All Christians want to be a part of growing, dynamic and thriving church. We all want to be part of a movement where the 150 seat sanctuary is replaced with a 2,000 seat sanctuary. We want to part of a movement that plants hundreds of churches. We want to drop our Pastor’s name and the water cooler and know that our coworkers will know who we are talking about.
Sadly a majority of Baptist Churches are trending the opposite way. They are remodeling their large 2,000 seat auditorium to seat 500. Most SBC churches lack members. The members that do attend suffer from a severe case of biblical illiteracy and lack passion and gospel fervor.
To remedy the situation, some Baptists leaders have tossed forth the idea of Affinity Groups. This new spin on the old church growth game teaches churches to form small groups around their communities’ interest. The deer hunters would meet in room A; the single moms would meet in the old social hall, and the Hispanics would meet in the Mrs. Sammy’s old Sunday school class. People are grouped into Bible study groups based upon hobbies, societal designations, and racial norms. These smalls groups should facilitate communication and relationship because all the members have a least one noteworthy similarity. Those who bound over their shared experiences are more likely to feel a connection to their group and by that connection that should feel more connected to the church. The end result being more church growth, more people, and more money.
The Problem With Affinity Groups
Though basic elements of the Affinity Group idea resonate with the common sense notion that birds of a feather flocking together, Affinity Groups do not belong in the local church because they stand opposed to the witness of the gospel.
The gospel seeks to unify a diverse and holy people. The people of the church are not bound together by mutual sports interest, commonality of social standing, or by their race. The church has never been composed of just college football fans, or upper-middle class white folks who drive GMCs, or black deer hunters. Rather the church is made up of all of these people and more. The church should be filled with all kinds of sports fans, all kinds of social classes, and all kinds of races. Colossians 3:11 proclaims,
Here there is no Greek and Jew circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian , Scythian, slave, free: but Christ is all and in all.
The church does not exists to place people into groups based upon their earthly interest or genetic markers. The church exists to abolish those boundaries. The church exists to encourage both the old and the young to worship together. The church exists to bring about racial and social reconciliation at the foot of the cross. What binds the church together, what draws people into our church and keeps them in church is Christ. He is all and in all.
We should not come to church because everyone looks, thinks, and acts like us. We should come to church because everyone loves, depends upon, and looks like Jesus. The unity of the church is the unity of the cross. If glories of Jesus do not compel people to church, why we would think that people would come to church to hang out who look and sound like us?
And if people do come simply because we have a divorce, single mom’s tea-room for women 60 and over or because they share our love for Cubs baseball, have we done our church a service? Have we done anything more than fill our churches with people who love the world more than Christ?
Are All Groups Bad?
Now I do not believe all small groups are evil. Paul instructs women to train women. Paul also personally mentored many people including Titus and Timothy. Jesus worked with the twelve disciples. Churches have to freedom to create small groups within the church to facilitate discipleship and spiritual growth. The church should be about such intense training. But such groups should never be the draw or the focus of the church. And such groups should be driven by the gospel and not the trends of our secular culture.
The church assembles not to divide people from one another but to unify around the gospel. What brings people from all age ranges, cultures, nationalities and skin color to church is Christ. What keeps people in church is Christ. God is more than glorious enough to be a draw people to himself. He does not need our help to build his church.
At the end of the day, we can safely conclude from Scripture that God does not have an affinity for Affinity Groups. He has an affinity for his Glory which transcends all earthly measures and interests. How about us?