Monday, March 05, 2012

if you meet monthly, what do I do with the rest of my month?

Christendom is built on a weekly gathering model.

It’s not, of course, the only way. Monasteries meet daily, while the Old Testament festival pattern suggests 3 times a year. (Deuteronomy 16:15-16 “For seven days celebrate … Three times a year you must appear”)

So on Sunday we visited a monthly all-age evening church service. And really, really enjoyed it – the friendly welcome, the diversity of cultures and ages, the oh so natural laughter and engagement. But, like many all-age events, and like much of the early alt.worship movement, they meet monthly.

So what do we do with the rest of the month?

  • Try another one of the services. But that is unlikely to appeal, given that we came to the monthly one because of the values (all-age, over food, local community)?
  • Enjoy the weekends ie only do gathered church once a month?
  • Form ourselves into a local community action group and do something missional in the in-between weeks?

I’d especially like to hear from folk who themselves have tried monthly patterns, as to what they would reply, and how they sort to build values of community and formation around a monthly gathered pattern? I’m also interested in class, because I suspect that the more educated you are, the easier is a self-sustaining spirituality, but that pattern might not prove pastorally rich enough when you are working with marginalised folk.

Posted by steve at 04:43 PM


  1. I wonder if it is familiarity that holds us in certain patterns.

    As I read your post I wanted to advocate an ‘at least weekly gathering’ rhythm but then that has been my experience and preference after experimenting with various forms. I’d really like to be able to gather monthly and believe that the whole community could be sustained on that, but I doubt it can and not just for the marginalised.

    In the last few years my value on the ‘usness’ of the church has risen and I can’t imagine being the church once a month. It just doesn’t feel possible.

    I’d observe that the healthy are usually healthy because they are in community. In this crazy, busy world the weekly gathering is still a far cry from real biblical community, but I reckon its start.

    Interesting question as I would love to be able to have a few more weekends free, but I would imagine that the communal health of our church would suffer if we took that approach

    Comment by hamo — March 5, 2012 @ 7:15 pm

  2. Thanks Hamo. I’m with you – I think that it’s too hard to be a disciple if we only meet monthly. Which I why I genuinely want to hear from those who do. Because unchurched folk do turn up. So how seriously can they be discipled?


    Comment by steve — March 5, 2012 @ 9:36 pm

  3. Hi Steve,

    For more than three years my primary faith community had a pattern of meeting monthly for gathered worship. After about a year, some people decided that they wanted “more” and so began to meet to eat together on a Sunday night (a simple soup meal mostly). A rhythm grew out of that as we found ways to explore the themes raised at gathered worship. In fact when the larger monthly gatherings ended, that group continued to meet weekly. Other people did only attend monthly, some chose to go to other churches on Sunday mornings and supplemented with the “alt. worship”.

    I personally found it challenging to be “at a loose end” on Sunday morning and developed my own rhythm of the day which included a swim, space to pray and hosting a meeting of activist crafters! It was different for me as our household did not all do the same thing together due to our varying vocations!

    I wonder if your reflection about education supporting self-sustaining spirituality carries with it some particular ideas about what spirituality is. For people for whom walking or gardening or running or making things or eating with friends is a primary expression of their spirituality, I’m not sure that class/education are the key to the sustainability or authenticity of spiritual expression.

    Comment by Jemma — March 6, 2012 @ 12:08 am

  4. Thanks Jemma. Really helpful.

    By the end, were there any folk in your community who had only a monthly experience of church? Had all the rest either got “more” through your meal, or got “more” through other churches?

    When I talk about class/education, I am thinking of the contrast between my first church, with uni educated young adults and families, compared to my second church community – solo parents with 5 kids and folk with mental health challenges. I could see monthly working with one better than the other.


    Comment by steve — March 6, 2012 @ 6:05 pm

  5. There were people who didn’t want more than the monthly commitment/experience. Some of those people had had previous church experiences that weren’t very helpful, others just found the monthly enough.

    In my current congregation where people travel a lot, where international schools regularly have sporting and cultural events on Sundays, where public holidays require work days to be transferred to weekends sometimes; there are probably lots of people who average out church attendance at once a month. It’s an interesting dynamic as the community does have a weekly pattern of gathering, and some people do come basically weekly. There’s also about a 30% change in membership every year as people move on to other cities and countries. I think questions of formation and discipleship and especially of building community are really challenging as we seek to understand and engage with this context more fully.

    Comment by Jemma — March 7, 2012 @ 8:04 pm

  6. A monthly gathering can be one piece of someone’s church experience. The leader in such a community needs to recognize that the members will also be members of other church communities – the Church is an extended family of interlocking families.

    In fact, even a weekly gathering is only part of many people’s church experience. Some people would say “if you only meet weekly, what do you do with the rest of the month?”

    Comment by Eric — March 9, 2012 @ 10:00 am

  7. that’s a really interesting comment Eric. A friend of mine did his PHD on what he called “double dipping” people who belonged to more than one church.

    however, I am not wanting to think only from the perspective of Christians already in church, but those new to church.

    if they turn up for what a church offers monthly, what is the options for them. are we assuming monthly is enough for their needs? or are we encouraging them to go elsewhere? or is that monthly is really, at heart, a bit of an extra for Christians?


    Comment by steve — March 9, 2012 @ 10:25 am

  8. I’ve been thinking about this lately as a leader of a monthly-ish gathering for young people – our old youth group, grown up a bit. Some come (sometimes) to our church’s weekly service, some go to a different Sunday church, some don’t.

    Groups like this that are pieces of a church ecosystem are easier to start and pull down as needed.

    As you say, what we do with newcomers is the important question.

    I’d be interested to read that thesis.

    Comment by Eric — March 12, 2012 @ 9:40 pm

  9. abstract: Drawing on in-depth interviews undertaken during doctoral research on the faith journeys of Generation X and Y (20s and 30s) and their relationship to church in New Zealand, this article explores the practice of people regularly attending two churches. While the practice of attending two churches is not a new phenomenon it has not yet been theorised, nor have reasons for it been explored. One of the aims of this article is to theorise the practice of attending two churches, here referred to as ‘church two-timing’, and to provide insight and understanding into the reasons behind it. The two churches are often different denominations but not always different expressions of faith. Church two-timing then is not simply about experiencing different ‘styles’ of church. Rather, it is often motivated by relational and spiritual reasons which are discussed in this article. In order to understand the practice of church two-timing a distinction is made between primary and secondary churches that involve different levels of commitment and engagement.

    International journal for the Study of the Christian Church
    Volume 9, Issue 1, 2009, “Understanding the Practice of ‘Church Two-Timing’”


    Comment by steve — March 12, 2012 @ 10:04 pm

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