The Gathered and Scattered Church

The record-breaking storms this winter caused huge delays in airline flight schedules, and as a result, thousands of people were stranded in airports all over the country.  Because of the backlog of canceled flights, many airports looked like pajama parties gone awry, with people gathered everywhere — many sleeping on couches, benches, chairs, tables, and floors.  Watching these events unfold time after time this winter, all of us, especially the thousands of stranded passengers, learned an important truth; airport terminals are not designed to be hotels.  More importantly, when they fail to fulfill their purpose, the result is chaos.

Even though some airports have a reputation for their unique themes, live music, and great atmosphere, they are not vacation resorts.  They are not destinations! They have one basic function – provide a place where people can gather, make connections, and move (scatter) toward their destinations.

Like an airport terminal, the church gathers people in order to send them out.  Our church gatherings take many different shapes and forms depending on our various traditions – from simple events, to elaborate programs, from small gathering in homes to huge worship services in enormous auditoriums.  When the church only gathers people, and fails to send them out (scatter), the gathering loses its purpose, people become inward focused, and the gathering morphs into something God did not intend – a place where people sit, soak and sour!

Hugh Halter, in his book And: The Gathered AND Scattered Church, said, “… what brings meaning to your gathering is how well you scatter.”  The very purpose for our gathering is that we might be a “scattered people.”  He adds, “If we want people to find meaning in our church gatherings, we must help them to gather for the purposes and people outside the gatherings.” Just as airports are gathering and sending places, so the church must define and clarify its role in both of these areas.

We understand how to gather, and we do okay gathering people into our buildings week after week. However, why don’t we do a better job of scattering? Why do we stay hidden under the eaves of the church when we should be out in the community sharing the Gospel? When you think about it, most of Jesus’ ministry did not happen in the synagogue. It happened out in the community where those who needed Him most lived. Jesus’ disciples became a scattered group. As His followers today, can we do less?

We must learn how to scatter as well as how to gather. Here is the real danger – If our church gatherings become destinations rather than launching pads, we will cease to be relevant in our mission and purpose as the Body of Christ. Moreover, when this happens, our gatherings become idolatrous substitutes for God’s eternal design for His people.

I am deeply grieved when I think about the vast majority of the members who fill the pews in our church buildings each week.  It is evident, at least to me; they are unable to find their way out of the terminal.  Church has become a destination – one more activity to check off the religious “to do list” for the week. Even worse, we keep designing our services and our programs in a way that seems to say “stay” rather than “go.”

Here is a great question for us to ask, “How well are we doing in scattering the folks we gather every week?

Larry Doyle

Published by Larry Doyle

Dr. Larry Doyle served as the Director of Missions for the Piedmont Baptist Association from September 1, 2003, to May 31, 2016. Since retiring from the Piedmont Baptist Association in 2016, Dr. Doyle has served as interim pastor and pulpit supply for several churches in the Piedmont Triad area. He served the Pinecroft Baptist Church from August 2018 to October 2020. His ministry began in the pastorate in Kentucky, his native state. He served as pastor of three churches while completing his undergraduate, graduate and post graduate degrees. (1968–1979) He and his wife Becky, a native of Greensboro, served as missionaries with the International Mission Board in Ecuador from 1980 to 1992. They returned to North Carolina where Larry pastored the Union Cross Hispanic Baptist Church in Kernersville from 1992 to 2000. In January 2001 he and Becky moved Honduras where they served as the On-site Coordinator for Disaster Relief with the North Carolina Baptist Men, coordinating volunteer teams in rebuilding houses and churches after the destruction of Hurricane Mitch. Upon returning from Honduras in January 2002, Larry served as the International Ministries Director for Baptist Metrolina Ministries in Charlotte, NC, a position he held until answering the call to become the Director of Missions for the Piedmont Baptist Association in Greensboro, NC in September 2003. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Western Kentucky University, and received a Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Today Larry enjoys “Strengths Coaching” and mentoring pastors and church leaders. He also enjoys finding, refinishing and repurposing old, discarded furniture. Larry and Becky have two sons, Steve and Tim, and are the proud grandparents of five.

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