Communities – an ancient concept, a new way of ‘doing’ church.
In 2006-2010, Community CRC, Kitchener, Ontario embarked upon a visioning process during which we adopted a new vision: Growing our relationships with God, each other, and our community. During the process we identified gaps in service whereby church attendants, including youth, new members, seniors, and even regular attenders, have the potential for becoming lost in the crowd. As a church with over 800 individuals passing through our church doors every week, the possibility of being just another face is huge. We wanted to ensure that every individual is connected, cared for, and growing spiritually. As a church, we struggled to determine how to fulfill our vision and become, not only transformed, but also transformative.
After much discussion, prayer, and contemplation, we decided to embrace the idea of developing intergenerational geographical Communities in which members could fellowship with each other in their local community, practice their spiritual gifts within the safety of a small group, and embrace local missional opportunities. In 2010, we transformed our traditional elder districts into 14 Communities defined by geographical boundaries. We piloted the new model in 2011-2012 in two Communities to determine its feasibility and to provide us an opportunity to work closely with two Community leadership teams of elders, deacons, and youth elders.
In the fall of 2012, we launched the Community model throughout the church. Presently each Community is comprised of 14-25 families/individuals and each has its own unique personality dependent upon the area in which it is located. In addition, each Community has its own elder and deacon who live within the boundaries of the geographical area and who oversee the needs of that Community, ideally working together as a leadership team with the support of the Pastor - Pastoral Care and the Community Ministries Team. These Communities are characterized as “smaller congregations” within the larger congregational body of believers which meet together for the purposes of fellowship, pastoral care, mission, and discipleship/accountability. It is our desire that these unique Communities embody the characteristics of the Acts 2 church whereby,
All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved, (Acts2:42-47).
Within each Community there are one to three Community Care Groups (small groups) who meet every two to four weeks for Bible study, fellowship, and relationship building. These groups are intergenerational in nature with a wide mix of ages participating. In order to ensure connection with the larger body of believers, sermon-based study materials are developed by our pastoral team and provided to each Community Care Group for use during their Bible discussion time and at weekly youth meetings. The materials incorporate a variety of learning methods and activities to engage both young and old during discussion. The larger Community is also encouraged to meet together, at least once each season, for a time of fun, relationship building, and missional involvement in their local area. These events serve as an opportunity to engage Community members who currently do not attend the smaller Community Care Groups and vary from traditional potlucks, game nights, roadside clean-ups, hikes, to applesauce making bees!
The process of change is always difficult. Often that which is envisioned at the beginning is not the end result. From the very start, we knew that, in order for this geographical, intergenerational model to succeed, it must make its way into the fabric of who we are as a community of believers. Throughout the past five years, we have been blessed to have observed the blossoming of this concept of Communities. It is no longer just our structure but has become who we are as a family of God. Not only has it changed the organization of our original elder districts and small groups, but it is being filtered down into every crevice and functioning of the church. Every issue that is discussed by consistory and/or council or by its various sub-committees and leadership teams is now analyzed within the context of Communities. In fact, even our annual youth group mission project is becoming intergenerational in nature as adults are being invited to partner with the youth and attend the upcoming missional opportunity planned for the summer of 2016.
However, that is not to say that everything is perfect. Struggles remain. As with many churches, discussions continue regarding how to ensure the on-going engagement of our youth, how to develop an effective missional strategy, and how to balance administrative structure with a need for flexibility. The daily busyness of everyone’s lives continues to serve as an antithesis to true community as does the individualistic and socially isolated society in which we live. As an increasingly transitional culture, the membership of our communities changes rapidly from year to year forcing us to adjust the size and numbers of the geographical Communities.
While these struggles may seem overwhelming at times, we remain encouraged by the fact that congregational members now identify themselves by the Community in which they live, pastoral elders are highly connected to the families and individuals in their area, Communities are serving as first points of contact for newcomers, and attendance at training workshops and council meetings remains high. We see God at work in the lives of the people with whom we worship, serve and have fun, and wait with bated breath to see what else He has in store for us next.
Communities – an ancient concept, a new way of not only ‘doing’ church but of ‘being’ church.
Kitchener Community CRC