The problem with circles.
There is no perfect formula for doing church. Until we get to heaven, we will find it hard to be in true community with God and with each other. Humans are imperfect and self-centred, and when we get together, there are always problems.
That doesn’t mean it’s too hard or not worthwhile trying. Jesus inspires us to follow his example and love God, love each other and impact our world. That is why we meet together regularly and encourage each other to keep going.
Throughout this blog, I have talked about meeting in a circle as an idealistic and simple concept. In practise, it’s not so simple. Meeting in rows is actually a much easier way to do church. It is more rehearsed, polished, tidy, predictable, comfortable, sanitised and packaged than meeting in a circle. This is why most churches are still meeting in rows and will continue to do so, even if they are not seeing the kind of passion and growth they want in their people.
There are many reasons it can be hard to do church in a circle. That doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile. I’ll outline 3 reasons in this post, then continue on with a few more points over the next few days. Feel free to jump in with other reasons some churches will never move from rows to circles.
Circles are new.
Well, they’re not really, but they feel new to people who have sat all their lives in rows. Many people don’t cope well with change, even when it brings improvement and benefits. Some people may lose their status when the format changes. Others may be nervous about losing the status quo. People from different generations, cultural backgrounds and personality types will feel different about change. It may take lots of encouragement, sensitivity and support to help these people through their fears and begin to enjoy a different way of approaching church.
In the 16th century, Niccolo Machiavelli wrote; “he who innovates will have for his enemies all those who are well off under the existing order of things, and only lukewarm supporters in those might be better off under the new.” In other words, those who are happy with the current system will fight any changes, and even those who want to change will be half-hearted in their support. That makes it very difficult for the person trying to implement the changes. It takes courage, communication skills and maybe a little bit of foolishness to take on the established system and try something new. But if we don’t try, we won’t succeed.
Circles are now.
This time and culture is right for circles. Hardly anyone I speak to outside of the established church feels a need to place themselves in rows and allow someone to speak at them and tell them how to think. Generally, most people believe we all have equal value and that we earn the right to be heard when we have something worth saying. We live in a time where interactivity and participation is valued, where people long to have a voice and a value, where authority and performance are mistrusted, and where anyone who has a computer or mobile device has access to a wealth of information and opinion that expands exponentially. But we also live in a time where community is fractured, relationships are fragile, and connection is more accessible online than in real life.
Everyone I have spoken to relates to the deep desire to connect, discuss and grow together with other humans. Our main problem in moving people out of rows and into circles is the years of entrenched church culture which prevent people from realising that the method should not be the message. God’s story is as real and vital and relevant to every human being today as it has been throughout history; lets not obscure it from the world around us by suppressing and muting it through our reluctance to change.
Circles are flat.
When we sit in rows, the focus is on the front of the room. All eyes are on the performance on the stage. The pastor, musicians and worship leaders get kudos for the effort they put in. Those who lead have a higher status than those who listen.
In a circle, everyone is equal. Even those who lead and facilitate put their energy into empowering others and giving them status. Everyone can be seen and heard, not just the “professionals”.
Human nature means that many people will struggle giving up their status and lifting up those weaker than themselves. Lets not be naive about it; flattening the hierarchy could get a bit ugly when people are asked to come off the stage and join the circle. There will always be some who will continue to grasp for power and undermine the atmosphere of community. But a functioning community can redirect and manage these people so they don’t upset the balance, and an empowered group of people are able to handle the occasional disruption.
Tomorrow I’ll continue this discussion with a few more reasons churches don’t want to move to circles. Can you think of any?