As a Senior Leadership Team we’ve been huddling (leadership development / coaching circle) around Alan Hirsch’s book, the Forgotten Ways. The book was originally written in 2006, it was a fantastic book back then, but Hirsch has re-written it with lots of new material. The first half of the book is basically an observational study of gospel movements around the world that have grown and made a significant impact in the world around them; the Earliest Church and the Chinese underground church, to name but 2. He then identifies across these movements 6 themes or threads that they all had in common – DNA strands, his analysis of which makes up the second part of the book. In this blog series I’m going to reflect on some of the insights we’ve gleaned from going through the book.
- Liminality and Communitas
Hirsch likes to introduce new vocabulary into the Church. Having spoken to him, he says he does this because new language helps create new culture. When we use a word everyone is familiar with, for example ‘church’, we always tend to default back to our pre-existing ways of thinking. So, in the case of this example, maybe when we you hear me talking about ‘church planting’ you’re assuming we mean getting another massive building in which to sing worship songs, cos that’s what you think of when your think of church. That’s not what we’re planning on doing btw!
Liminality and Communitas are two such words. The point he makes in this chapter is all the more powerful because they are new words to us (to most), and therefore have the potential to change culture.
Liminality (according to Hirsch) is a threshold space, an in-between space, the geographic or demographic fringes. For example, I live on an estate (Cressington Heath), and there are areas of housing on either side of us (Posh Cressington to the west and Garston ‘under the bridge’ to the east) but there are also liminal spaces in between – derelict land, heathland, warehouses. Or thinking demographically; teenagers are in the liminal space between childhood and adulthood. When we apply this thinking to Frontline, we might think geographically about our Wavertree building; the people who come along to Frontline, and how we can identify gaps where the church (people) is not. Or we might think demographically – missing generations or absent ‘types’ of people.
Communitas is the type of deep community or fellowship that comes from a group of people adventuring together or overcoming adversity together. It’s the type of community we long for. For example, the sort of community formed within the military.
Now Hirsch’s big point is this – that Communitas is formed through Liminality. In other words, whenever we adventure into new territory (the fringe space), with other people (community) – that’s when we build the deepest and most effective type of relationships.
And remember at this point, Hirsch is simply pointing out the types of qualities that make for dynamic, explosive church growth. We see this with Jesus and his disciples. The Earliest Church. The church in China, Iran and amongst Roma. As the church has pushed into the places it is not, deep community has been formed. The gospel always seems to bear most fruit in liminal spaces (geographically and demographically).
For us as church I think that has some big implications. It’s part of the reason we’re so excited about planting smaller ‘churches’ throughout the region – taking a community of people (Missional Communities) and stepping into new territories. Adventuring together in kingdom building.
So my question to each of us is this… who, as a community, can you go on an adventure with?