In the month following Easter we’re taking several Sunday mornings to unpack the idea of Becoming Church Without Walls. Over twenty years ago the pioneers of ForestView Church were inspired by the idea being a congregation without walls. In the early days, it was a tagline that communicated the obvious – we didn’t own a facility. More profoundly, the metaphor communicated the kind of faith community we wanted to be.
There was a desire to be a church defined by a strong center (Jesus) rather than impermeable boundaries (formal membership). Porous edges allowed for easy entrance into our community. As long as people were facing Jesus and moving toward him, they were able to participate in congregational life. To this day, FV still does not have formal membership.
There was also a desire to overcome various barriers that prevented people from finding a place of belonging. The fabric of Christian fellowship should not be compromised by sociological factors (ethnicity, gender, economics) and church culture (dress code, religious jargon, music styles). ‘No Walls’ thinking required the elimination of the division between clergy and laity. Guided by the principle of the priesthood of all believers, a commitment to ‘shared ministry’ was nourished within the congregation. Lastly, where some groups might settle for the pretense of community, there was a strong desire to remove the relational barriers that could limit vulnerability, intimacy and mutuality – genuine togetherness.
This founding vision-image also conveyed the sort of relationship we hoped to develop with the surrounding community. There was a strong sense that church life should not be defined nor confined by bricks and mortar. Though the regular gathering of God’s people is critical for formation, it is also essential that the life and mission of the church spill beyond the walls. FV will always remain committed to finding fresh ways to be Church for the people of the broader region.
We are now in our twentieth year as a congregation. Though tempted to look for something new and fresh to replace our original vision image, there is broad consensus that this formative metaphor still possess generative power to shape our imaginations. Going forward, we hope to retain all that this phrase has represented over the years but with an ever increase emphasis on church-beyond-the-walls. With fewer Canadians participating in organized religion and the increasing marginalization of Christian faith, God’s people need to discover fresh ways to be Church for those that have no familiarity with the Christian narrative.
It is a word that communicates growth, vitality and potential. It describes the human experience – we learn, evolve and grow. We live in a world that is characterized by rapid discontinuous change. These shifting realities require an ongoing dependence on the Holy Spirit, who will guide us into new understanding. It is a word that fosters humility – an acknowledgement of being perpetually flawed, possessing insight that is only ever partial. Regardless how hard we try, no matter how much success we experience along the way, we never quite arrive. Between now and the coming of God’s kingdom in fullness, we will always be in the process of more fully becoming Church without walls.