We need more congregations on the edge of Christianity who avoid becoming a churched culture congregation, but rather focus on the edge where the “gones”, dones, and nones dwell.
In a previous post entitled Are You Really as Progressive a Christian As Your Congregation? I talked about a progressive Christian congregation with whom I once had a consulting relationship. At the conclusion of that post I suggested this congregation had an important role in the constellation of Christian congregations.
In this post I want to describe their role and how it might be a role that is sustainable for some congregations. It is not necessary for these congregations to fit the category of progressive. Openness to progressive dialogue, however, may be an essential element of these congregations.
To give a focus I named this church Edge Church. It reminded me of postcards from the edge of Christianity, or faint radio signals from the horizon. Edge was composed of four different types of people.
First, were people who were long-term Christians. They often had many years of church involvement in various congregations, liked the openness of dialogue in Edge Church, and the social and justice ministries which were a part of its core values and strategies. In addition, they felt their part of the mission of God was to people on the edge of Christianity.
Because they knew how to do church, they were the core leaders who led and managed the essential worship, programs, ministries, and services. They also initiated dialogue with the other types of people connected with Edge. They provided much of the financial support. They were committed for the long-term.
Second, were people who drifted or were driven away from a centered or core understanding of Christianity, had become part of the underchurched or the nominal in terms of participation in organized Christianity, and were looking for a place where they could raise tough questions and have deep dialogue about the Christian faith. They developed a series of doubts about the Church and Christianity. They needed a safe environment to explore these where they would not be judged.
Third, were people who were gone from the Church in the sense that they had left organized Christianity, but were not over it yet. Some of these had further declared they were done or completely finished with the Church. In Edge Church, these people found a safe environment where they could explore once again the Christian faith and organized Christianity.
Fourth, were people who were the true nones regarding the Christian faith. They had rejected the Church as part of their life. Yet, they experienced some type of life hinge point whereby they came out of hiding and began to explore for perhaps the first time the Christian faith. Edge Church provided a great place for this exploration as Edge knew how to engage in dialogue with nones without using insider language.
A Way Station in a Transfer Zone
Using a transportation image, types two through four were people in a transfer zone. They approached a way station and had to decide if they wanted to keep traveling in the same direction they were headed, or to transfer to a different vehicle and go off in another direction. Edge Church was that way station.
Type two people had drifted or were driven away. If Edge Church provided the reconnection for which they were looking, they passed through this transfer zone and moved more deeply into the churched culture of Christianity. At times for type two people Edge Church reconfirmed that they wanted to continue drifting away. They moved farther away from organized Christianity and became gone or even matched the category of dones.
Type three was people who had left or declared they were finished with the Church. Edge Church for them was an opportunity to test that. It either resulted in a re-entry into organized Christianity, or a reconfirmation they had made the right decision to be gone or done with the Church.
Type four people explored the Christian faith for the first time. Either it appealed to them or it did not. If it appealed, they would often move on to a more centrist congregation and not stay on the progressive edge. If it did not connect, at times they hung around for a while because at least they had found community among a gathering of caring people.
Types two to four people paused at the Edge Church way station for a few months to a few years. They were in a transition zone. They never stayed long. They were on their way somewhere else.
What congregations you know express the Edge Church model? Do you see it as a sustainable model?