Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Missional Church 6 -- Organizing Around Practices Rather than Programs

The generic North American church is defined by its programs. The way one gets involved is through a combination of participation in programs.

Another way to conceive of church involvement is in terms of practices. Rather than getting involved in programs to define involvement, one commits to a set of common practices. Joining a local congregation is about joining a journey of discipleship defined by a set of practices.

At Saint Patrick's Church we define our life in terms of four practices: Worship, Community, Formation, Mission. Our only ongoing program is Holy Eucharist on Sunday. Everything else is negotiable and planned either for a season at a time or on an ad hoc basis. We only add other activities that serve the four practices.

Sounds strangely like a regula or Rule of Life. Hmm...


+ Alan said...

Hmm indeed. You best get to writin'. :)

James Gibson said...

There must be something about living in a town called Lexington that makes pastors think like this. I'm forming a new congregation in Lexington, South Carolina on pretty much the same model. We're starting out with a small group following a daily rule, building toward a weekly Eucharist.

Adam Gonnerman said...

This is where missional gets sticky for me. What about a youth group? Isn't that a program? Also, no Sunday School either (not that I'd miss it)?

Peter said...

That's an important question Adam. I'm glad you asked it.

I am still teasing out my thoughts on this, so most of what is surfacing is imprecise.

Organizing around practices is more about how one conceives of involvement in a church. Imagine having lunch with a prospective new member and she asks, "How do I get involved?"

A church that organizes around programs would answer, "Besides Sunday worship we have Sunday School, Small Groups, Men's Fellowship, etc." Involvement is defined as participation in activities the church offers.

A church that organizes around practices would answer this way, "Well, besides our weekly gathering for worship we really don't have any programs to offer. Instead, we invite people to join us on the journey of discipleship by embracing a set of Christian practices and working them out in the community." A church that organizes around practices will have programs -- common life demands it. But they will be ad hoc and exist to support the living out of the practices.

I imagine the differences between the approaches are not absolute.

At this point I'm thinking out loud.


Adam Gonnerman said...


I REALLY appreciate your answer, but I'm still having a hard time visualizing this. And if I - someone very interested in the missional approach - am having trouble with it, how hard must this be to people looking into joining a missional church?

Specifically, what are the practices you are talking about? And, would there be a youth ministry, men's fellowship, etc?

Sorry I'm so slow.