By Trent Holden, a student at Union Presbyterian Seminary.
How to Be a Christian without Going to Church: The Unofficial Guide to Alternative Forms of Christian Community. The title of Kelly Bean’s book is misleading in my opinion. I would call it, The Backward Guide to Starting Your Own Church Without Telling Anyone They Are Going to Church.
The word ‘church’ is at the very least a taboo word today. The Christian communities written about in Bean’s book may look different than a normal church service but however you do it, these alternative forms of Christian Community are, in my opinion, church. Bean of course recognizes that the Christian communities she is describing are churches and I think the point of her book is partly one of restoration to a group of people who are burned out and fed up with the churches they have grown up with. The difference offered by Bean is that these communities are organized by individuals without affiliation to a denominational structure (or at least a public one) and they meet wherever there is space and do whatever their organized community decides.
This isn’t new, and actually, this description of community is a very common model for church planting. But where Bean differs is that she has written this book so that these communities and anyone who tries them do not have to take that next step and become a recognized church. This gives a little more flexibility in how the individual Christian communities operate.
All that being said—this is the perfect resource for someone who is looking to start their own Christian Community. In a less formal way, Bean’s pointed questions that follow each chapter challenge motives and cause us to think of the What and How questions in our communities. I think this book would be a great small group study for all those who may be searching for a community and have been too picky to find what they are looking for in a local Church. Bean zeroes in on a large population of ‘non-goers’ who are ready for different forms of community.
The important question that needs to be answered next is: What makes a Christian community, a Christian community? I don’t think Bean explicitly tells us the answer to this question and maybe that was intentional. In my opinion, to be a Christian community you need to recognize Christ as Lord. I know that’s a church-y phrase but I didn’t want to simply say you needed to believe in Christ. I think Christ needs to be in charge of the community you are a part of for it to be a Christian community.
I have been a part of communities where the people gather together for a social justice issue and they have all turned into passing phases. If Christ isn’t my motivation then its not an act of worship for me. The worship aspect gives value to why I am doing what I am doing. I know, the satisfaction of helping another human in need should be enough, but if I’m honest—and I usually am—its not enough. Its not enough because those moments are temporary and sometimes your efforts are not appreciated. Christ gives meaning to our moments and therefore is the most important part of these communities. I can’t see myself not having at least one community in my life that gives me this kind of devotion to Christ.
My final thought on reading this book: “Anyone can do it.” Literally, anyone can start their own Christian community, no pastor needed. This is, for obvious reasons, humbling knowledge. But it is also exciting news! As long as the message of Christ is being preached, I can live in a world without official church structures.