Warning: Program Driven Church Can’t Sustain the Art of Neighboring

I grew up in the 60s and 70s when most churches ran between 100-500 in attendance. We didn’t need a lot of programs to bring us together. We just got together. To worship. To celebrate. To mourn. To live life.

Photo Credit: Leanne Michelle via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Leanne Michelle via Compfight cc

You really did know everyone regardless of age or stage of life. We lived relatively close to each other. I don’t recall people driving 30-60 minutes to get to church. Why would they do that when they had a local church much closer?

In the 80s, mega-churches became the rage. The goal became to get as many people to attend one location as possible. Pastors went to conferences to learn how to attract more people to their campuses.

Churches began to run 1000-2000 or more.

In order to meet the “needs” of the attendees, pastors  had to add event coordinating to their long list of responsibilities. The staff placed people into similar age or life stage groups to make programming easier.

People came from further distances creating an environment where many lived up to an hour from one another.

The intent behind a program driven church was good one.

But I think the pendulum is swinging back to local, community driven church, or at least gatherings.

The Art of Neighboring

A book with the title—The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door—was published a couple of years ago. Here is a description found on Amazon:

Once upon a time, people knew their neighbors. They talked to them, had cook-outs with them, and went to church with them. In our time of unprecedented mobility and increasing isolationism, it’s hard to make lasting connections with those who live right outside our front door. We have hundreds of “friends” through online social networking, but we often don’t even know the full name of the person who lives right next door.

Interestingly, many large churches are encouraging their attendees to read and put into practice what is found in this book.

Sermon series have been or are planned to be preached on about the idea of knowing your neighbor.

No doubt many will take to heart what is taught. Many will learn the last name of their neighbors. They will invite them to parties, dinners, and simply to just hang out.

Then the book will be put on a shelf to collect dust. Preachers will move onto the next greatest sermon series you have ever heard.

And one of two things will happen.

It comes down to time and focus.

The programs at church will take precedence once again

calling families back to the main campus to attend classes, events, and all kinds of programming.

Or people will keep spending time with their neighbors

developing deeper friendships leading to vulnerable conversations allowing believers to share who they are in real time instead of some pre-scripted interaction.

For the simple reason that a person can’t be in two places at the same time is why a program driven church can’t sustain the art of neighboring.

I have personally benefitted from attending churches that had a lot of programs. But I also think its time for our churches to evaluate its desired outcome.

Is it to see throngs of people show up on their campuses from miles around, or is to see neighborhoods and communities transformed?

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I am a longtime Austinite. Married my beautiful wife over 25 years ago. Adopted our son September 2012. Currently a writer and loving it. Previous jobs and careers include project management, missionary, and pastor. I enjoy sports (both watching and playing), traveling, reading, digging in dirt and hanging with my friends and family.

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3 thoughts on “Warning: Program Driven Church Can’t Sustain the Art of Neighboring

  1. Kenny
    The Art of Neighboring is simply a call to the church to take seriously the Biblical teaching to Love our Neighbors. I agree with you that the event nature of the church can and will compete for the time of believers and their time with neighbors. I have also seen small churches that end up being inward focused – there is fellowship in the body but little interaction with anyone else.

    I see nothing wrong with “Art of Neighboring” but to me it signifies a greater challenge to overcome. It seems that Biblical instruction in itself is not good enough or compelling enough for many American beleivers and church goers today. Instead it takes packaged emphases like Art of Neighboring to try and get Christians to accept the 2000 year old calling to love our neighbors. That is why I too am cautious in beleiving another emphasis, even a city wide one will change that culture. As long as Christians require big ramped up, time defined empahases just to live out the basic tenets of our faith – we will just keep skipping from one book to the next.

    The churches that use the art of neighboring emphasis to emphasize culture change and are not just looking for the next campaign when this ends are the ones who will see real fruit. I think it is possible but only with focused intentionality, long term commitment, and prayerful submission to the Spirit.
    So let us pray that Churches will look beyond programs that compete for time and retrain thier people to submit to Biblical teaching, not because it is packaged well but out of a desire to follow and represent the Lord.

    • Matt, I agree that the “art of neighboring” has to come from a heart of compassion rather than an time-constrained emphasis. I realize this is the hope of church leaders. I hope that it becomes a part of a culture change.