Church as a pub?

September 8, 2011

I have been reading several books on missional theology lately including Hirsch and Frost’s, The Shaping of Things to Come. The book came to mind when I read this article about a new church development (PCUSA-eze for a church plant) in Oregon.

For those who didn’t read the article, let me give you an overview of Common Table Public House in Bend, Oregon. Here’s a section from the article:

That call [to reach 18-35 year olds in a highly secular city], in the case of Bend, has taken the form of the Common Table Public House. Its mission: ‘Feed all people, cherish the earth and pursue awareness.’ Hospitality, welcome and action are at the heart of this ministry experiment that serves people daily, in the form of food and drink, and monthly with a shared meal and faith gathering.

‘We are trying to be a place, to use the cliché, that earns the right to be heard — more than that, that earns the right to have the privilege of people joining you and trusting you that you are a safe place where they can be authentic, tell their story and participate.’

The traditional north American model for church planting usually involves getting a core group of people from a sending church, funding and permission from a presbytery, a place to meet, an organizing pastor, and setting out to hold worship services and attract people from the community to the new church.

There are places in the country where this model still works in the sense that is produces a sustainable congregation. However, it’s uncertain as to whether this model works terribly well for people in the 18-35 age range.

A presupposition in this model is that people in the community see a need for being part of a congregation that is centered on regular public worship. This presupposition is largely not shared by the emerging post-Christian generation of Americans.

According to Frost and Hirsch (The Shaping of Things to Come) this new reality requires a new response. Instead of planting churches in the traditional sense, they call for new ways of being church that involve being sent into the community to interact with the folk we’re called to serve.

Common Table is an example of the model they’re arguing for. It creates a space in which Christ followers can authentically interact with those who are not yet Christians. It is in the community rather than seeking to extract from the community.

Many would look at Common Table and not see anything that vaguely resembles a church. I look at it and see something fundamentally healthy and biblical about a gathering of people, many of whom are Christians, into a relational matrix centered in table fellowship. If Common Table is a centered-set group–focused and centered on following Jesus and drawing others closer to Him, then it’s a church. And its something we will likely see more of as our culture gradually becomes alienated from the traditional practice of church since the 19th century.

For an overview of missional church see Columbia Seminary President Steve Hayner’s article, “The Shaping of Things to Come” here.