April 9, 2010

Walking Distance Ecclesiology

Ancient Thessalonica measures just about one square mile in area. Ditto for most cities Paul planted churches in. Even Rome & Jerusalem weren't too much bigger. To put that into perspective, map a few spots that are one-half-mile from your home in every direction. Now give that circle some corners and you'll have some idea how close the first Christians lived to one another.

But the first Christians weren't just accessible to one another, they were necessary. They needed each other. They no longer fit well with anyone in their towns apart from one another. For knowing Christ, THEY were all that THEY had. Each new Christian found in Jesus Christ had to also find out that their Lord was inside their new siblings as well. Thus, if they needed Him, then they needed each other.

Now try to imagine this: call a meeting for all church going folks, of any denominations, as long as they live in the same local Elementary School zone as yourself. In fact, hold the meeting there. Lots of people could actually walk to it. Then, perhaps in the cafeteria, organize a series of home meetings - by street, block or neighborhood.

I'll end the fantasy there. We could let our imaginations run wild, dreaming of wonderful hootenanies, or we can acknowledge the facts. This is most likely NOT going to happen so easily. And why not? Because we don't NEED each other that much.

Or do we?

Before you answer, please know that I'm not talking about keeping up good relationships with one's neighbors. I'm talking about people both near enough and devout enough to host 6 AM prayer meetings on a weekday. I'm talking about people who can walk around the corner just after dinner and who'd feel comfortable spending an hour together in somebody's spare room, just pursuing the Lord.


We so desperately need that. Most of us just don't know how badly.


Peter Kirk said...

More than half of my church congregation lives within a mile of where we meet. About a third live within half a mile. Unusual, I know, but it can happen. And the church lives in the tension between encouraging that by working with the community and drawing in people from further afield.

Bill Heroman said...

Thanks for sharing that here, Peter. I'm very jealous. There must be a story behind that 'coincidence'. I would love to hear it sometime...

Peter Kirk said...

There's not much of a story, Bill. The church was planted in the 1960s to serve a compact new housing estate, initially with a chidren's Sunday school which grew into a church. Many core members grew up in that Sunday school. We still attract a lot of people from the estate through our community activities and children and youth work. A few people including myself moved into the community to be nearer the church. Also there is a relic here of the Church of England parish system by which people were expected to attend their local church, which is within a mile in most urban areas.

Alan Knox said...


Nice post. Your last sentence says so much. This is the primary thing that I've learned while comparing the church in the NT to the modern church.


Brian said...

it's a nice idea. a really nice idea. and I would absolutely love to see it come about. but until we do come to the depths of the realization of just how much we really do need each other - it's hard to see how it would happen.

The grand canyon village where we are, everything is pretty much within a mile - if people really wanted to, they could get to church - there are ways - but there is just too much individualism and too many armchair pastor/theologians.

It's sad really.

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