AAMy “giving up church for Lent” blog series was disrupted last week when I traveled to Dallas for the Progressive Youth Ministry conference, which you can read about here. Now I’m in Atlanta for the NEXT Church national gathering and finding my days just as full. But I’m still thinking about the questions driving this thought experiment.

Last week at PYM I led a workshop on evangelism. As I typically do in these talks, I suggested that we need to move beyond questions of belief and instead learn to talk with each other about our experiences of God’s presence and why it matters in our lives and in the world. After my talk, one of the participants came up to me and said that the kinds of questions I was asking and the kind of spirituality I was suggesting are exactly what he experiences in his AA meetings.

This prompted me to attend a workshop at NEXT led by Susan Querry Graceson called “God at Work in the Church Basement: Learning from the 12-Step Movement.” Here is how she described the workshop:

Are more people finding God in the church basement than in the sanctuary? The 12-Step Movement (AA and other programs) has grown steadily over the years while mainline denominations have dwindled. We will wrestle with questions such as: Is the 12-Step Movement a theological movement? How has the 12-Step Movement bridged race and class divisions that plague churches? What can the emerging church movement learn from the 12-Step movement?

Each in their own ways, Richard Rohr and Peter Rollins have explored the spirituality of the twelve-step movement. As I’ve worked on network models of church, it has occurred to me that twelve-step programs are illustrative examples of non-institutional networks grounded in spirituality and shaped by a rule of life.

I am grateful for Susan’s workshop and look forward to exploring this more. We never really drew a conclusion about whether or not the twelve-step movement is a theological movement. But it is clear to me that it is certainly a spiritual movement, and the more I flesh out a network-based ecclesiology, my ideal vision of church looks more and more like the twelve-step meetings gathered in church basements than what takes place in most church sanctuaries.

Giving Up Church for Lent 2016

John W. Vest

John is a "church hacker" attempting to overcome the limitations of church as we know it. To connect with him and learn more about his work, please visit johnvest.com.

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  1. Several years before hearing God’s call to pastoral ministry, I attended an AA meeting as the guest of a friend. I remarked afterwards (and the observation still holds) that never before – and never in any congregation – have I encountered a group of people so thoroughly and openly convinced of their brokenness / sinfulness, and so thoroughly and openly convinced that God alone could heal / save them.

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