Over the years I’ve been part of church communities close to home, and others that I’ve had to get into my car and drive a decent distance to participate in. I define these as “local church” and “commuter church”. For me, at the present time I’m leaning more toward the value of being part of a church community that is near where I live because it adds value and connection to a place I already spend time in and care about: my neighbourhood.
There are some good reasons behind the concept of commuter church, and others that seem more about consumer choice than anything else. In this post I’ve started a pros and cons list for both concepts of church expression, and I would love to add your input into the tables below.
In my experience I haven’t been part of a church community that has done both “local” and “commuter” well – it seems that one of these philosophies always gets prioritised, sometimes unintentionally. If you know of a good example where a faith community manages both of these expressions well, please tell us about it in the comments below.
Where do we live?
Another question this raises is where we choose to live, do we make this decision based on:
- the location of the school we want our children to go to.
- the location that we can afford to live in.
- proximity to family and/or friends.
- the location of our place of work.
- the location we want to make a difference in.
- the location of the church we are part of.
Local church pros and cons list
If comments come in with more suggestions of pros and cons I will add them to the tables in red font.
Local church pros
Local church cons
- Your faith community has a geographic connection to where you live and spend a lot of time. Home owners in particular appear to like the idea that their neighbourhood is as good as it can be. Being part of a church community in your local area means the transformation that you are working towards within your faith community (realising the Kingdom of God) is happening where you live.
- It’s natural to have relationships with neighbours so it’s more likely you will be aware of issues that need help/support/transformation.
- According to Oldenburg’s Third place philosophy humans generally have 3 places or spaces that their lives revolve around: home, workplace, and where we re-create. Church being local means it adds to one of these existing spaces rather than creating a 4th place. (This could also interpret “local” as being one of the other 2 places.)
- You have natural connections with others in your church community without having to make special trips to see them, e.g. when you’re walking down the street to the shops, you encounter other people you know and can stop for a chat.
- Local church forces us to work out first order issues, e.g. XYZ happens, which I may personally dislike, but with a commitment locally to this place and these people and one God, we will work together. That gives credence to us saying the gospel overcomes all barriers and is a good witness to the community. Of course, fights can and do start over what constitutes first and second order issues, so I’ve always gone to 1 Cor 15 and, maybe counter-culturally in 2015, really appreciate local church statements of faith as a way of celebrating gospel inclusiveness together. [Tim Hodge]
- In a local church there is some natural grouping of people that occurs due to the commonality of factors that influence where people live. There is something wonderful about the connections made when walking to Church rather than driving. [Andrew Reyngoud]
- When there are a lot of people living close to the church building, walking, talking, connecting and relating to each other, those who are not part of that faith community do notice. Care for neighbors is shared. The feel of community is intensified. [Rachel Roche]
- Local church can potentially avoid being monocultural (age & stage wise; socio-economically; racially, etc) if what is common among the people is their locality rather than some other demographic identifier (but see how this can also be a con). [Mark Day]
- There might not be any “good” churches in your local area, e.g. the music, or children’s programme, or preaching, or age-range, or pastor/priest/elders, don’t suit your taste or expectations.
- Your denomination of choice might not be in your local area.
- You might live in such a remote location that there is no local church, or “local” has a much broader definition than the suburban and urban contexts most humans live in, e.g. farming communities.
- When taken too literally, “local” may have too many barriers, e.g. the closest church may have services in a different language. [not a wild hera]
- You can’t hide – if you need a break you have to stay inside or leave the town e.g. you sneak to the letter box in your dressing gown or get absorbed in your gardening and own thoughts and suddenly you hear “Hello Mrs Roche.” :) [Rachel Roche]
- Local church could be just as monocultural [as commuter church – see con below]] because it may be that the locality is monocultural. It could be that a diverse community is also a segregated community, and the white people in that locale go to this church and the non-white people to that church. [Mark Day]
Commuter church pros and cons list
Commuter church pros
Commuter church cons
- You can find a specific church community that caters to a particular niche, e.g. lots of people your age, your favourite genre of music, a group with similar “stages of faith” as you.
- The church community might require a certain skill that you have and are able to offer that a local church might not need, e.g. video camera operator, organ player.
- For families with children and other people with “special needs” a commuter church can better suit than the one that happens to be local. [Tim Bulkeley]
- A church you travel to could by its “difference” challenge and grow your faith more! [Tim Bulkeley]
- When geographic change is caused by changes in things such as marital, rental, or employment situation changes, faithfulness in commuting to a ‘home’ church allows one to maintain relationships and ministry in that community. [Dale Campbell]
- It might take you 15, 30, 60 minutes to drive to the gathered worship service, such as something on Sunday morning. It might be a big effort to engage during the week with other things going on.
- Greater use of resources, e.g. a 45 minute drive there and back uses fuel, contributing negatively to climate change, etc.
- Your communal expression of faith may be limited to church services, leaving you on your own or isolated in your engagement with the world.
- The church might be full of people at the same “stage” of faith as you, meaning you might be less likely to learn and grow. [Tim Bulkeley]
- The possibility of being a monoculture (age & stage wise; socio-economically; racially, etc) because “birds of a feather flock [across town to get] together.” That is a problem in light of the “no Jew or Greek, slave or free” stuff. [Mark Day]
I’m wanting to create a picture that critiques why both of these expressions of church community exist, and I want your help. Please add your pros and cons into the comments section below and lets see how comprehensive these lists can become. I’ll add your pros and cons into the table in red text.
Image: “32.WMATA.WestFallsChurchStation.VA.8March2013” 8 March 2013 by Elvert Barnes from flickr.com CC.