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One of the things I have been wondering about lately is why there is not more locally grown church culture. In other words – why do so many churches seem to be merely outposts or franchises for megachurch methodologies and mindsets? Are we looking for a prepackaged expression of faith? Afterall, we all like to know what to expect. Whether it’s a Big Mac or a worship service – have we become comfortable with the manufactured experience that is coming down from corporate headquarters – but at what cost to authentic expressions of local Christian community?

These are the kind of questions being asked by many folks these days – including our friends Chris Smith and John Pattison who have just penned a book coming out in June titled ‘Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus‘.  For those of you having similar thoughts about church culture – this book is a must read. For others of you the language of ‘slow church’ might be new but certainly the inherent meaning will immediately strike a chord as we are all looking for more authentic ways of following Jesus and embodying the Gospel in our corner of the world. Chris, John and the Slow Church concept were recently featured in the Washington Post. The article touches on the concept of Slow Church as a remedy for mass-produced church life or what they call ‘the McDonaldization of church’:

“Going to church these days can be a bit like eating at a fast food joint. It might be quick and tasty.

But it won’t satisfy your soul.

You can’t franchise the kingdom of God, say the authors of “Slow Church,” a new book from InterVarsity Press that applies the lessons of the slow food movement to congregational life.

C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison, the book’s authors, are part of a loose network of writers, friends, theologians and pastors worried about what they call the “McDonaldization” of church. They say too many small churches try to mass-produce spiritual growth by copying the latest megachurch techniques.

Instead, Smith and Pattison advocate for “slow church” — an approach to ministry that stresses local context and creativity over pre-packaged programs.”

But is it realistic? The article goes on to say:

“Scott Thumma, a sociologist of religion at Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Conn., says the slow church movement makes for good theology.

But it likely won’t work for most churches, he said, for the same reason that the slow food movement failed to gain mass appeal.

“We’d all like to have a slow-cooked, three-hour meal, with locally grown produce,” he said. “But few of us have the time or money for it.”

Likewise, few people would be drawn to the ideas of slow church. All the pressures of modern society, he said, would be against them.

“This would likely appeal to an educated, younger hip group of people,” he said. “There aren’t many of them in small churches.”

Despite these misgivings that this can only work for the ‘young, hip and absent‘ – we believe the Slow Church concept is definitely not another trendy way to do church, it’s more than a book, and for those of us who have lost all hope in highly ‘McDonaldized’ expressions of mega-shallow faith – this is a rallying cry for a future that is more authentic, local and rooted in a patient embodied discipleship to Jesus and His Gospel.

From the forthcoming book:

“For better and for worse, the North American church seems to be just as susceptible as the rest of culture to the allure of fast life, or what the sociologist George Ritzer has termed “McDonaldization”— that is, “the process by which the principles of the fast-food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as the rest of the world.” Ritzer identified four dimensions of McDonaldization: efficiency, predictability, calculability (quantifiable results) and control—or at least the illusion of control. These trends, which have been at play since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, have shaped nearly all aspects of culture, including the Western church.

Western Christianity’s symbiotic relationship with industrialization has led to attempts to circumvent the messy or inefficient facets of faith. Many churches, particularly those driven by church growth models, come dangerously close to reducing Christianity to a commodity that can be packaged, marketed and sold. Instead of cultivating a deep, holistic discipleship that touches every aspect of our lives, we’ve confined the life of faith to Sunday mornings, where it can be kept safe and predictable, or to a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” which can be managed from the privacy of our own home. Following Jesus has been diminished to a privatized faith rather than a lifelong apprenticeship undertaken in the context of Christian community.”

Sometimes words are put on paper that sum up the aspirations of a movement not yet born. We’ve been waiting for this rallying cry! How about you?

J. Fowler

J. Fowler is the website editor and co-founder, along with his wife Pamela, of the Sustainable Traditions project. The Fowlers live with their seven children on a farm near the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

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