When people sit in a circle, something powerful happens, which is totally unlike the interaction people have when they are seated in rows.
In rows, people look at and learn from the pastor. In a circle, they look at and learn from each other.
In rows, people are treated as a passive and dependent. People wait for the “professionals” to minister to them. There is a strong message of inequality between the leadership team and the congregation. In a circle, people are active and self-directed. They are implicitly empowered to minister to each other. There is a sense of equity and respect for everyone.
In rows, there is no opportunity to respond to the information presented. There is no place for prior knowledge or life experience to be shared. There is no chance to discuss, ask questions or disagree. In a circle, there is ample opportunity to interact with and explore new ideas and concepts. Individual life experiences are valued and sought; and robust discussion is allowed and encouraged.
In rows, learning is minimised and boredom is prevalent. Learning is constrained to a single event and a single intelligence (listening). The focus is on attaining knowledge from a single source (the pastor). In a circle, learning is maximised by tapping into multiple intelligences and promoting an attitude of continuous learning. The focus is on growing wisdom through shared experiences and interaction, and applying that wisdom to real-life situations.
A circle creates community.
A circle activates learning.
A circle empowers everybody.
A circle accelerates authenticity.
A circle gives everyone a voice and value.
A circle is a natural way of interacting.
A circle is symbolic in its very nature. A circle speaks of unity; of equality; of connectedness; of completeness. A circle is non-hierarchical, organic and natural.
I’m not saying that every interaction we have in church has to take place in circles. I am saying that we don’t use them often enough, and that we haven’t discovered the power of using circles in our Sunday church services.