The Connecting Church: Beyond Small Groups to Authentic Communion 2.0, by Randy Frazee, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013. 256 pages.
Randy Frazee is the senior minister of Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas, where he teaches and leads in partnership with pastor and author Max Lucado. Prior to Oak Hills, Randy served as teaching pastor at Willow Creek and as senior pastor at Pantego Bible Church in Fort Worth, Texas, for fifteen years. He is also the author of Making Room for Life and The Christian Life Profile Assessment Tool. Frazee and his wife, Rozanne, have four children and one granddaughter.
Frazee has observed that many members of congregations are lonely and desire a meaningful connection to other Christians. He draws attention to the “connection” that the first-century Christians had with each other as an example for modern day Christian churches. Throughout his book, Frazee gives thought provoking evidence, asks heartfelt questions, and gives examples on how to lead people to enjoy and grow in the community of believers.
Throughout this book Frazee follows the Johnson family – Bob and Karen and their two children. The Johnsons are a very busy family. Both Bob and Karen work outside the home. Their family life is in a constant rush. They have little time for each other. They belong to a church and attend a Bible study twice a month. The Bible study is an opportunity to learn God’s Word, but there is little time for socializing and growing to know one another. Frazee uses the example of the Johnson family to point out the troubles with American society, American families, and today’s church.
Frazee’s book works to dissect how society has become a society of “individualists.” He says, “We’ve been called the ‘me culture’ by many culture specialists, and our focus on the ‘individual’ goes beyond issues of human dignity, rights, or even the celebration of human uniqueness and diversity….Individualism, however, is a way of life that makes the individual and his or her wants, needs, and desires supreme or sovereign over everything else” (36). Frazee states that “individualism diminishes our sense of community” (38). In the chapter entitled “The Problem of Individualism,” the author gives the history of mankind’s individualism going back to Adam and Eve and their fall into sin. Towards the end of that chapter he encourages: “I suggest the church must thoughtfully challenge the current view that prioritizes the individual over all else. Though it runs against the grain of our culture, we must be committed to the truth, even when it is not popular. In his gospel, John introduces the coming of Jesus with these words; ‘For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ’ (John 1:15). Jesus always deals with us in truth but does so graciously” (44).
Frazee also points out that “isolationism” is the second major obstacle to having a true connection within the community of the church. According to Frazee over the past 60 years Americans have exhibited increasingly isolationist tendencies. He points out that homes used to have front porches where families would sit and greet neighbors who walked by. Children would play in the street. People watched out for one another. As time has gone on, people make their home a prison of sorts hardly waving at a neighbor, pulling into the garage, closing the garage door and going into the house through the garage. Family members go outside in their fenced in backyards. Neighbors don’t know neighbors even though they have lived next to them for years. Frazee states that the church is part of the “prison system.” The Johnson family life is disconnected and so is their church life. Frazee talks about what the Johnsons are going through when he says: “The Johnsons enjoy the sermons, but when they started attending the church, they had hopes to connect with others and develop a deep sense of community through involvement in a small group. Now, after a year together, they only attend one of the two monthly meetings because of their overloaded schedules. Their hearts are in the right place, but the calendars on their smartphones can’t seem to make room for that meeting…What they hoped would be the answer to their longing to belong has turned out to be yet another world for them to manage – one that often feels contrived and forced” (87).
To remedy this disconnection among Christians, Frazee suggests five characteristics of community around a common purpose. 1) Authority – an individual to lead the group (48); 2) Common Creed – “a shared understanding of the beliefs and practices that guide the community” (50); 3) Traditions – “to perpetuate the purpose and pass them on to the people of that community, particularly to the children” (52); 4) Standards – “a list of written or unwritten guidelines that define what is expected of the community’s people” (53); 5) Common Mission – “a clearly defined mission that brings the individuals of a group together and knits them into a cohesive family” (54). A Christian congregation will want to follow the example of the early church. “The distinct impression here is that embracing a common belief and purpose built on the teachings of Jesus and the apostles was, and still is, a requirement for being called a Christian community” (55). He goes on to say, “As a community of Jesus’ followers, we must learn to see that our corporate mandate is “to be Jesus” to each other and to the world” (56). Frazee strongly suggests that church leaders ask themselves “What is our plan for teaching our people to obey everything Christ has commanded?” (59)
Frazee directs us to not to go to church, but be the church. He feels that believers who make up the church at the time of the apostles devoted themselves to belonging. Getting together was basic for the early Christians. Frazee encourages the church today to follow the example of the early church in gathering together. He summarizes the early church as growing together, praying together and serving each other.
For the church to grow together, pray together, and serve each other Frazee suggests spontaneity – get together with fellow Christians on the spur of the moment; availability – be eager to lend an ear or hand or just be there for them; frequency – spend more time together because people enjoy each other’s company; sharing meals – eating together as the early church did; geography – a common place – neighborhood, people in close proximity to each other.
Frazee goes out on a limb and encourages Christians to reinvent their life and life style to form close knit small communities. The changes won’t be easy and it may take time. Some of the things he suggests may not be possible in a family’s life. He suggests that people should cut down on the commute – work from home, purchase a home closer to work, only one parent work outside the home; choose stability – instead of going for a higher paying job which may cause a move to a different location, stay put; set geographic boundaries – scope out the area one mile around the home and make that area the center of concentration for getting to know the neighbors and forming a Christian community; identify a core – form friendships with people who may attend the same church or reach out to other Christians from other churches; free up your schedule – delete some of the children’s activities, computer time, and try to simplify life; spend time together – not only the family, but the fellow Christians in the neighborhood, share meals, take walks together, do things together; agree to a common purpose – draw up purposes, goals, or mission that would be embraced by all in the Christian community and make sure it is Bible based; play in the front yard together – get out of the fenced in backyard and spend time in the front yard. Frazee points out that the Johnson family did these things and they feel more connected with other “Christians.”
From chapter 12 to the end of the book, Frazee lists the mistakes he made and the lessons he learned. He paints two ways that picture the church: the spider and the starfish. The spider describes the church that is in one location and the people come to the church. The pastor is the head, the body is the building of the organization, and the legs are the various church programs and the staff to run the programs. The starfish church has five fingers that are joined together. “Each finger of the starfish contains the whole idea of what it means to be a starfish.”(179) The starfish church is the neighborhood gatherings. Some members of a starfish type church may belong to the same church, but according to Frazee, that is not necessary. He encourages that these small neighborhood gatherings take Communion during their mealtime gatherings and even baptize in a neighbor’s pool. We cannot agree with these practices, because of what Holy Scripture declares. (I Corinthians 10:17; 11:28 & 29; 14:40; 10:16)
This book starts out with information that can be used in our congregations. This information helps us understand how people are so overwhelmed by the busyness of life, lonely, isolated, and in need for the embrace of fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Unfortunately, Frazee shows his unscriptural tendencies in the latter part of the book.