Recently it has become a favorite activity for my wife and I to take friends and go down to San Francisco for a day. Often we park at Ghirardelli Square and then take the cable cars down to Union Square or to Chinatown. I always enjoy riding through the different neighborhoods on the way and seeing the distinctions between them and the commonality even that they share. What never fails to escape me is that there is life in the city. There is activity in the city. But the City as a whole is engaged in lots of different activities. In fact only on a few occasions does the entire city come together to do something. It might be something like a sporting event (a Giants game for instance) or a parade (think Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in NYC) but it isn't often that the entire city is doing everything together. Yet the city is always active, and it is always active in the neighborhoods.
I think far to many churches program "church life" at the city level. We have Sunday services, outreach events, church-wide children's ministries, Bible studies, and on and on I could go listing events or programs that the church plans with the expectation that every member of the body (more or less) will be involved with. What this creates then is a dichotomy where church members must reorganize their life around the city so that the mission of the city can go forward. This creates stress, anxiety, and often a consumer mentality as Christians begin to pick and choose what they will be involved with and how they will serve or not serve within the church. Many times what happens is a Christian gets frustrated with the attempts to balance "personal life" or "family life" with "church life" and the Christian ends up pairing down "church life" to merely Sunday morning services.
Here is where a shift needs to occur. Our churches need to stop programing and practicing everything at the "city" level and begin to allow and assist in the formation of Gospel Communities. We need to devolve down to the level where small communities within the larger church can plan and structure their lives around one another with Gospel intentionality. Instead of always expecting the hired staff of the church to be the primary ones that do the hospital visitation, counseling, discipleship, etc. small communities of believers could do the work of caring for one another, bearing each others burdens, discipleship together.
I'll unpack this more in my next post, but the issue must be of moving the emphasis of the life of the church from the "city" level back to the neighborhoods. As Augustine of Hippo said, "the life of the city is a social life."