Of Cars, Community, and Church: Families vs. Facilities

A Counter-Cultural Choice

The church community of which I am a part is coming up on its 50th anniversary this month, and it has been creating videos that are meant to represent the congregation as a whole. Some of them have been quite touching, but I was particularly struck by this past Sunday’s video because of how counter-cultural it is.

Did you notice the phrase they led with? “They haven’t agreed with every decision IBC has made.” Isn’t that an amazing statement?

Today we have unprecedented choice in churches which means Gerald and Bev could have easily driven to a church that didn’t make some of the decisions our church has made in the past decade.

(One of) The Most Powerful Technology in Church History

But notice that their choice would be somewhat dependent on a technology we don’t normally think of in ecclesiological terms: the automobile. Without cars, we would be limited to choosing a church that was within a reasonable distance. The absence of cars also limits the number of people that can attend a church, and the number of people limits the kinds of ministries it can have.

The presence of cars, on the other hand, gives us unprecedented access to various kinds of worship communities, ministries, and preachers. It allows for large churches with the resources to do some amazing ministries (like Tapestry, my church’s adoption ministry) . But those same large churches prevent congregants from knowing everyone in a congregation much less their pastor. Cars also remove the sense that a locally proximate church is our only option.

So in the culture of the car when a church does something disagreable, it only makes sense to try one of the myriad options within driving distance. After all, why would you keep driving to the same facility if you don’t agree with its choices?

Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?

Well, the answer from the video is Gerald and Bev have chosen not to view church merely as a facility to which one drives. They have replaced that metaphor with that of a family who share a bond stronger than individual choices even though not everything will be according to one’s preference.

Of course, there are good reasons to leave a church (just like there are sometimes good reasons to avoid a family). Doctrine and practice matter, and sometimes a church crosses a line that requires us to break fellowship. And yet, in the culture of the car, there is a temptation to leave over smaller issues simply because the car makes it possible to leave.

So thanks Gerald and Bev for making a choice that runs counter to the technology and spirit of our age.

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John Dyer

In my day job, I work at Dallas Theological Seminary, and at night I write Bible software for countries whose leaders could be called "overlords." This one time, I wrote a book about technology and Christian faith. You can find out more about what I'm up to at http://j.hn/.

3 thoughts on “Of Cars, Community, and Church: Families vs. Facilities”

  1. I hadn’t thought about a car being a technology that effects churches before. I had thought of local churches becoming less local, but that was in a sort of anti-suburbia, creation care minded sort of way. Thanks, and I hope the celebration would make Borgmann proud.

  2. Hey there! I’ve been reading your site for a long time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Houston Tx! Just wanted to say keep up the good work!

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