Today we continue addressing questions that are coming up as we get our three Restore Communities up and running. Today’s question:
Are all the Restore Communities taking communion?
Short Answer: Yes.
Medium Answer: Yes, during the biweekly community gatherings.
Restore Communities are our primary expression of what it means to be a local church. In the New Testament, the churches were mainly house churches that were loosely networked together in each city or region. So, for example, Paul wrote to the saints in Rome and at the end of his letter he greeted many people by name who were probably leaders of house churches (some certainly were). His letters would be circulated among the households (one of the early words for ‘church’) and read at their gatherings.
Each church was perhaps the size of an extended family and met in a home large enough to accommodate twenty or more people. The churches were affiliated and had common origins, but because they did not enjoy public places of worship, it would have been rare for all of them to gather together. They were still the church together, but the primary expression was the household.
Our Restore Communities are the households of faith that are empowered to be the church. We’re networked together as The Alton Mission, and we will begin gathering together as a network to celebrate the gospel in about six months or so. But the reason for delaying that worship gathering is to give time for it to sink in that the Restore Communities are the main thing. That is the context in which we can be the church, not just attend church.
We’ve talked a lot about the three dimensions of our life together: Communion, Community, and Mission (also known as Up, In, and Out). Each Restore Community becomes the church as these three are developed. That’s why every community will ideally have a leader for each dimension.
How can Communion (the upward dimension) be developed unless you take communion (the sacrament)? The sacrament is a deep, rich, and meaningful event. It is a means of grace–a way that God’s grace comes to us. By taking the elements we are asking Christ to form us in his image, to help our community truly become the body of Christ.
So all of our Restore Communities should be regularly taking communion together. There is still freedom, though. Many specific questions and issues will be worked out with the Communion leaders in your community. But here are some general guidelines:
- Take Communion. Our Restore Communities are the key place where we are the church. Taking communion forms us in the image of Christ, while it also communicates to each community, “You are the church. Be the church!”
- Welcome full participation. For one, this means that we don’t refuse communion to people who haven’t reached a certain age or level of maturity. It also means that we try to incorporate multiple voices and modes of learning in the liturgy. (By the way, liturgy originally meant something like “the work of the people”–so the people should “do” it!)
- Set the Table Well. Welcoming everyone to the Lord’s table and giving everyone a part in the process means that the liturgy (however formal, informal, long, short, whatever) needs to be done well. We have to clearly point to Jesus and proclaim the gospel every time. The invitation is participation in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Anyone who wants that can come, even if this is the first time they’ve ever heard about it. But there is no doubt about the identity of the one whose presence we yearn for. In addition to clearly displaying the gospel, be mindful that the beauty and symbolism in the liturgy will move people deeply, forming them in the truth. However you’ll do it (and you’ll probably try several different things, which is wonderful), just do it well.
You might be thinking at this point, “I don’t know if people will be comfortable coming to something like that.” There are two things to keep in mind:
- The Restore Community gathering is not generally intended to be the first invite for unchurched friends. Review the answer to the previous question, “What Are We Inviting People To?”
- If you end up with several friends connected to your community who are interested in Jesus but want to spend some time informally learning more about him, you have the freedom to change things up for a time. Find a creative way to engage them where they’re comfortable. Ask them to meet weekly or every other week to talk about God. Introduce the Christian faith to them in a more systematic way, and do it as a whole community. During this time, you may need to suspend other activities to make room for this to happen. In that case, the normal community gathering will be put on hold. But after a time of exploration, it is expected and should be communicated that the community will go back to celebrating communion, praying together, etc. At that time, friends can decide if they want to participate fully, or if they’d rather just come for the weeks you’re doing Love Your Neighbor or Serve Your City activities, or if they just want to be friends on a more informal basis.