Christian Association – Exclusive or Inclusive?

A few thoughts on Christian association, be it in the church or para-church.

When is restriction of that association to subgroups of believers just personal preference, when is it required for group effectiveness, and when is it a clique? It is a tricky question that arises frequently within church and para-church groups.

We wish to be honouring and biblical in our actions and associations, yet we want to be comfortable as well. Where is the appropriate line?

Let us consider it from the point of view of ‘small groups’.

We live today in a society that often considers (at least publicly) any stance that is not completely inclusive to be objectionable, if not discriminatory. Discomfort in one’s associations or even a lack of group effectiveness as the cost of appearing inclusive is often espoused as a good and laudable price. We are to be everyone’s friend. This is especially true in many Christian assemblies.

From my experience, people we tend to exchange new ideas and concepts in a framework that is not overly hostile, since being constantly challenged before an idea completely takes shape subverts the conceptualization process. Discussion can be good and productive, but shooting down the germ of concepts before they even completely form is not.

This is even more true when dealing with concept affecting the personal growth involving the inner struggles of Christian sanctification.

When it comes to formulating concepts on faith related topics, most people seem to need a very secure and supportive environment for maximum effectiveness. These issues are often ‘close to the heart’ and ‘tender’ while in the formative stage (if not still that way later). An overly inclusive group structure often produces a group demographic that promotes challenge and inhibits the requisite emotional safety.

If group dynamics are to benefit the individual growing Christian (and by extension, the assembly), rather than satisfying external political appearance, then control of demographics matters. Over emphasis on an open group make-up and the appearance of inclusive behaviour is badly miss-placed.

Groups, once constituted with a particular philosophy of inclusion, are very difficult to change in process. Any narrowing of the basis for membership or closing of membership after the fact is even more likely to be interpreted by those outside of even inside the group as discriminatory or ‘unwelcoming’, without regard for the group’s mission. This is particularly true when the group has been formed without any documentation. Members may not see the potential effect of open demographics until it is too late and the group dynamic has been compromised.

Bottom line -> Church and para-church groups wanting to best facilitate the growth of members in faith and conviction would be well to consider membership demographics carefully up front. The group formation philosophy and intent should be clearly documented before the fact.