By Jean Chung, a student at Union Presbyterian Seminary.
The content of the book
The biggest characteristic of How to Be a Christian without Going to Church is that its author is the one who stopped going to church and have many years of experience in making a faith community outside the church and at leading that community. Kelly Bean analyzes and criticizes the existing churches’ ministries and missions. In part one of the book, she articulates that “being church” is more meaningful to people recently and what the faith community means to its members. Also, in her own experiences and other examples, Bean tries to show the readers that almost all the functions of churches, such as the Sunday school, youth group and other programs, can be performed well, or much better, in the faith community. In chapter 11, Bean shows how Sunday school and youth group can be run in the faith community.
And in chapter 7, she explains what the cross-cultural transformation in the faith community means and how the community practices it. In general, cross-cultural transformation is regarded as evangelism to other countries, but Bean regards the cross-cultural transformation as helping and sharing love with the people in poverty, who usually church people do not think are in the same culture as theirs.
My evaluation of the book
I think How to Be a Christian without Going to Church is one of the books that shows various examples on the faith communities of non-goers. One common thing, I think, among the books on the digital ministry and faith community in post-congregational evangelism is that all the books focus on the importance of relationship rather than on the Bible itself. Accordingly, those books are talking more about how they apply the divine doctrines to the world and what is the better way to apply them. But I do not see that they spend much time learning about the Bible and the divine doctrines correctly before practicing them in daily life. They consider the personal spiritual experience with God very important but I do not recognize they focus on learning the biblical doctrines, which are rather objective. I am not sure if this is the common thing only among most faith communities, or non-goers regard joining the bible study without any practice in the daily life as not meaningful. It is necessary not only to grow in the personal relationship with God, but also to get the theological knowledge of God to grow the deeper trust in God even though how to approach it is another issue.
However, I sympathize with Bean in that she was tired of the program-centered education of the existing churches, got hurt from the administrative organization, and stopped going to church. And she has made a faith community which cherish the personal relationship. I think also churches in Korea focus on many educational and disciplining programs rather than on church members’ faith in God and personal relationship.
The book’s influence on my future practice of ministry
What I think the most impressive and want to remember is any ministry I will have should focus on the personal relationship and relational network rather than programs in the digital age. This book has many examples of the faith communities which focus on the personal relationship. This focus seems to appeal to people in the age of post-modernism, who easily have a sense of isolation. Most churches run many programs, so people who do not join any of the programs can be isolated and a lack of personal network can drive them more apart from churches. Korean churches have the same situation. If churches cannot succeed in making any personal network deeper, more decrease of churches may be expected. And the relation-centered churches, I think ideal, are what the churches used to be before they started to focus on various programs. But it is still necessary to think over how we can realize it in the age of postmodernism, now.