Biblical Recorder:Building Christian community
October 30 2003 by Norman Jameson , Special to the Recorder

Biblical Recorder:Building Christian community

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By Norman Jameson

Special to the Recorder

When Randy Frazee was called out of the pew to the pulpit at Pantego Bible Church in Arlington, Texas, he knew "church" and theology, but he didn't know much about being a pastor. His advice books and mentors said to grow a church he should buy land, be contemporary, expand Bible study around "life stages" and add "small groups." Because Frazee "put better cheese in the mousetrap" Pantego attendance rose from 400 to 1,250 within four years.And it was killing him.Although growth was gratifying, Frazee felt alone in a crowd of lonely people. Members knew no sense of community, there was no "yield" of persons coming to faith and the church had no impact on its community.In fact, Frazee told participants in a recent day of dialogue at Hollifield Leadership Center, "As attendance rose, involvement with the community decreased. We were too busy to have compassion on the poor."Frazee's own experience in his hand picked small group was "horrible." When he learned by chance that his staff members were having similarly unsatisfying experiences, he knew he had to find a way to recover community - that vital hallmark of the early church.He knew people are lonely. They come to church miles from home and find no community. There is a disconnect between the most important elements of their lives.Finding real communityFrazee discovered real community in the rumpled frame of his unchurched neighbor, Tom, whom he found reading his newspaper in Frazee's living room one Saturday morning, drinking coffee he had prepared in Frazee's coffeepot. Real community evolves around a sense of place, and place is found only where there is spontaneity, availability, frequency, proximity and common meals, Frazee said.Expecting the church building to be the center point for Christian community denies the reality of those essentials, said Frazee, who has recorded his journey in The Connecting Church, published by Zondervan. When people must leave their neighborhood to come to their "community" those characteristics of "place" are all impossible.So Frazee and his staff, at great risk to their own security, began to deconstruct what they had built in their $15 million building on their 100-acre campus, to make the focal points of their ministry the neighborhoods in which they and their members live.Instead of adding more events at the church to increase "frequency" of being together, they eliminated all regularly scheduled evening meetings. Staff ministers are now "parish pastors" living and working in their neighborhoods. Members, too, are essentially parish pastors who minister where they live. There is no staff member assigned the role of "pastoral care," or "evangelism" because members are living, breathing, ministering care givers and evangelizers with every foray outside their doors.Sunday morning worship services are great gatherings of the parishes to one place for common worship. Bible study classes are organized by school neighborhoods. So people whose children attend the same schools and who live near each other, study together - consolidating their everyday world with the world of their church.All the elements of community are enhanced when they occur in the neighborhood, when friends, neighbors and church members get their papers in the morning, walk the dog or attend a school event."It took seven years for this process to become a part of the DNA of the church," Frazee said. And it came at great risk. Several church leaders, aghast at the diminishing importance of multi-million dollar facilities, balked. But others had caught the vision and supported the changes."The real problem," he said, "is taking power from the few and giving it to the community."Parish churches effective Although disdained as ineffective, the parish church in small town America actually has the greatest penetration of its potential market, Frazee said, reaching 30 percent of the target population. The greatest mega church today can expect to reach only 0.5 percent of its target population. The Connecting Church, in essence a return to neighborhood parish ministry, frees ministers to the joy of life and witness among people with whom they live. And it frees church members to the same ministry, giving them back hours to live Christ among their neighbors, rather than trying to drag those same neighbors to a church which is foreign ground to them. Frazee said the No. 1 vacation destination in America today is to visit a "small town." Suburbia is contracting because people are lonely, searching for relationships, for community. "Community is the only valid means to be the church," he said.He urged Christians to consolidate the relationships in their lives, and interconnect them. You can go fishing by yourself, he said, "or you can say to your friends, 'Do any of you want to go fishing with me?'"| Home | NewsOpinion | Baptist Life |

10/30/2003 11:00:00 PM by Norman Jameson , Special to the Recorder | with 0 comments

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