I hope you remembered we are trying to make a list of ways the church might foster creative conversation, I can not report on our progress until next week as I am on vacation. However, let me offer some of my experiences.
The first that pops to mind are the High School and Young Adult Reading Groups that meet in my home. They report they come for the fine dining my wife offers and the kind of conversation they don’t find else where. When they describe what they mean, they speak of hearing what others think about a controversial subject. Here’s what happens: I send out a one or two page paper on a topic they have chosen. At the beginning of the year I set the one ground rule, “No put downs. Everyone has something that needs to be heard” I make a very brief opening statement that often is a question. I then bite my tongue and let them talk. I contribute when technical information would help. At the end of the meeting they chose the subject they would like to discuss next time.
The second are the house churches Bob mentioned. These are essentially small groups that meet regularly. Some participants use them for their primary church experience, but others regard them as supplements to traditional worship. One of the best I know was the Sycramore Community that gathered in State College, Pennsylvania. Their conversation encouraged a prophetic ministry. People often noted they knew them through their public demonstrations for a good cause. They also were pioneers in the sexual revolution. After deciding the church had to speak more clearly, they commissioned Rustum and Della Roy to write Honest Sex in the 1970s.
I struggle to find ways to make sermons more dynamic. My partner and I achieved a bit when we wrote and presented dramatic two-person plays in place of traditional sermons. It was interesting that this form enabled us to tackle more controversial issues. I also found gathering lay people to help write a sermon significant. After discussing the text, their ideas could easily be incorporated in the proclamation. Although I never tried it, I always thought inviting those interested in discussing the sermon after the service might be beneficial. I also felt we should be able to present discussions or even debates between lay people in the sermon slot.
I think all pastors should be offering and participating in small group classes. Their mode of operation should be listening as well as teaching. One of the most frequent comments I hear after many pastors teach is “I would have liked to ask him some questions, but he had too much to say”. Without critiquing what that means, I can still suggest a pastor should never speak without keeping at least half of the time for discussion from the class.
Of course, this online study has tried to be a conversation with some limited success. Most of group only reads the posts, a few make online comments; and more have chosen to email me personally. I am sure some of that comes from my inability to remove myself enough to enable conversation between participants.
So let’s see if we can get some more suggestions of ways the Church can foster conversation among lay people.