Here's where I'm going with my general concerns over the re-focus on individualizing faith in response to the perceived failure of program-centric church community: When everything in our idolatrous culture and everything in our idolatrous hearts tells us to maintain our inward bent and satiate our inward selves, why in God's name would the Church think for a second of further cultivating spiritual independence?
I am not saying we aren't to take responsibility for our own spirituality. I'm not saying God doesn't save us as individuals. What I am saying is that little-s spirituality is most big-S Spiritual when it is expressed within the context of The Body of Christ and that while God does save us as individuals, He doesn't save us to an individual faith. Is the answer to the deficiencies in our discipleship programs really to give up on the cultivation of discipleship in community?
The trend of the most influential churches in the evangelical landscape is away from community.
Check out a highlighting of a USA Today piece in this article at Monday Morning Insight:
"Across the country, fall is high season for "church shopping," as people in search of a new faith community to call home set about the task of finding one. But that doesn't mean they're showing up, singing hymns, shaking hands and sampling doughnuts at a different church each week. Instead, observers say, they're visiting church websites and evaluating congregations — often without having actually met anyone at the church. And that has some church people worried that the practice of faith is getting ever more impersonal — and consequently less powerful — in an age driven by efficiency and impatience. Church shoppers "used to have to go to the service, sit in the back row and watch," says Tom Bandy, president of EasumBandy & Associates, a church consultancy. "The website has just replaced that. The color schemes, the formatting, the language, the music — those things powerfully reveal who they (in the church) want to come there and who's going to be accepted there."
Now, the article goes on to discuss the effectiveness and importance of church websites and other promotional portals. Nothing wrong with those. But what I get hung up on is the idea, the very notion, that one can "sense" community, that one can get a taste of connection simply by looking at a computer screen. When the writer says, "That has some church people worried that the practice of faith is getting ever more impersonal -- and consequently less powerful," my head is nodding vigorously.
I can't in good conscience pontificate on video preaching and what-not as being wrong or improper. But I certainly can't help but think that when some of our most pressing problems in the church's discipleship culture are the lack of connection, the lack of vulnerability, the lack of relationships, and the lack of connecting affinity, that it might be a little unwise to continue de-personalizing and super-virtualizing the experience of Christian community. Most of these sorts of churches do have small groups programs, so if asked, they would say "well, community doesn't happen in a church service anyway; it happens in our small groups." And that's great as far as it goes, but as the data continues to emerge, as the surveys continue, and as I begin to listen to more and more "big church" gurus, the more it is beginning to be acknowledged that the small group revolution isn't really having the effect everyone assumed it was. Certainly the REVEAL data has shown that if the current tide of small groups is supposed to be where real spiritual growth is taking place, it's not working.
Heck, one big church has a virtual campus in Second Life. So now the fake person you live out your ideal life through in a fake world that conforms to your imagination can now visit a fake church and have fake community that conforms to your imagination.
I cannot escape the idea that the very idea that God Himself became weeping, sweating, bleeding, suffering, dying body should have greater impact and ramifications on the way the church "does" being that Body today. Maybe "virtual church" is virtually anti-incarnation.