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Is a “slow church” just another word for “parish?”

Is a “slow church” just another word for “parish?”

Is the small neighborhood parish a sign of a dying church or the next big thing in mission?

In the what’s-old-is-new-again-department, C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison are evangelicals have ditched the mega-church model and advocate small, community-oriented ministry focused on mission and worship in the context of human-scale relationships.


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.

About 15 years ago, Pattison said, leaders from his home church in Lincoln, Neb., tried to import some programs from Willow Creek, a megachurch outside of Chicago.

But those programs didn’t fit in their small town, he said. And he sees other churches doing the same thing today.

Neither writer is a fan of megachurches, which they say can allow people to remain anonymous rather than being part of a community.


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The difficulty is, I don’t see readers of this book, much less those who haven’t read it but are nevertheless not attracted to the “megachurches,” flocking to mainline neighborhood churches. It seems like this might easily be viewed as “just keep doing what you’ve been doing and folks will eventually show up.” In other words, if we’re just creative enough, people will beat a path to our door.

I’m not buying it. Many churches use pre-packaged programs because church members are risk-averse and want to do the “safe” thing–and pre-packaged programs are safe. There is a huge reluctance to devote time, to say nothing of significant amounts of money, to anything that might have a chance at failing.

I still see far too many churches that resemble convalescent homes–they are nice places, the people don’t exactly remember why they are there (but all their friends are there, too), and the staff is employed to take care of them and make them feel better. No young person I know would be caught dead in such a place.

By the same token, we’re kind of stuck. How do you start programs for younger (under 50 years old…) people if you don’t HAVE more than a handful of younger people in your congregation? And how do you attract younger people if what you mostly have is older, veteran churchgoers who don’t KNOW any younger, non-churchgoers. What you end up with is a church that is risk-averse, insulated from the outside world, and has few, if any, people both willing and able to invite younger friends. Challenging indeed!

Tom Sramek, Jr.

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