We must expect the ‘little congregations’ to take different forms and fulfil different functions precisely because they are meant to match the different circles and circumstances in which human life and need presents itself. Some will be cross-section groups comprising Christians from all walks of life in a small neighbourhood. Others will be more homogeneous, consisting entirely of students , housewives, workers in one factory, or members of one profession… All will be to some extent ephemeral, as the membership of a group changes, or it’s function is no longer needed, and this is a strength rather than a weakness as it matches the kaleidoscopic quality of human life.
These small units of Christian presence are emphatically not a half-way house through which the uncommitted will eventually be drawn back into our parish churches. Nor are they an interim structure which ought to grow into new parish churches in due course.
What are the similarities between Taylor’s ‘little congregations’ and fresh expressions of church ?
Writing in 1972, Taylor sees the ultimate fruit of the house-church movement of his time being found in the birth of many diverse ‘little congregations’. It’s remarkable to see the similarities between Taylor’s vision and the many fresh expressions of church which are being birthed as new congregations across the UK and further afield.
Taylor makes three important observations about these little congregations:
- They will all be different. Some will be formed around a geographical neighbourhood with lots of different types of people in them, but others could instead be made up of similar types of people who have a similar job or interest but don’t live in a particular locality.
- All will be ephemeral and therefore difficult to pin down – but this is a strength! Some little congregations may be quite stable and sustainable over a long period, but the majority may well come and go as membership changes. Some groups may well finish or transition themselves into something completely different from where they started.
- These little congregations are not a half-way house to ‘proper’ church. Rather than being an interim structure or a way of encouraging people into the established church, these little congregations should be seen as church in their own right.
Some questions to ponder:
- How does Taylor’s description of little congregations affirm your vision for your mission context?
- How might the transient nature of fresh expressions of church be a strength or weakness?
- What makes a group church in its own right? What marks of maturity would you pick out?