In relation to church, there are participation levels. Many people over this last generation admit that they go to church by sitting in front of a television set or a computer screen. Is that actually church involvement?
We will certainly agree that church involvement includes human relationships. There are two kinds of relationships – one-to-one and one-to-many. In a one-to-many relationship, there has to be communication from one to the many because there isn’t a capacity for the many to actually have a feedback loop, except on a one-at-a-time basis in connection with the people we are meeting who are actually on the platform.
We must recognize that we are incomplete as humans if we are not meeting flesh on flesh with people. Voice-to-voice helps. Eye-to-eye helps. Print media helps. All kinds of relationships that are indirect help, but it still comes down to a relationship with people. Of course, since we all are raised in a different context, we are all slightly different in the way we process information. If you don’t believe that, check out the various comments on controversial subjects on social media. They go all over the map from people who even attend the same church. We think differently. We respond to stimuli differently. We select differently what we’ll pay attention to than what other people will pay attention to.
There are four levels of participation that need to be considered carefully in church.
The common one that many people talk about is a meeting on Sunday morning, perhaps Saturday night, Saturday afternoon, Sunday afternoon, or Sunday evening. It’s a one-time event where everybody is invited. It’s a collective call to celebration. Generally speaking, it is a celebration of worship where we sing, pray, and listen to various kinds of communication, perhaps even watch a video. We are alive all together in one place. The size of the celebration can be huge, or it can be small. It varies through different situations and the needs of individual people. It can be a whole group that has less interaction from individuals to other individuals and more communication from a set program that is delivered to other people, similar to a concert.
The next level is congregation. It is a group of about 30-50 people who congregate and at least have the potential for much more interaction and fellowship with one another, as opposed to a worship experience where the person can be by themselves and still fully participate vicariously because of what’s happening elsewhere. This kind of congregational involvement cannot happen before a television set or a computer screen. You have to actually have people with you in sufficient numbers where the relationships are diverse enough that you can have some development within yourself. If you have only a few of your friends, you may all agree with one another, but you won’t expand your horizons. You will not grow in the Christian life without diverse culture, background, age, etc.
The third level is the cell. That word has gotten into disrepute in recent years. It is small groups of people typically meeting in homes, but they could meet in a park setting, depending on the context, and have a wonderful time interacting with a group much smaller than the congregational group. Everybody in the group can have a relationship with everybody else in the group for a reasonable amount of time. When you have 50 people, you can say “hi” to 50 people, but you can’t have an in-depth conversation or really get to know them in that context. You can do it in a small group, meeting in a home. A good number is 12; it might be three to grow from where people can relate to one another.
The fourth level is the coach. You can think of it as pastoral care or mentoring. There are various dimensions and words that come together – even the word “counseling” can come together in that.
Coaching is about somebody who is a little further along the road of Jesus. It is someone who is coming up behind someone else. It is not a peer-to-peer relationship to just pool equal ideas with one another. It is a relationship for somebody to suggest another option because they have actually obtained more life experience.
Typically, this is a situation where the coach is one or two steps ahead of the other individual, perhaps a decade apart. If it’s too far separated, sometimes that coaching relationship is difficult because the person being coached can remark, “Oh, it’s all different today. You don’t understand what it’s like to raise children face blind who are dealing with EVS.”
Every individual can profit from these four levels when they participate in church – the celebration (large), the congregation (midsize), the cell (a small group), and the coach (one-to-one). When a person comes to church, the first thing that they are actually looking for is not what they apparently are looking for. They apparently are looking for a good time with a good sermon, but they are actually looking for a relationship.
I know that because when somebody comes to church for the first time, they always remember their first real conversation – not the greeter at the door nor the usher. It could be those people at a later time. They remember the person they connected with on a personal level, somebody who they think understands them or cares about their situation in life.
You will probably remember the time when you came into church for the first time, being a little awkward and not knowing exactly where to go. Somebody before or after the meeting connected with you. It is key to understand that it is before and after the meeting at a celebration. During the congregation-sized meeting, there can be an opportunity for that to happen during the meeting and certainly before that. In the cell group meeting, it can get started within a more intimate, high-touch environment during the meeting, and again, before and after is available. In the one-to-one relationship, it always happens that it can become elevated in terms of engagement with people when they are facing one other person whom they know and trust. They believe it can help them further down the road of life. All of those things need to happen in the life of a church.
If there is one emphasis over another, we get stilted. That’s why I personally believe that house church movements, which have tremendous value at the level of the small group, tend not to become big movements because there’s not a chance on a regular basis for everybody to participate as one. On the other hand, I think that very large churches have the tendency to create an environment where people can treat it as a theater, a drama or a sporting event. They might enjoy the whole event, but they could be sitting there with one friend and never relate to anybody else in the whole situation. People like to have that anonymity in a larger group. When we are building or starting churches that start small, sometimes people complain, “Oh, this church is getting too big.” They need participation at all levels.
In my experience, I strongly believe that the people who grow in Christ, hopefully, have all four kinds of involvement in their life in one local church during the season when they’re at that local church. Build a church with all four, and you have great participation.
I am not referring to the organization or leadership and the kind of spine that puts it all together. I am talking about the individual participation in the life of the church. How are things going with you and your church? Do you have all four levels? How are you at providing the leadership that perhaps you supply? Do you work towards engaging people at all four levels, letting them come at the speed that they want to come, but nurturing them towards all four levels of participation – celebration, congregation, cell, and coach?