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Here is What We are Doing

4 September 2010

“Pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” – Jesus

The church family I run with is making a profound change. Like right now.

We are moWhite pewsving from pews to living rooms. From one big room to dozens of small ones. From one large central location to numerous small ones all over town. From a single centralized gathering to many scattered out gatherings.

As my new friend John in Atlanta says, we are moving “out of rows and into circles”.   Circle Couch


A circle calls for more participation from everyone. A circle invites more authentic interaction with people. A circle meets more people where they are at. A circle is more personal. A circle can address a broader spectrum of subjects custom fit for a broader number of people.  A circle is more intimate. A circle is less consumeristic. A circle notices when someone is missing. A circle ask “how are you doing?” and exists to have time for a real answer. A circle is more relational. A circle is more likely to live out the dozens of “one another” instructions in scripture. A circle is less likely to fall into a mind numbing religious routine.

Now…read that last paragraph again replacing the words “a circle” with the name “Jesus”.

You see it?

A church of circles needs more leaders developed. A church of circles goes out into all the world rather than needing the world to come in. A church of circles trusts the Holy Spirit to move and act through more people. A church of circles represents the Kingdom in more and varied places, in more and varied ways. A church of circles is agile and able to plant churches from it’s own number for more people groups where those people groups live. The ministry of a church of circles is definitely more messy than a church of lecture hall and classroom, but it is also less constrained by anything or anyone that would stand opposed to it’s mission. A church of circles is to it’s city what leaven is to bread…it makes the whole thing rise.

Now…read that last paragraph again replacing the word “circles” with “Christ”.

Isn’t it obvious…why we are doing this, I mean?

Our church family feels commissioned to make disciples of Jesus Christ through relationships. For too long we’ve been trying to make disciples through a meeting on Sunday mornings. We’ve even tried to use the meeting to develop relationships…with some success, I might add.

But if we can do it better, we should. We must. And now we are. We’ve been talking about it for a long time. Both our duty and our love compels us. So every single one of us in our church family is being asked by our leaders to circle up – with a few friends – and gather weekly for the purpose of relationally helping each other become more like Christ.

When we do…

  • Goal 1 is for all of us to learn how to better be in deeper relationship with each other.
  • Goal 2 is for each of us to offer that kind of relationship to people who are spiritually lonely.
  • Goal 3 is for to offer that someone our whole group of friends.
  • Goal X (the one that “marks the spot” that all of this revolves around) is that everyone gets into deeper relationship with God, becoming more like Christ, and experiencing a fuller life.

To make this personal, I want my wife, my sons Shade & Jakin, and my daughter Callie to have a tight group of friends that exists to help each of them become more like Christ. I want that for me, too. You, too. Our church family is organizing to help with that. And then offer it to everyone.

Creating tight groups of spiritual friends. That’s what our church is doing. As many times as (super-)humanly possible, that is what we are doing.

I’ll post more details about what we specifically mean by “a tight group of spiritual friends”.

I’ll post how we are using our church-family resources create & sustain these city-penetrating groups in ever-increasing numbers.

I’ll post the steps we are taking this Fall (our “Give Groups a Try” campaign) to move all of our current family members “from rows to circles”.

But for now, do you see how this differs for people substantially (as opposed to superficially)? How it changes the typical church member’s “religious practices”? How it calls for more loving relationships out of more people? How it offers loving relationships to the world? How much more human it is? How much more potential there is for it to offer life-giving, Christ-exalting relationships with more and a wider array of people in our city?

Do you see why we are opting for this kind of change rather than the superficial changes of how we do worship on Sundays? Or what day of the week we offer it? Or what time? Or how women should be “allowed” to participate? Or whether classes are offered before or after worship? Or how long the sermon should be, or what teaching style is used, or who is preaching it? Or the role musical instruments will play? Or whether the Lord’s Supper is offered monthly or weekly or in one cup or multiple ones? Or what we name our church on the church sign by the street? Or whether we should sing ancient or contemporary songs or both?

We want to become more relationally connected to each other & then to our world, so that when we invite people to “our church,” we’re inviting them into a circle of good and spiritual friends of depth, rather than to a auditorium ushering in rows of friendly and polite people.

