I am still at this house church conference in Denver, Colorado. Words being used here to describe this new movement are "simple", "organic" and "house" church. I have introduced another word that may add another layer or two of meaning.
My contribution to the conversation in my group yesterday was about being a "LOCAL" church. That may sound quite mundane because the word has been thrown around for decades, but driving 30 minutes across a city once or twice a week is NOT a local church, its a DISTANT church. I think we will see a new movement of "local" churches. This is what i mean.
In the USA, changes in society's values have been reflected in the cuisine as well as in the church. I love food and cooking so it speaks to my mind as well as my stomach. Here are some trends i have noticed over the past 20 years that have affected the way i see both food AND church.
The gourmet food movement in the 80's, which educated hairy alpha males in the nuances of brie cheese and balsmanic vinegar, focused on bespoke foods of excellence. Churches in the 80's were also pursuing excellence in programing and worship. Second best was not good enough for God. We aimed at health, growth, and a high level of communication and art.
Sometimes gourmet food had to do with relative scarcity. Sometimes regional identity (coffee beans from the south-west slope of a remote Sumatran mountainside) allowed geographical location to add exotic value to the eating experience. Information about the food also enhanced the experience and increased the price.
The organic food movement in the 90's contrasted the artificial nature of industrial-processed food and offered a higher standard of food grown in environments free from suspect chemicals and stimulants. Many churches used the word "organic" to focus on the simple churches not enamored or ruled by institutional structures or outside leadership or value systems imported from another time or place. The word is still in use.
The recent slow food movement, which may come partly as a reaction to fast food abuse, challenges people towards cooking slowly and eating in. People are re-imagining their own kitchens and enjoying the cooking experience. Also in the church, we see house church meetings that linger over long casserole meals and conferences that resemble parties. Going OUT for church is in competition with staying IN with friends in the confines of a home for an extended period of time.
and here is the one i want to talk about . . .
The local food movement, as I understand it, brings equality and justice to local workers rather than lining the pockets of absent executives. It protects the environment by reducing transportation. It's speed of delivery ensures freshness of product. It honors local traditional cooking techniques unique to that location. It is contextual, economic, just, and deeply connected to history and geography. It doesn't cancel out previous movements but it does build on their strengths.
The early church was a LOCAL church. When Peter was thrown in jail, the believers arrived quickly to pray in a home. I'm talking about easy walking distance or close enough to be involved in each other's lives on an almost daily basis. The idea of driving all the way across town a few times a week is a distant church, not a local church and we may be heading towards a time in history when churches will be asked to measure their carbon footprint.
Can you imagine the impact of local churches composed of people that live on the same street or block or suburb? Spontaneity and regularity. No hiding behind pulpits. Lives visible to all.
Not saying that existing churches should transition to this.
And I am not saying that we cannot be DISTRIBUTED churches. Our deep relationships online might be geographically distant but may be absolutely vital to our church life.
But i am saying that when someone begins to follow Jesus and starts to throw parties for his friends, many of those people may be from the same neighborhood and a local church might come into being. And thats a good thing. Not the ONLY thing - there will be times to meet regionally and even nationally, and beyond comfortable denominational/network borders, but the stuff of church life will probably happen among those who are close enough be involved on an almost daily basis. Nuff said.