Which is more important to the success of a church: structure or relationships?
The answer is not as clear as you might think. If you say relationships, you’ll end up with a church where everyone loves each other but nothing gets done. It’ll feel a lot like five year olds playing soccer – a whole lot of fun and not a lot of progress. But if you say structure, you’ll have great programs that produce little life change. It’ll feel a lot like working at a company with a great business plan but surprisingly few customers.
I would respond to my own question by saying it’s a bad question. Many times, the church sees structure and relationships as polar opposites. They aren’t. They work together. A good church needs both.
The key is making sure you create structures that facilitate relationships.
Lives are transformed in the context of relationships. Jesus invited 12 ordinary men to become His inner circle (Mark 3:13-19). The early church was radically communal (Acts 2:42-47). Paul poured his life into Timothy and Timothy poured his life into the Ephesian church. (1 Timothy 1:1-3). Paul’s heart for discipleship is evident in 1 Thessalonians 2:8, “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”
Want to be more like Jesus? Live life in a community of people who love Jesus, love the Bible, love each other and love you. Dig into the Word together. Pray together. Care for one another. Call each other out on sin. Speak life into each other’s souls. It’s all about relationships.
We need people way more than we need a program.
When structures facilitate those kinds of relationships, they’re invaluable. When they take the place of relationships, they’re deadly. At Restoration City, we create Community Groups and Life Groups to facilitate these relationships. Community Groups are the entry point. They’re co-ed, open to anyone and designed to get you in an environment where people share a meal, study God’s Word and pray together. They’re a great way to start connecting with our church and continue growing in Christ. But, ultimately, you’ll need something more. That’s where Life Groups come in. These are much smaller, single gender relationships that you form with 2-4 others for accountability, confession of sin and spiritual care. It’s in these smaller, safer environments that God does His deepest work.
Good structures serve, not subvert, relationships. But don’t ever forget that structures are a means to an end. Don’t put your hope in a Community Group or Life Group. Use those as a vehicle to cultivate the relationships you need to grow more like Christ. Don’t just go to a Community Group, be fully engaged in the life of the group. Don’t settle for shallow. Push for deep. Use everything as an opportunity to cultivate the relationships that will transform your soul.