It is part of my responsibilities at the church to care for the Bible Studies that happen on a weekly basis. Part of the continual challenge of Bible Studies is navigating the balance between educating people on the bible and then applying it to real life.
Suddenly, as I was drafting up a manual for the bible studies, I realized why I believe so much more in the Neighborhood Network. So, here is my list of why I believe that inter-denominational community groups are able to accomplish more than Bible Studies can:
1. One only needs to look at the quantifiable number of hours we spend together in our network group against those of bible studies. At my current network group, we spend time together eating, talking, and discussing lessons for two and a half hours per week. In addition, because we live close to each other, we spend additional hours together going out to eat and play. In total, we likely average 4 hours per week together. This is compared with Bible Studies, which only spend one hour per week together with occasional events. At this rate, we can accomplish as much in one week together as a bible study can in one month. In one year, we can accomplish as much as a bible study can in four years.
2. Bible studies regularly struggle with putting their faith on the ground. This, I believe, is due to the fact that the setting determines how one acts. If you try to learn budgeting in a vacuum, you will likely care less. However, if you teach someone to budget with their real money and they get a taste of what it is like to save money: everything changes. For the Neighborhood Network, we are practicing our mission every week by talking about and meeting our neighbors (in our neighborhood). Because of the setting of where we do “churchy stuff”, are forced to remind ourselves of the culture we operate in, who we minister to, and the needs of those around us.
3. Mission becomes real life when it is done in your local community. Long gone are the days when we had to go on a mission trip to meet people who will never step into church. The world is coming to our doorsteps as communities are becoming more multi-cultural. We miss out on this if we keep our church activities isolated within our walls. This is not to say Bible Studies cannot accomplish missional outreach, however why not make it easier and just take the church to the people?
4. Inter-denominational groups show that the church is fighting for change in communities rather than trying to grab numbers for itself. The amazing part of unity is that, when one is unified with others who are different, it shows an authenticity in one’s love. We, at Cliff Temple, are fighting for the love of Oak Cliff and not ourselves. What we truly want to see is churches united, the poor cared for, and neighborhoods renewed. This can only happen when we work with everyone who has the same goal. Who are we to think we can do this ourselves? It is not about numbers or becoming the largest church, but to see God renew our neighborhoods, city, and nation.
Bible studies are great. They can do a lot and I believe, at one time, was the most effective way of doing church life. Yet, I think for all of the merits bible studies hold, we are recognizing a better way forward.
Regardless of whether you think house churches, community groups, or bible studies are the best, we must all confess that unless we start doing what Christ told us to do (love our neighbors), the Church will continue to slip away.