know. In today’s world it’s not likely that we’ll ever go back to the liturgical tradition of parishes, but I am encouraged by some of the newer churches being planted to reach a specific neighborhoods, even campuses.
Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t think mega-churches are wrong. Nor do I think it is wrong to choose to commute 20-30 minutes to church each Sunday, Wednesday, or whatever day to be part of a church that is best for you. I am just a bit of an idealist and wonder if our campuses and cities would be better reached and better served by smaller, geographically-based churches or at least by having small groups and missional communities that are geographic and outwardly focused.
I am part of a new church that is trying to be a neighborhood church, and here are some of the things I like about it.
It’s just a heck of a lot easier to see each other when you live close together. I will run into people on accident all the time. There are so many more touch points in a given week when the commute across town is cut out. It sounds strange, but if I know I can get to buddy’s house in five minutes, I am way more likely to go.
Easier Third Space
It’s a lot easier to find a common “third space,” like a coffee shop, pub, park, or restaurant. It’s easier to pick a spot to meet because everyone is close. Finding a place in the neighborhood to hang out also makes for increased opportunities to meet other people in the neighborhood.
Community for Kids
I know in today’s world there are many different options for schooling (public, private, home, etc.), but it is much more likely that kids in a neighborhood church will also go to the same schools. If not the same schools, at least the same parks, playgrounds, and kid-friendly establishments.
Neighborhood churches have a more well-defined mission. I’ve found it to be difficult to lead a church or a missional community when everyone commutes in from different parts of the city. Everyone has their own mission-fields, but no common one. It’s really hard to keep an outward focus that way.
This is just a personal conviction. I like smaller churches. I like churches that grow to a certain size and then plant another church instead of getting too big. Neighborhood churches are more likely to stay small because the population of the neighborhood itself remains roughly the same unless there is tremendous new-believer growth, which is the hope.
My arguments have holes
I know this is way too simplistic. Still, I can dream, right? I am still thinking on this subject and trying to see if it really works in the life of my new church. I hope so. I believe so.
So much of my desire for neighborhood churches springs from the fact that I see students leading missional communities on campus based out of where they live. It is so simple and so beautiful to see the Body of Christ united in their dorms, co-ops, apartments, or Greek houses. The idealist in me wishes we could do the same in our neighborhoods.
Justin Christopher is the National Campus Director for Campus Renewal Ministries and the author of Campus Renewal: A Practical Plan for Uniting Campus Ministries in Prayer and Mission. He gives leadership to the Campus House of Prayer and the missional community movement at the University of Texas.