Recently, a colleague asked me, “what is church in your context?” I was a bit perplexed by his question, however it has led me on a bit of a soul search to answer that question. I have been working in a church for almost two decades. The church is embedded in a neighborhood, and we have continually worked to understand the changing dynamics that happens in a city that is gentrifying rapidly.
Sociologists have, what I believe, accurately assessed that churches offer models of reality and models for reality. I would agree that churches reflect all of the problems of their surrounding society because they share its people and deal with its dominant cultural values. This makes sense as we are forever trying to understand how to disciple people in their natural environment. This is a dilemma in a work based culture.
A sense of community requires how those attend interact with one another, and what does the greater community think about the church. I will argue that the hope of every neighborhood church would be that the local community would feel a loss if the church would move or close.
I believe it is important that those who lead these neighborhood churches are skilled at fostering community with those who align with the mission of the church and with those who may not agree or are indifferent.
In an era when we train pastors in methods of leadership, in how to deliver effective sermons, and so forth, we must not forget how simple conversations that express empathy, supportiveness, courtesy, and compassion affect those who call the church their home, and those who are on the periphery.