Programmed Community

Estimated reading time: 2 minute(s)

I came across a blog post that addressed some issues that have recently been in the forefront again for me. One paragraph that stood out to me said:

In the mega-church mindset, programs give opportunity for relationship to happen, but don’t assure that it can be found there. The relationships lives inside of programs. Once the program is over, the relationship is over. Once we no longer were involved in those programs there was no longer any reason to maintain the relationship.

We have also found this to be true personally, as well as anecdotally. I think this is one of the biggest shortcomings of the social organizations we call “churches”. They create a false idea of relationship. Relationship is not just being in the same room as other people, or even just having shared experiences. Those are sort of by-products of a relationship. But a real friendship goes farther than that, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it doesn’t usually. 🙁

Click the link above to read the rest of the post. Good stuff. Feel free to comment there, or add your thoughts back here. The link will open in a different window. I want to say I wonder if you have experienced the same thing, but I guess I don’t have to wonder. I am certain that you have.

And that’s OK, but is it the best? Isn’t there a better way than programmed community? To me it seems that there is.


  1. Greg,

    Yes, I was touched by this post as well……and yes, this has been my experience…..I’ve even been chided by one friend for bringing this stuff up as if I was not getting with the “program” ha ha…no pun intended…..

    God help us….



  2. Hi Greg, thanks for posting. This is an obvious challenge that we’ve all faced. I’m not sure who is to blame. Surely the church has played a role, to the extent that it has operated on a “get as many conversions as possible” model rather than a “participate in the kingdom of God” model (which i think includes but is much bigger than the first model). I’m sure we could all rail on that for a long time. 🙂

    But I also notice that this anti-relationship tendency is rampant in “secular” life as well. We see it manifesting itself in the types of homes we buy (and where we buy them), the way we shop, what we do for entertainment. It’s everywhere.

    With this in mind, it would be great if the church could be a countermeasure instead of just one more example. But it’s hard because people’s minds are deeply ingrained with those patterns.

    What do you you think the church could do to help? I wish I had great answers, but I’m not sure I do, so I’m interested in other people’s thoughts.


  3. Hey Scott, thanks for chiming in. I do agree that it is certainly a bigger issue, a cultural thing. We are very individualistic, consumer-minded, etc. And the church has certainly catered to that – but I do think that’s where the church is to “blame” (though I would use air-quotes when saying that… or… just real quotes here…) 🙂

    See, we know that the gospel is not something that can be packaged and peddled. But, for some reason over the years, that is how we have treated it. So, the church that began as a group of people whose lives had been transformed by seeing the Kingdom of God come near in Jesus – and then abide with them in his Holy Spirit – and even be lived out in the corporate sense as the body of Christ got together and did life together … that church began to take control of passing along the life they had been given, and the easiest way to do that is through systems. Systems such as feeding the widows and orphans, systems such as teaching and preaching, etc. Even systems of clergy and leadership began to arise. The top-down mentality creeps in until Constantine turns the whole thing into the religion of an entire nation.

    Not time for a church history lesson … just saying… it goes way back.

    So it certainly isn’t new, and it (in my mind) really isn’t going to change on a societal scale. But it can change individually, and I think it really is. I don’t like the “emergent movement” because it’s just that – a movement. But I do like the things they see and want to change. It’s a similar theme… the church forgot that it’s a group of people, not “for” the people. Jesus is with us for all of life, not just “church life”.

    (Lots of “air quotes”…) 🙂

    So, another thing that Americans specifically are bad at is waiting for and watching for God to move and lead rather than taking the lead and getting things done. An attitude certainly not reserved for church folk, but I believe the mega-church mentality (that is employed by almost every “church” I have ever seen) is driven by this American quality of getting things done. Long range plans, goals, measurable accomplishments.

    I don’t think God needs us to be sloppy or lazy… but I have learned that there might be a difference between setting out to “do something for God” while asking Him to bless it, and just watching for what God is doing and listening for his lead in that. The latter is what he is teaching me to do in this season of my life.

    (On that last note… everything I am learning and thinking right now about God and his kingdom… could change in the next five years. He’s big like that. More than I can ever know.)

