The majority of churches around the world use roughly the same format and layout, no matter what size, or denomination, or demographic. Chairs are arranged in parallel rows, facing towards a stage. After some group singing, a qualified professional takes the microphone and interprets God’s Word for the rest of the community. No response or interaction is required from those in the rows, apart from 60 seconds of “say hi to the person next to you” and singing along with the worship team. Any interaction which does take place is in a separate area, over tea and coffee, without any structured attempt to facilitate spiritual conversations.
Sure, there are advantages to rows (you can fit more people in, you can deliver a well-rehearsed presentation without interruption, you can minimise the distractions of eye-contact and interaction with the people around you), but there are distinct limitations to what you can achieve when people are seated so they can only see the backs of one another’s heads.
A completely different dynamic comes into play when people are seated in circles, rather than in rows. They can see, hear and interact with one another. They can minister to each other. God’s people are visually positioned as equals, gathering around a central focus, all with equal access to God and to the Holy Spirit. Every individual present becomes important, rather than elevating a single performer over a passive audience. The meeting is less predictable and less controllable in a circle than in rows, but this messiness comes with the opportunity for great beauty and life-changing interactions.
An ever-growing number of churches around the world are gathering in circles. This week I read about a refurbished church who’ve replaced the pews with rocking chairs around a fireplace – unconventional, yes, but increasingly making sense in this era where we value connection and participation over lecture and monologue.
Over the coming weeks, I am going to talk about different models and methods of “church in a circle” which are happening around the world. I’ve invited some bloggers and readers to contribute articles sharing how they are approaching church in a fresh way, and the value of gathering in a circle. I’m excited to share their stories with you – and I welcome you to contribute to the conversation about how circles are changing your experience of God’s church.
From mega-churches to monasteries, from Sunday school lessons to seminary in a circle, from pastors exploring failure to addicts celebrating recovery, I look forward to a journey over the next couple of months as we hear about different formats of God’s people gathering in circles. I pray these posts are helpful to the many pastors and churches who are ready and willing to explore a new model for meeting together as a community.