To Affinity and Beyond…
(Some thoughts on Affinity Churches)
By Steve Simmons
I never quite know what to think of various “affinity churches”. When I hear of cowboy churches, biker churches, hipster churches, outdoorsman churches, or any group that have an affinity for ‘this or that’, making that affinity the center of their church life I am not sure what to think. I can say that I am at least half pleased—I like church. But even though I like the idea of believers gathering for worship, fellowship, and discipleship I am troubled with the nurturing and pampering of our natural desire to mold church life to look like ourselves while robbing ourselves of the opportunity to love the different.
Having rarely passed through the color or social-economic barriers, why are we ready to add new expectations that church members be like me…or you.
Affinity based congregations may at times spring up from, at least in part, good motives. We want to reach cowboys, bikers, and other groups. Reaching people with the gospel and gathering saints in church for worship is how we understand the mission of the church. But our mission is about reaching people with the power of the gospel and that power is the power that brings men and women to Christ and together in fellowship. When I get to love me, serve me, and fellowship with me I get to be with my favorite kind of people—people like me. But when that cowboy hipster biker that only wants to sing Psalms joins our gatherings I am pressed to love, serve, and fellowship with someone that is not me and that can make for a messiness that is uncomfortable.
The first century, and every century after, has found the church struggling to be the church of the nations and while some particular churches do this a whole lot better than others, it is certainly a call that the church as a whole has struggled with poorly—but our struggle is no cause to set our sights on doing worse.
That which we have in common with any and all true believers is a common love of God, His Word, and His Kingdome which is a whole lot more important than the affinities that seem to be driving churches to focus on a whole lot of ‘like me’.
My hope and desire for myself and the church God has called me to pastor is that our love of Christ would more and more grow to the overturning of the idols that look like us and that I, along with the whole of our church, might grow up into a fellowship that rests on our confession that we believe in one holy and catholic church. We will struggle with this until we get to the church on the other side. We should struggle with this.