This might sound confusing (given the name of my blog), but I don’t actually believe in “church in a circle.”
I don’t believe that getting God’s people to sit in a circle will somehow magically make church more effective, or more spiritual, or fix all the problems within a particular church. Quite the reverse, in fact – I’m certain that in most churches, if you rearrange the seating into a circle tomorrow, you’ll make church meetings more awkward, less effective and possibly even emotionally dangerous. Our current models for meeting work much better in rows than circles.
I don’t believe in circles. Circles are just geometric shapes. They can’t change your life. I believe in Jesus-centred, transformational community. And that’s what I try to write about – but I find that words are grossly inadequate to capture it. You have to experience it. You have to see it in action. You have to get on and do it.
I’ve experienced Jesus-centred, transformational community numerous times in my life. Sometimes it has been in a church building, in rows, with a pastor at the front preaching from a pulpit. But more often, it has been in a circle of 10-50 people, and it has involved listening and speaking to one another. My life has been significantly impacted and changed by the community I experienced in various home groups and home church over the years, the intense counselling prac groups we took part in at Bible college, and a number of short-term, intense projects and trips we’ve been involved in. In the last few years, I’ve seen some inspiring transformational community at work in Fresh Start Community, a “church” my husband facilitates each week (and the inspiration for this blog).
All of these groups have had four things in common;
1. Intentionality. We gathered around a common purpose and focus. There was a spoken or unspoken commitment to growing, and learning, and sharing together.
2. Listening. We practiced deep listening, in formal and informal ways. Each person had the opportunity to share their stories and insights and thoughts, and the rest of the group listened respectfully and intently. Honesty and acceptance were encouraged and modelled.
3. Speaking truth in love. We wouldn’t simply listen to one another without responding – there was opportunity to speak into each other’s lives; to point out stuff; to challenge one another; to encourage and lift others up. The motivation was to bless and build up, not to curse and tear down. Sometimes it was messy and awkward – those tended to be the most transformational moments.
4. Meeting in circles. These communities always met in circles; sometimes one large circle, sometimes small groups or pairs. Sometimes guys and girls split up so they could go deeper, safer. The facilitator was always part of the group, not separated by a stage or a pulpit. Everyone was involved, not just the leader.
The optimist in me is certain this kind of transformational community is possible in every church denomination. The realist in me understands it is too big a leap for many churches to make. That’s a shame, because every time I return to the Scriptures, I’m more and more convinced the New Testament shows us that church is supposed to operate like a family, like a body, like a transformational community – not like a lecture hall or a performance venue.
Circles won’t transform our lives and our churches – but true community will.