In my transition from big-city, larger-church work to small-town ministry, I’ve made most of my discoveries and insights simply by blindly stumbling over them. But there’s one observation that I’ve noticed for quite some time and nevertheless still fail to grasp a deep understanding of its importance. I’m talking about the overlap between church and community in a small town.
In a larger city the church typically operates with an “us and them” mentality. I don’t mean that in a negative way, but in a positive sense. The church is a group of people, bound together by faith and by a passion for mission, that looks upon their community and asks, “How can we reach them?”
This “us and them” thinking is pretty natural, as most of the faces in the large city are, well . . . faceless. Live in a large city and you see tiny glimpses of many, many people’s lives. The vast majority of the people are people you’ve never met. Go to a restaurant and you do so in relative privacy. See a movie and you do so in obscurity. Go to a park, a mall, a concert, a whatever, and by and large the chances are that you will be one of a faceless mass with precious little deep-level interaction with the throngs of human beings around you.
So the church in a larger city seeks ways and events by which it can create face-to-face human interaction. It seeks ways to create community. By necessity, the church in the larger city is forced to craft the type of authentic, Biblical community where a group of people care radically and deeply about one another. Where people can know one another. Where people can interact on a human—and not just transactional—level. And to the degree that it has success in doing so, it stands apart as a brightly lit beacon of goodwill and hope and having a place to belong.
That’s the big city, though (Which, for my purposes, is anything above a population of 5,000 or so.). The small town . . . that’s significantly different. So different, in fact, that it’s taken me an entirely new blog post to understand it. Look for that post tomorrow.