Building church with Lego blocks
Paul Borden, a church growth consultant from the United States, spends his time helping to turn around struggling churches to become healthy churches. Earlier this year we had Paul to teach in our Master’s program at Moore College and along with his main material he made lots of wise and helpful suggestions about how to conduct ministry.
One really helpful suggestion is to think of building the church out of Lego blocks!
Let me explain
What guests are looking for.
Every church I know thinks that they are really friendly. In fact most say they are the friendliest church they know. This thinking makes it hard for congregation members to see why guests don’t return given that they have been given such a friendly reception.
The reason that guests don’t return is that they are not looking for a friendly church but for friends!
Borden argues that people are looking for a third place to be anchored where they are valued for who they are and what they do. He explains that this happens in the first place in our families, and in the second place at work, but we need another place where this happens. This is why we have experienced such a rise in phenomena like personal training groups, evening college participation and dancing groups.
So visitors come to our churches seeking this third place. But what they find is friendly people who are too busy to become their friends, and value their involvement in a deep, ongoing way.
Borden then helpfully diagnoses the problem with the image of Lego blocks.
Every person only has a limited capacity for the number of friends they can maintain- and it is different for different people. The number of friends a person can maintain is like the nodules on a Lego block. Some Lego blocks have two nodules, and some ten, but each has only a limited number of them.
What our churches do well is enable us to build deep friendships, so much so that if you have been in church for any length of time, that no matter how many lego nodules you have; you have filled all of them with friends. That means that no one in church has any more capacity for making more friends.
So we have a problem. Guests arrive wanting to fill their lego nodules, and members have no nodules left for them to attach to.
Rather than berating congregation members for not making more friends, or feeling guilty about our inability to better relate to new members Borden has another solution.
The solution is to ask who has nodules available so that they can makes real friends? The answer is ‘those who are fairly new themselves, as they have not yet filled their nodules’.
The way to help newcomers find the third place and develop friends is to put them in contact with other newcomers. This is an obvious solution.
I have seen a few churches in Sydney do this over the years. One church, every four weeks begins a ‘Welcome Group’ where all guests are taken for Bible study together. They get to know each other and even begin to develop friendships. These ‘Welcome Groups’ then become a new Bible study group of friends.
There is a well known church in London that attracted many ex-patriots from all over the world. They soon discovered that long term congregation members developed fatigue at enfolding the newcomers, only to have them leave after a few months as they returned home, so they then put all ex-pats into International ministry, so that they were able to become friends with each other!
The problem with this model is obvious. Becoming a Christian is a supernatural work of the Spirit of God effected through people hearing and responding to the Word. It is not achieved by merely having friends and hanging around together in church. If we team up guests into friendship groups, where is the opportunity to share the Word of God?
We need to ask a few mature Christian leaders to be willing to remove some friendship connections from their lego nodules in order to free them up to become members of new groups. This will enable deep relationships to develop with newcomers – relationships that enable the gospel to be proclaimed.
Lego church thinking has a lot going for it.
Image: Woodley Wonderworks. Used under Creative Commons License.