6 things you can’t do in a circle.

Teenagers Smiling in Group Hug

For the past four years, my husband has been facilitating “church in a circle” – a diverse group of people who gather to share their life stories and explore God’s Word in a hands-on, interactive way. During this time, we’ve discovered the power of meeting face-to-face in a circle. This blog is our space to share what we’ve learned with you.

Along the way, we’ve discovered there are many things you can’t do in a circle. Here are a few of them;

Judgement and criticism. It turns out, correcting and criticising other people is socially unacceptable to do when you’re all sitting face-to-face. Circles only work if they are safe spaces of acceptance and love. We always affirm people when they offer their story or thoughts, rather than arguing petty points with them. Amazingly, we’ve hardly ever seen the conversation go theologically astray, even with drug addicts and prostitutes offering their interpretation of the Scriptures (in fact, their insights are often the most profound).

Experts and professors. Even though every session is hosted by a facilitator, that person’s role is primarily to create a safe space for others to speak. Everyone is on equal footing in a circle, able to have a voice, a value and an impact. In our meetings, we prioritise listening to “the least of these”, rather than elevating the most learned / talented / impressive speaker.

Monologues and sermons. There is nothing worse than sitting in a circle and only allowing one person to have a voice. The seating arrangement is a reminder that we all have equal access to one another, and to God.

Showmanship and performance.  Sometimes we sing simple songs in our circle. We never, ever try to achieve the flashy performance style that modern worship has become, with multiple instruments, rockstar worship leaders and emotion-tugging melodies. It just wouldn’t work.

‘Fakeness’ and dishonesty. A room full of people being honest and open allows you to let down your guard and be authentic. There’s no need to pretend to have it all together, to present yourself as perfect.

Dozing off. Let’s face it, a lot of people have a nap during the sermon. In rows, people can be easily distracted and start daydreaming. In a circle, it’s really obvious when someone stops paying attention. We find people are more likely to head outside for a cigarette break than to zone out in the circle.

In some ways, a circle limits what we can do in church. Certainly, the old model of sitting passively, singing some songs and listening to a sermon doesn’t work well in a circle. However, maybe we’re better off getting rid of the things on this list. What do you think?

10 thoughts on “6 things you can’t do in a circle.

  1. I see your points. I think you have to be careful on the second one, however. You might get the idea that there is no place for full time ministry. Paul makes it pretty clear there is a place for that, even for elders.

    • Aren’t we all in “full-time ministry”? It seems to me that we are all equally called to make disciples, be Christ’s ambassadors, and ministers of reconciliation.

    • Elders and leaders in the New Testament are always framed in terms of servanthood. I think there is space for full-time (paid) ministry, but I also agree with Erik that we are all called to “full-time ministry.”

  2. Thank you for your fresh insights Kathleen. I follow quite a few blogs on simple church (over 20). Your posts are one of two that are consistently positive, uplifting and informative.

    • Thanks, Dennis, that’s very encouraging. You’ve made me curious now, though – whose is the other blog?!

      – Kathleen 🙂

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  4. good read – this makes me think of what gatherings must have been like in the early days of Christianity – before modern “churches” came upon the scene – when Christians had a brotherhood.

    • There’s plenty of evidence that the early church mostly met in one another’s homes to break bread (share a meal) and teach and encourage one another. It wasn’t always perfect (as we can see from many of the New Testament letters), but the structure was radically different from how we experience “church” today.

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