WE GOTTA TALK ABOUT THIS ~ THE FOUR C’s (Stan Norman)
Welcome to follow ~ a community! My name is stan, I co-lead follow with gerri. We will soon be retired pastors of a major mainline denomination.
Why “follow”, a verb? Why a community and not a church? What’s with all the lower-case letters? That’s where the 4c’s come in.
For several years now, we have been able to identify three basic types of churches (the first c) in North America and Europe.
The most predominant type is the club church (the second c). A club church is inwardly focused and exists to serve its members. It is much more self-centered than Jesus-centered. Worship is built around member preferences and is non-challenging, because the goal is to make as many members happy as possible. That’s really important when the success of the church is measured by counting “nickels and noses” (butts in the pews and dollars in the offering). Mission is generally something done with a checkbook. There is little, if any, connection between the church programs and ministries, and the needs of the surrounding community. The goal of the church is to survive and grow by making new members, not by making new disciples of Jesus. In political terms, the club church is conservative. The other bonus c’s for this type of church are consumerism and capitalism.
The third c belongs to the second most prolific type of church in the West, the cause church. A cause church is outwardly focused to the extreme. It is much more cause-centered than Jesus-centered. The cause church can be focused on everything from gay rights to marriage preservation, pro-life to pro-choice, gun control to second amendment rights, homelessness to private property rights. Worship is an after-thought, anything will do, because the “cause” is all that matters. Time and money is invested in the cause, not necessarily in following Jesus. All of the energy of the members and the community is focused on the “cause”, because the cause has become god. The goal of the church is to champion the cause, not make disciples of Jesus. No one wonders what will happen when the cause is resolved. No one realizes that eventually the cause church will become irrelevant. In political terms, the cause church is progressive. There are no bonus c’s . . . unless you count golden calf (cause).
The third type of church is the rarest and most authentic. This is the Jesus-centered church. It looks a lot like the church described in the Bible in the Book of Acts, chapter 2. The emphasis in the Jesus-centered church is on following Jesus and living like Jesus. Jesus never invited us to worship him. He always invited us to follow him.
The fourth and final c belongs to community. For more than 60 years in the U.S. and longer than that in Europe, the church has been in decline. In response to declining attendance, declining income, declining power, declining prestige, and declining relevance; the church has acted more like an institution than a movement. It has hunkered down and built walls, it has acted out of a sense of scarcity, rather than abundance. The instinct to survive has overcome the courage to let go and let God. As a result, the institution of the church has acquired some heavy baggage along the way. Unfortunately, the result of all of this protectionism and appeasement has been faster and faster decline.
Faced with these realities and struggling to answer our call to follow Jesus, we consulted the Spirit humbly and prayerfully. Over time, the Spirit led us to our retirement decision, and our discernment that God wants us to start a new type of faith community. We chose the verb follow as our name because we are tired of just talking about following Jesus . . . there has never been a better time to take action. If not now, when? We chose to be a community to differentiate ourselves from the dying institution of the church. And, we deliberately choose to save the upper-case letters for God, Jesus, and the Spirit to constantly remind us that they are God and we are not.
Welcome to follow ~ a nurturing community that gathers to follow Jesus by praying, learning, and caring for others.
Stan Norman co-leads the follow community with Gerri Harvill. After 45 of working for a paycheck, reaching social security age has allowed Stan to work for and follow Jesus. He has retired three times from large institutions: from the Coast Guard, from the State of Washington, and from the United Methodist Church. Now his goal is to be the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus.