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The Connecting Church Hardcover – April 1, 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From the Back Cover
Church can be so much better. So intimate and alive. The Connecting Church tells you how. The answer may seem radical today, but it was a central component of life in the early church. First-century Christians knew what it meant to live in vital community with one another, relating with a depth and commitment that made "the body of Christ" a perfect metaphor for the church. What would it take to reclaim that kind of love, joy, support, and dynamic spiritual growth? Read this book and find out.
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How can people learn to be social creatures again? Our society has lost its ability to connect socially, and many look to the church to provide the answer. When people do look, they are often disappointed.
Frazee shows how modern behavior patterns and mindsets sabotage the possibility of building deep relationships. His book is divided into three sections. The first, "Connecting to A Common Purpose" explores the problem of individualism and how discovering and agreeing upon Biblical purpose can (theroretically) address it. He offers practical suggestions, like limiting kids to only one sport, etc., so that families have time to get together with other families. The second section, "Connecting to A Common Place" talks about the need for stability: staying put in a church, in a job, and in a neighborhood. The third section, "Connecting to Common Possessions" is a very moderate approach toward helping and sharing with one another. Do not be afraid of this section: it is balanced and reasonable.
There are many quotables in this book. Here is my favorite from page 142, "Most pastors have come to realize that they can plan for new members to be a part of the church for only two to five years before these members move again. So prevalent is this mobility phenomenon that most people assume a new relationship isn't going to last long before one or the other of them (or both) moves away--so why bother getting started in the first place, the thinking goes."
Although I shouted a few "Amens" while reading this work, I disagree with Frazee's solution. The problem with this volume-- and others like it-- is that people who follow such approaches do not get comfortable with their humanity and that of others. Or, to put it another way, engineering relationships does not work. Even Frazee's program, if followed by people with this common "connecting deficit" defect, will still be contrived.
People who are social and value relationships will tend to stay put and build life-long friendships. The others can rarely be convinced. There is something dysfunctional about a person who cannot connect: the problem is not usually lack of structure. Though perhaps the majority of modern Americans do not connect well, the first step is to face the reality that they have the defect.
Tense people who long to connect often defeat connecting by their tense desire to do so. Connecting people are at ease with and enjoy people. And until a person is at ease with humanity and imperfection, he cannot be a connector. For example, one of Frazee's suggested social activity is watching videos together. People who connect (not because they are part of some contrived program) enjoy people so much, they'd probably rather play cards.
Additionally, better than connecting is becoming a connector. Since churches generally accept anybody, people with poor social skills get away with murder in a church context. We reward them.
If you really want to understand connecting, you are better off studying secular groups where people connect because they have relational depth, not because there is an ethic to include anybody and everybody.
Books like, "Bowling Along" (Putnam) are most illuminating here. Do you subscribe to and read your daily paper? Do you make the effort to meet a new neighbor? Do you watch the news and vote? Do you belong to clubs or civic organizations? Do you watch only a moderate amount of TV? Do you have people over for a visit at least once a month? Is your church attendance faithful, including dinners and special events? Do you serve in a ministry? Odds are those who said "yes" to most of the above are the real connectors.
Frazee is right in this regard: the church should provide opportunities for connection. But connectors will thrive even with few such opportunities, and most non-connectors will not genuinely connect no matter what the structure. Non-connectors, instead, need to realize that they have a defect and learn by imitating connectors how to overcome it. Opportunities to connect will train future generations and help those who are truly teachable and aware of their connecting deficit. And for these teachable people, Frazee's approach will work--if coupled with a desire to connect socially not only in church, but to the community as well.
Frazee and his church have made significant research and effort into exploring the topic and beginning its recovery. The main culprits that have allowed community to be eroded out of the American scene are individualism, consumerism and isolationism/independence.
The solution they discovered from among "community" doers exhibited a given set of characteristics (fifteen in all) which can be organized into three central foci: common purpose, common possessions and common place.
The stickler here is that this necessitates being countercultural.
Frazee outlines one way how this idea of Christian community could be played out in a congregational setting. He must be credited with not being dogmatic about his ideas or thoughts on implementation, e.g. "I openly confess that this is not an all-or-nothing proposition. ... In my estimation, the application of any of the characteristics of community will dynamically enhance the life of your congregation." This is exceedingly well said and is the premium reading this book provides.
A Biblical study of NT fellowship and unity, i.e. koinonia will garner much more emphasis around the God given means of grace, Word and Sacraments. As this is where the Lord is to call, nourish and lead His people, this should be far more the emphasis than programmatic organizational schemes. For this to happen as the Good Shepherd proclaims, He gives the church "the called and ordained servants of the Word" which Frazee downplays severly (pg. 233).
Christ's body should rejoice as this reader for this fine work which addresses many of the inherent faults with church growth up till now. His diagnosis of the need for more common creed, etc. are commendable. Get's one truly thinking about what should be at the core of "church," i.e. community.
Top international reviews
The book deals with the question of why securing committment to small groups is such a challenge, and why a vibrant sense of community and purpose seems often to be missing. It challenges our own lifestyle choices and also suggests that the local church should assess its own busy agenda to see how the myriad of activities undertaken might actually exacerbate the problems, when only a few regular volunteers are seemingly available to carry the burden of the church's ministry in a consumer-orientated society.
As one who has experienced burnout and frustration in my own small group, at the same time longing for a deeper sense of community and purpose, this book has been a breath of fresh air; re-read several times. We are beginning to implement the recommendations in this book in our small group, with some degree of success - the only frustration being that in order to really progress, the whole church needs to get hold of the vision, from the top down.