Book Review: And: The Gathered and Scattered Church

By | September 8, 2011

I’ve been going through books pretty rapidly here recently, which is good because I’ve got quite a few on the “to read” pile. The most recent book I finished is called “And: The Gathered and Scattered Church”. I was given the impression that the book was about arguing for the need of both mega and micro church formats and/or finding a balance between these. The introduction introduced the micro vs. mega issue and suggested that there’s a place for both. However, most of the rest of the book didn’t really address this topic directly. In fact, the book read like a collection of papers or articles which were written separately but which touched on related topics.

Chapter one introduces the true thrust of the book through a quick overview of bible history. This is that the church is to be sent/missional, but there will also be gatherings. Both of the authors of the book, Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, come from a strongly missional position. So in many ways the book reflects their push to be missional first. Secondly comes their realization and almost concession that there will be gatherings. As they’ve gone along in their own ministries, they’ve learned the place and importance of church gatherings as well as “scatterings”.

The second chapter discusses the missional process of engaging culture, forming community, and structuring congregation. It discusses this first from the perspective of starting fresh from nothing, and then also how a existing, structured church could work toward creating incarnational communities. Chapter three talks about consumer Christianity and moving away from it. The forth chapter looks at spiritual formation. It talks about three spheres: inclusive community, mission, and communion, and also stages of spiritual formation: observance, preparation, participation, and partnership.

Chapter five is basically an overview of Ralph Winter’s “The Two Structures of God’s Redemptive Mission”. In it two new terms are used: modalic and sodalic. The ideas behind these terms are really at the heart of “And”. Loosely speaking, modalic has to do with gathering in Christian community. Sodalic on the other hand, represents scattering or mission—a going out from the community in order to interact with, connect with, and minister to those who are not a part of the church. The authors argue that mission is necessary, but recognize that gathering happens in the wake of mission. Additionally, sent (sodalic) people need a gathered community (modalic) to be sent from and supported by. In other words, these two sides ought to work together and both need each other.

I think an organic image fits this concept perfectly: a seed (sodalic) grows into a plant (modalic). The plant when fully grown produces seeds which are scattered and which grow into more plants. A plant which never produces seeds is not healthy, just as is a seed which never grows into a plant.

Chapter six attempts to suggest ways to move a church toward being balanced between these two previously mentioned sides. Chapter seven looks at church gatherings. It acknowledges the questions arising from the traditional focus on gatherings (church services) having produced little change in people. It then gives a historical overview of gatherings for context, and suggests that church gatherings become meaningful when everyone is involved in mission or “scattering”. It then goes on to make some practical suggestions for gatherings. The eighth and final chapter is directed at leaders, and encourages them to leave a legacy. It suggests that this is done by preparing the next generation of leaders.

I don’t feel that the book makes any substantial arguments for mega-churches in response to the points brought up by simple/organic church supporters, as I had been led to believe it would. The gathering could come in a micro size and doesn’t have to be mega. A proper gathering size is not specified, though at one point I believe 120 is given as an approximate upper limit for a sense of community. This naturally rules out mega churches, meaning that they have to sub-divide in some way in order to find this sense of community.

I also don’t believe the book make any argument for an attractional church model in response to a missional church model. An attractional church model seeks to draw people in rather than ever going out or “scattering”, the very thing the authors are arguing for. In other words, attractional and gathering are not synonymous. The authors argue that every church should be missional (not attractional), whether small or large, and that there will be and should be gathering. But again, gathering isn’t the same as trying to evangelize through attraction.

Overall I believe this book has many good points. It is difficult to talk about it as a whole since the chapters are fairly disconnected. Though it didn’t address the issue I thought it would, I believe there is a lot of value in what has been written. The content is aimed primarily at church leaders, so I’d recommend it for that audience.

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