Churches change when they are no longer content with just the fellowship among their members and some token outreach in addition to that. A church that really wants to claim a place on the map needs to be well connected with its surrounding community.
These insights may be one of the reasons, why the phrase ‘commuter church‘ has such bad taste. It seems to refer to congregations who evade the test of life by meeting in communities to which they have no connection. First Reformed Church was a commuter church from the 18th century on. Large parts of its congregation came to church by horse and buggy, because they came from the surrounding farms. Today, we have only a handful of members residing in the city of New Brunswick.
However, is this reason enough to scoff at the word ‘commuter church’? On Jan 30th, Susan, Jim Hance and I attended the stated winter meeting of our Classis. Much of the morning was spent with a workshop on new church starts. We had denominational staff presenting– a good use of Classis dues, if you ask me.
What excited me most that morning was the offer of new language (and I am always interested in language, as you know). One of the two presenters talked repeatedly about the ‘magnetic church’ as a new term for ‘commuter church’.
Oh, if we could adopt these terms here at First Reformed Church!
It would do two things for us. First, we would rid ourselves of the negative connotations of the term ‘commuter church‘. Second, we would turn around the perspective on ourselves. Rather than viewing ourselves as a deficient commuter church, we could actually celebrate the fact that our church provides so much meaning that it draws, Sunday after Sunday and week after week, so many of us from the surrounding areas. In many ways, we have become a magnetic church, and it’s time to claim this part of our identity as well.