It has recently dawned on me that we really have no idea whatsoever what living in true community is. Perhaps the most telling symptom is found in the response so many of us receive when we speak of multiplying groups. It is quite common that people do not want to reproduce a group because they value the relationships they currently have and are afraid that if they start a new group they will lose the relationship. A recent review of Search & Rescue even mentioned that Life Transformation Groups foster short term relationships because they are to multiply frequently and discipleship must involve much longer relationships than LTGs promote.
Well, this is actually a glaring symptom of a much more serious issue: we do not have very good relationships! If our relationships cannot endure maturation and development over the years then they are weak and anemic.
For centuries church has been mostly defined by meetings. As a result we have settled into a superficial understanding of how we relate to one another that is completely limited to scheduled meetings together. The result is that we think if the weekly meeting changes the relationship is lost. This, my friends, is shallow and sick. A relationship is so much more than seeing one another at a weekly event. Church is so much more as well. I believe that church is to be a spiritual family on mission together, not a weekly meeting or religious event. We actually believe that when we send people out to start meeting in another group that we have lost or severely hurt the original relationships. Really? Is your relationship simply about meeting for a once a week Bible study, worship service or potluck? We must have stronger "ties that bind" than these.
Once we begin to see church as a family instead of a religious meeting everything changes. We are no longer restricted to a two hour scheduled meeting. Family is 24/7. Even when a child grows up and moves away they are still part of the family and thought of with affection and belonging, right? Of course. They will be missed and there may be more expensive phone bills, but the relationship is still strong and in tact. To be honest, when I look at old photos of my children as toddlers I miss them in that stage, but I am so glad I get to know them in all the stages of life. I look forward to the thrill of grandchildren, and I would never know this thrill if I somehow kept my own kids from maturing. And if children mature and become parents themselves, the family is stronger for it, not weaker. The fact that we are so concerned with a church giving birth to another indicates that we really do not understand church naturally--as a family. Imagine if you actually treated your own family they way we practice church. What would your family be like if you only saw each other once a week, seated in rows, with one person doing all the talking and another collecting the weekly offering. Then you sing a song and depart for the week not to see each other until the following meeting. That is not a strong family at all, nor is it a strong church.
I maintain strong relationships with people that have moved on to start new groups and reach new people. Our relationship matures over the years but doesn't diminish. We may begin to know each other in a Life Transformation Group, but when the group multiplies into two other groups our relationship has ended! No, in fact most of the time it matures into something better, not worse.
I think that the reason people cling to a group meeting with such desperation is because it is the closest thing to relationships in church that they have every known, which is quite sad when you think of it. We simply must develop stronger relationships that are not threatened by the thought of naturally birthing new generations. If in your own family you stuck together and never matured or allowed your children to grow into independent adults and parents themselves you would have an extremely unhealthy family. Grandchildren do not weaken familial ties, they tend to strengthen the family in almost every way.
Grow up church! Become the family you are meant to be. Celebrate the birth of the next generation and enjoy your grand kids! If you are too afraid to do it you will miss out on the best part of family.