The Connecting Church:
by Randy Frazee, Zondervan, 2001, 254 pages.
This is a book about overcoming loneliness through the intentional development of church community. It is Frazee’s contention that the lack of community in church life is a direct reflection of the disintegration of community that has happened in society at large during the past half century in the western world, particularly in America.
Frazee’s work demonstrates extensive sociological research and he does a good job of articulating the process through which post-World War II America lost a sense community. This process, he says, was fueled largely by a rising affluence of middle-class Americans. Now it was quite possible to make changes in lifestyle because they could, but they forgot to ask whether they should. A major player in these changes was the advent of the automobile, now affordable to many. It provided a new spirit of independence, but at the same time fueled the process of disintegration of closely knit communities.
In retrospect, it is clear that three overwhelming problems emerged in the context of suburbia to which many Americans fled. They are individualism, isolation and consumerism. Setting out to discover the good life for themselves, Americans soon found themselves isolated in their self-made suburban “prisons” that they filled up with things in an attempt to assuage the emptiness of their existence. No longer did they know or trust most of their neighbors. They only saw them passing in their cars on the way to somewhere else. And instead of walking to places they now walked on treadmills in their own prison houses.
The purpose of this extensive research into the loss of community for Frazee is to help him understand why churches have lost a sense of community. Many of the mega-churches of America are basically service centers for individuals, he says, who do not experience a place of belonging where they attend services. So much of the book describes how his congregation at Pantego Bible Church, situated between Dallas and Forth Worth, has tried to wrestle a sense of true community back into the experience of its members. He states emphatically that We can no longer fashion church programming on the backs of individualism, isolationism and consumerism. We must declare this to be unacceptable, and then commit ourselves to work feverishly to provide a communal alternative. (p.157)
There is much good that could be said about Frazee’s valiant attempts to rediscover community in order to mitigate the loneliness and desperation of his church members. Much of what he recommends could be applicable to anyone, of whatever faith or no faith, in order to reclaim what has been lost in the past half century. I found myself challenged on a number of fronts to take concrete, counter-cultural steps to do just that.
And Frazee should perhaps not be faulted for seeking to rediscover community and all its benefits in the context of his church. In fact, it could be argued that as Christians begin to demonstrate true community among themselves that will serve as a model for the community at large. At the same time, I find something lacking in the notion of simplifying our lifestyles to cure our own loneliness and then to bring more people into the church.
From my perspective, the book could have been strengthened with a sharper focus on changing our lifestyles with a view toward recovering a greater sense of community in society as a whole. The question for me is how I can live on my street in a way that fosters community for everyone, not just Christians. I must live counter-culturally, not only to create a better church community, but simply because it is the right thing to do. Let the chips fall where they may. We might be surprised at the impact such choices would have both on the church and society at large.