In Christian theological frames the church is usually seen as existing in the world at the confluence of three circles: Community, Formation (worship), and Witness (Mission). These actions and postures are all the work of the Spirit in the people of God for the sake of the world. What is interesting to me is that these circles are strongly interdependent, and also have certain emergent properties, so that “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”
Community is all those elements of shared life and must be much more than Sunday mornings. The more significant interactions the members have with one another the other six days, the more vital will be those Sunday gathers. Moreover, the more vital the formational aspects of shared life (study, bible teaching, sacraments, care and compassion) the more vital will be community and mission.
Mission is any component of life that is shared for the sake of the world. But local mission is most critical in the life of a local church. In what ways are we a visible sign of God’s presence in the world? How do we collectively and individually show the love of Jesus? The stronger this component of our life, the more we will value the intentional aspects of community and communal formation.
If these things are one, they also become diagnostic. I’ve been part of perhaps a dozen churches in my life, and observed many more. Churches tend to specialize in one of these circles, to the detriment of others. So, some churches are strong at community, others at mission, others at formation. If those strengths truly become imbalances, for example, great at community and formation, weak at witness, then eventually those first two circles suffer. But if you find a people who are really hitting on all three cylinders, something beautiful happens. There is a life and vitality of expression that transcends human ability – faithful presence happens. In their book The New Parish, Sparks, Soerens and Friesen talk about how this can happen in a neighbourhood as our imagination is renewed, and our dependence on God is strengthened.