Mega-meetings and missional communities

On Twit­ter, C Wess Daniels (@cwdaniels) asks if this arti­cle on the future of Evan­gel­i­cal­ism in North Amer­i­ca by David Fitch applies to Quak­ers. Fitch writes:

The future of the tra­di­tion­al evan­gel­i­cal church as I see it is: a.) mega church­es con­tin­u­ing to grow, con­sol­i­dat­ing what is left of the Chris­ten­dom pop­u­la­tions…; b.) small­er church­es of under 200 slow­ly dying and even­tu­al­ly clos­ing, and c.) the birthing of new mis­sion­al com­mu­ni­ties through  either seed­ing new mis­sion­ary com­mu­ni­ties or tran­si­tion­ing (the afore­men­tioned) dying small church­es into vibrant places of mis­sion.

On the face of it, it’s bizarre to com­pare lib­er­al Friends to main­stream Chris­t­ian evan­gel­i­cals, but there are sim­i­lar­i­ties if you scale back the num­bers. I think some larg­er Friends meet­ings have mega-church-like dynam­ics. They have strong fam­i­ly pro­grams and con­nec­tions to near­by Friends schools and/or retire­ment com­mu­ni­ties. They serve as the local pro­gres­sive lib­er­al hub of their com­mu­ni­ties. They’re not deeply root­ed in Quak­er spir­i­tu­al­i­ty and are proud of the spir­i­tu­al het­ero­doxy. They’re very orga­nized – name tags, “Friend­ly 8” din­ners, expe­ri­enced clerks. They stand in con­trast to the bulk of small­er meet­ings that are dying fast and won’t be around anoth­er gen­er­a­tion.

Fitch clear­ly thinks the inter­est­ing work falls under the last cat­e­go­ry, “mis­sion­al com­mu­ni­ties” and argues that a “sig­nif­i­cant part” of church resources should be devot­ed to “efforts in train­ing mis­sion­ary pas­tors.” His big ques­tion is whether the small “b” church­es can evolve into the “c” mis­sion­al com­mu­ni­ties.

I’m not sure that we real­ly need train­ing pro­grams but for argument’s sake let’s say Fitch is right. Lib­er­al Friends don’t have any­one to devote church resources to train­ing (the clos­est ana­logue be the Earl­ham School of Reli­gion). We do have small mis­sion­al com­mu­ni­ties spring­ing up but so far there’s been lit­tle sup­port or recog­ni­tion from local meet­ings or larg­er Friends bod­ies. What would it look like to equip these efforts in an unpro­grammed Quak­er set­ting? Is it all but inevitable that they’ll have to rely on self-organized asso­ci­a­tions? Will they remain as wor­ship groups? Is that fine?

  • Chris­tine

    Unless the Quar­ter­ly, Half-Yearly or Year­ly Meet­ing become inten­tion­al about such sup­port, there may be a few more Bud­dhists around, and a lot more unchurched folks. Many Friends from small­er meet­ings will join with Uni­tar­i­ans or Men­non­ites. For 30 years or more, one of my sor­rows about Philadel­phia Year­ly Meet­ing has been the lack of atten­tion to small­er meet­ings, and many are of the opin­ion that small­er meet­ings should sim­ply be laid down. Were that true in Cana­da, most Friends would prob­a­bly be UCC, and in the inter­moun­tain west, most would be Uni­tar­i­an. Been there. I have a pas­sion for small­er meet­ings. It may take a few of us being inten­tion­al in our sup­port.

  • Chris Mohr

    You wrote: “I think some larg­er Friends meet­ings have mega-church-like dynam­ics.” This is an uncan­ni­ly accu­rate descrip­tion of San Fran­cis­co Meet­ing! We have super-organized name tags, as of six months ago (a mini-saga unto itself). I do believe we are deeply root­ed in our Quak­er spir­i­tu­al­i­ty AND quite het­ero­dox at the same time.

    • @Chris: that’s cool. My expe­ri­ence is most­ly Philadel­phia area meet­ings, of course. San Fran­cis­co meet­ing feels less iso­lat­ed and more engaged with the diver­si­ty of Friends than its “mega-meeting” coun­ter­parts in Philadel­phia YM. I can think of half a dozen rea­sons why but they’d all be spec­u­la­tion.

      Here’s a ques­tion: do you see any kind of “mis­sion­al” Friends work hap­pen­ing there? If so, is it hap­pen­ing under the umbrel­la of SFMM, either for­mal­ly or infor­mal­ly?

  • Robin­msf

    Mega-Meetings? Can you name any unpro­grammed Friends Meet­ing with over 500 mem­bers?