We’re changing things. You can hear more about it here from our elders.

Christ vs. Church, On Transitioning Church

18 Comments to “Here is What We are Doing”

  1. your movement is a source of hope and encouragement to me. I send you blessings in Jesus name

  2. I love your enthusiasm, but I must say, we have got to slow down. Things take time and I think the best thing is to perhaps start this new program once a month, then see how it goes, and test the waters. I pray it works out, some good things, but I think we risk losing some good people when someone is too impulsive. God bless us and you~James

    • Faith my brother, we must walk by faith and risk it all, we have only to step out on the waters, not test the water…Blessings bro

    • James: A couple of thoughts & questions:

      Concerning going slow: We’ve been talking about making disciples through relationships for over 6 years (since I got here) at Southwest, and I know this has been in the hearts of our elders for at least 3 years before that. Also, the elders have been praying specifically about this particular plan for a year, and planned & approved a very intentional, slow transition into it spanning over 5 months (began in July, will be completed in November)…being sure to explain the heart and the details every step of the way. It’s been anything but impulsive. How much slower should we go before we’re really not moving at all?

      Concerning the risk of losing some good people — this just breaks my heart to think about. I don’t want any of our loved ones to leave our family. We need every single one. And honestly, with the nature of our plan, I can’t imagine why any of our current members would leave. I’d love your perspective on potential reasons someone might leave us through this transition?

      Concerning experimentation: I’m not sure what you mean when you say “start this new program once a month,” but when I came here, the elders basically mandated that I personally & prayerfully attempt to create a “model ministry” of some sort that might eventually reach out and engage people relationally outside our church walls in the name of Christ. It took years, but eventually, my mens group took off with a life that did just that (and still is, praise God). There have been at least 2 seperate months where we had more guests in my mens group than we did at our Southwest church services during that same time (and we pretty much always have more unchurched or de-churched people come)! I know we can do this. And I’m patient, it may take years for all of us to learn how to offer real friendships with hurting people and then offer our small group of friends to them, and then learn how to deliver Christ to them through those relationships…but I know it can work.

      One step at a time, brother. We’re not in any hurry. But it is time to take those very intentional, thought-out, prayed over steps…together.

      Love to keep this dialogue going, brother.

  3. Rock on!!

  4. Yahoo!! Love it bro, God will so bless the faithfulness of SW. Out in the community, where the body is so goes Jesus, more ops for ppl to have a relationship/connection with Christ and a way to connect and celebrate…Awesome, HE did say GO didn’t HE… : )

  5. Brian – Will this be in place of, or addition to, the Sunday morning “rows”? I love it either way.

    • Strictly speaking, “in addition to”.

      But a little bit more strictly speaking, “in place of”. By that I mean that up until now, our Sunday morning gathering got priority attention (in terms of staffing, money spent, attention, measurement of sucess).

      But now, our circles will get all that priority. The Gathering will still happen, but as a large group gathering of all of our small groups.

  6. Be ye not discouraged, bud! Your Christlike attitude with naysayers has been one of the most impressive things about you to me since I’ve known you. I admire your patience, humility, and grace for others so much. As always, the things happening at SW are an incredible encouragement to me. All the best from Belfast!

  7. Good luck, Brian. May God continue to bless you all as you make this transition. I cannot think of a better person to lead such a transition than you. I am so excited for you. Wish I could be a part of it, but the AF still has me locked in:) Love ya.

  8. I think this has a really good chance to disciple some believers. I hear your heart to get away from legalism, and to show people the love of Jesus. How are you going to ensure the gospel message is in every circle? My thoughts are that the people may show Christ-like love and that other people may be drawn to the groups because they want love from people, but my fear is that loving people may turn into some form of idolatry and they will seek out their identity in each other instead of from God. They need to see God’s love, not just Christ-like love from other believers. Being like Christ is great, but until it comes out of a heart filled with love for God, its can be a whole lot like having a bunch of rules to follow. Do you see my concern and the difference?

    • You say “Being like Christ is great, but until it comes out of a heart filled with love for God…”, as if there is some other way to be like Christ. You can’t call any loving action Christ-like until anything and everything you do comes out of a heart filled with love for God.

