Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Boomer church and Gen-X church and “small groups”

I came across an interesting article on how young evangelicals are doing church differently than Baby Boom evangelicals. Being the misfit that I am, I was born somewhat in between the two generations although most pop demography puts me at the tail end of the baby boom. And my ideas are somewhat between the two generations at times. For example, I reject, for the most part, the post-modernism common among young evangelicals. (Sorry, no time to address that at this time.)

On the other hand, I’m not a big fan of how the Boomers do church. Now I didn’t realize it might be a generational thing until recently. But, say, the program-orientation and hyper-professional staff of the big boomer mega-churches is a turn off for me.

Boomer church obsession with small groups is another turn off. A couple paragraphs from the article really hit home:

Boomers and Xers may use the same words differently. Baby boomers who hear the word community often think in terms of programs, such as small-group ministries, which may mean a group of 10 or so random people who don't know each other -- meeting once a week, maybe, to sojourn through life together in two hours or less.

But for young evangelicals the word community reflects the need for deeper relationships. Many say that churches can't put random people together and expect honesty and transparency. Small groups are organic, emerging from relationships among people who spend time together -- almost like "family." "We are filling in a deficiency," Mr. Burmeister says. "The church has an opportunity to become a family to the family-less."

My previous two churches put a lot of emphasis on being in small groups. At least one staffer even found fault with me for not being in a small group at all times, though I frequently got into small groups during my time at both churches.

(Thankfully, most Denton Bible staff I was involved with were very flexible and let me do other things when there wasn’t a small group that worked for me.)

But I eventually saw that small group ministries are not a good fit for me. They took an evening a week from me, usually when I didn’t have many evenings to give up. Usually the leader let meetings go late, and I’m not a night person. Usually there was someone who dominated the group and pulled it in directions irrelevant to the stated purpose of the group, and usually the leader was too weak to gently stop that domination. And frankly when I’m tired at night, I don’t have the patience for that. By the time a small group was over, I was so worn out and/or fed up, I didn’t stay to socialize. Often, I didn’t feel that connected to most of the people there anyway. (And I freely admit I can be a square peg.) Not much “community” there.

Now not all small groups were so bad. A few were great and helped me grow and make good friends. And they are a good model for many. But overall, it’s just not a good model for me. And I’m certainly not alone in that. Given that their composition is somewhat “random” – whoever happened to sign up – it’s only by God grace if a small group does work well.

My current church, on the other hand, doesn’t have small groups that I have noticed. We’re so small, small groups might be redundant! But there is a very natural “organic” coming together of people. The rector invites people to his house for a BBQ. Or the single guys (without the help of a program – there is no “singles group”) decide after church to have a movie night.

And we know each other over the long haul, not just for the length of a small group program. And it does feel like family.

Granted, it easier for a small church to come together in such a natural ad hoc way than a large church.

We’re a very traditional church, but, perhaps without thinking about it, we’re doing some of the things the young evangelicals in the article are doing. And it works. Maybe it’s because it’s Biblical, organic, and real. It’s not overmanagement; it’s not trying to shoehorn people into a program.

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