    So, what I think I’m learning that the church can (and actually, quietly, behind-the-scenes is doing) is to let God lead his church, and daily follow him and love the people he has put around us.. and genuinely care for them and about them. Actually like to be with them and enjoy doing life together. That may take more effort, but I think it results in deeper (better?) friendships/relationships.

    And really, that is what the church is. It’s relationship. It’s Jesus as the head of his body – the believers, the redeemed, saved, whatever – with the Head moving his parts where he wants to, and the parts working together for good.

    The church isn’t a social/cultural institution that must provide a necessary service to society… that might be what it has become, but my contention is that is not the true church. The church is in and throughout that, but that is not the church.

    Whoa. That’s a lot.


  4. Greg,

    I understand your ideas on the church creating false relationships, but perhaps it isn’t so much false relationships as it is relationships of different duration and strength. The ability to have beginning relationships turn into lasting lifelong friendships isn’t something that can happen every time. Some take and some don’t. That doesn’t mean the relationship wasn’t valuable to all involved or that it ended poorly. It just means that it isn’t physically possible to end up in that place with everyone you have an initial relationship with.
    Consider this. Is your relationship with your wife any different than those relationships you have formed inside or outside of church? Of course it is. Would you desire to have such an intimate relationship with another? Of course not! (I say with emphasis because I know how much you love Jen). We all have a hierarchy of levels of importance in regards to relationships, and yes, some of those formed at church might never go anywhere. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t important. We can hardly know the impact we might have had on another (or their impact on us) while in a relationship at whatever level it’s at. God works in such wonderful ways!

    The church presents a forum for people to get together and begin those initial interactions that lead to initial relationships. Sure there are other forums out there, and those are important too. Heck, this blog is a kind of a relationship forum. So is a weekly basketball game, work, you get my point. The trouble with removing yourself from a forum, like church, is that it removes you from a place where people open themselves up for those initial interactions in a way they don’t while “locked” into everyday tasks like grocery shopping or pumping gas. Sure, relationships can and do occur everywhere, but remember not everyone is as gregarious/ blessed with the gift of gab as we are. 😉

    What I think I’m reading from you is that church doesn’t have to be the sole place for these relationships to occur, and I agree completely. The emphasis from those mega-churches you reference seems to focus mainly on Christians hanging out with Christians exclusively. In that context… YES… those relationships can seem forced, because they exist in the vacuum of “Church life” versus the “rest of my life when I am not at church.” It certainly wasn’t how Christ lived his life. Getting out in the world and meeting Christians and non-Christians alike and forming relationships is what Christ wants. It’s all about balance, and somewhere those churches have lost that idea or the ability to communicate that idea, but not all churches are like that. Perhaps one day, you’ll find one that has better balance relationship-wise for you and your family.



  5. Hey Wiz
    I think we agree more than we disagree. I like a lot of what you’re saying, and you’re certainly right that there are varying levels of relationship/intimacy/friendship. We’re not going to have lifelong, meaningful friendships with everyone we know. And, I did not mean to say that relationships that we have with people “from church” are in any way “false”… I said that we can get a false idea of what a relationship is when (if?) all of our relationships are just based on being together with other people at various events – church or not church.

    And, although I do sometimes lament how it seems we have “lost touch” with people whom we thought we had deeper relationships with… I think it does just show that maybe we did not, maybe they were more larger circle, perhaps even utilitarian (that seems harsh…). And, at least at the moment, we’re not looking to find a place to meet more people. God seems to be doing that just fine in the reality of his church, whether we are part of the social clubs called churches or not.

    Also, I will add that balance is very good. But there are lots of things to do, and lots of places to connect with people… (social) “church” is one of those, but not an essential one. (Is there an essential one?) We are still connected with lots of people who are part of those organizations, so on occasion we will turn up at one of their events, and we certainly keep in touch with the folks with whom we do have a friendship… but at least for now.. we meet people through different avenues (and a lot of that, I trust, is directed by Jesus – the head of his church).

    Am I still making sense? 🙂 (Have I ever?) 😉

    This is a lot of typing. Thanks for the additional thoughts.


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