      It’s not Christ-like love at all if it allows loving people to be idolotry.

      It’s not Christ-like love if it allows people to seek their identity in each other instead of God.

      It’s not Christ-like love if it is anything like merely having a bunch of rules to follow.

      That’s why we say “Christ-like love” rather than merely using the word love…in which case your fear would be valid. I wish the word the “love” was instantly synonymous with the phrase “Christ-like love”, but it is not.

  9. It is true that you cannot truly have Christ-like love until it comes out of a heart filled with love for God. We both want people to sacrifice their lives for that love.

    My concern comes from my experience that I spent years trying to be as perfect as possible and my interpretation of “Christ-like” was to imitate Christ’s behavior of servant like love even though I had a heart filled with shame and guilt from when I wasn’t “Christ-like.” The truth is I didn’t know the Lord. I knew a lot about the Lord, but I did not know the Lord.

    Out of the transparent life I lead now, I want you to understand that I was a really good fake for a really long time.

    I know your heart in this is out of love for God, and you want people to have the freedom that comes out of loving God and knowing Him just as I want that. I agree that being in circles is far closer to the Acts 2 community goal than being in rows.

    The concern I have is valid, though because Christ-likeness focuses on being a certain way and not on falling in love with Jesus. True Christ-likeness came for me when I saw why and how to fall in love with Jesus and actually sought Him with all of my heart and fell in love with Him. I want you to know this because I know you want to serve the best slice of Jesus you can offer.

    Understand my heart that I truly want to see believers in the world rise up beyond the luke-warm nature of Christianity in America and get passionate about Jesus. If they aren’t passionate about their love for God then everything else they do is irrelevant. I know you have some awesome believers at SW, but I don’t want anyone to miss out on a love relationship with the Lord by trying to live “Christ-like,” like I did. To live is Christ and to die is gain.

    • I hear you, Crystal. Amen to all that you have said.

      But matters of interpretation of words, we are all on our own when we read a blog or listen to someone talk.

      Whether I say “Christ-like” or “Truly Christ-like”, both are subject to a persons chosen interpretation. Just like when someone says “church” or “true church”. Or “love for God” or “true love for God”.

      For example, you said, “I know your heart in this is out of love for God, and you want people to have the freedom that comes out of loving God and knowing Him.” — All of this, you say, is what you know I mean when I say “Christ-like”.

      And then you said, “The concern I have is valid, though because Christ-likeness focuses on being a certain way and not on falling in love with Jesus.” — this assumes that the word Christ-like only focuses on certain outward behaviors and not on the heart of Christ.

      I see the point you are making, that there are people who could interpret the word “Christ-likness” as some hit list of outward behaviors that they then act out with out sincere love. That, of course, you and I both know, would not be Christ-like at all. But what word would you substitute for this one to avoid this possibility?

      1 John 1:6 – “Anyone who claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” – This is fraught with the same danger. But how could John have improved upon it?

      1 Cor 11:1 – “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” – this has the same possible interpretation, but what is Paul to do?

      Matt 28:19- “Go and make disciples.” – a disciple, as you know, is an someone who becomes “like” his Rabbi. What word should Jesus have used to avoid the possibility that someone legalistically be like Christ only outwardly, void of any genuine love relationship with God?

      We have to work with words. And words have limitations. That’s why Jesus (and I, in effort to be like him) used stories, analogies, and comparisons to try to deliver the heart behind the words.

      Perhpas this is why (and this both affirms your point and is a defense of using the word Christ-like) Jesus said multiple times…

      “He who has an ear, let him hear.”

  10. Brian, I stumbled onto your blog several months ago, and I’ve loved it. I can only say now, reading these plans for the congregation, that I wish I lived in Amarillo! God bless all involved in this.

    My husband would have loved this. He was a church of Christ minister. I lost him to cancer in June of this year. What you have described had always been a dream of his. He’s in heaven, cheering you on, brother!


    • I’m so sorry for your loss, Flora. May God bless you, and thank you for sharing him with me in this small way.

      I’m grateful to know I have him in my cloud of witnesses up there!

  11. Love, love, love this idea! If you don’t mind, I’m sharing this link for others to read.

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