Congregation and Aggregation

In short, I think if we want to get a more accurate picture of the church in a complex society, we need to look at the church gathered and scattered, the congregation and the aggregation.

The congregation is the regular gathering that is often weekly. A lot of new believers gather in a weekly event with the same believers each week in the same place. This is normal in a simple society.

The aggregation is the seasonal or irregular gatherings that may be yearly or just a spontaneous gathering. In a complex society with modular expressions of church, or a transitional society with high mobility, those on pilgrimage or in the underground church, the aggregation might be a more accurate way to measure growth.

Our meetings have finished up and my mission geek friends have flown off to their respective countries. Except for Andreas and Christine Wolf (researchers) who will spend 2 more days with us here.

One of the things we discussed was the difficulty in tracking church planting movements in a complex society. In a simple and singular world (villages in rural China) you can just measure how many churches are started and how many people are involved in them – and of course watch their transformational impact on the various layers of society (judicial, edcutational, arts, etc)

But what if new believers decide not to attend a Sunday service type church but rather choose a more organic and underground expression – decentralized, based around homes and special events, city-wide events, festivals, – what if they did not join a single cell church but rather morphed into the region-wide multiplicity of believers as living stones in an invisible building?

I threw out a suggestion – we should measure aggregation as well as congregation.

Congregation – weekly, permanent, visible, tied to building, denomination based

Aggregation – spontaneous, yearly, beyond the denomination,

just a thought . . .

Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name “Precious” :-)

12 Comments

  • Andrew,
    Good post. The more mission minded, the more mission oriented, the more mission created we become, the more permeable walls we will have. This will mean “aggregation” will become more prominent because all sorts will be on the edges.
    Thanks for the idea.

  • One more thought:
    The congregational approach tends to measure things by a theory of conversion: in or out. Aggregation recognizes that conversion is a process. See my Turning to Jesus.

  • Andrew, I believe your most recent post Congregation and Aggregation is key in the emerging arena. The more and more I want to completely throw down to the emerging church and drift away into total bliss of the emerge models the more God keeps my tether tightened. In a perfect world it would be great to move quickly into relevant and completly different models. However, we all have a responsibility to not disband everything but to “bring along.” I was posting about this the other day.

    I am convinced that we must focus on models that will not alienate, yet make a quantum leap forward for the younger generations and twenty somethings. Again, not just another church service re-dressed in what is supposed to be more “relevant” clothing. Not a remix, but a rewrite. But a rewrite that is re-bound in binding that encompasses and intices the reader to read it cover to cover. [More on the Charge]

  • good ideas. i have found myself pondering what lies between congregation and aggregation though. it seems to me aggregation might still be connected to the “conference” scene (having grown up in aus, katoomba convention and black stump come to mind as examples). you *could* end up in the same place by measuring aggregation.
    the kicker for me is people (and maybe I am one of them) who start to see aggregated forms as church.

  • Fernando raises a good point, I think. There is room in our lives for both the congregation and the aggregation. I get a ton of benefit from the more occasional, informal settings with believers from a more diverse backdrop, but I also get a lot of benefit from the weekly congregation aspect of my life.
    The result, of course, is that both areas count. I had the impression upon first reading that this is a “count the numbers” type of thing (which often leads to a ‘look, my group is bigger than yours’ mentality), but I don’t think that’s the idea here. Correct me if I’m wrong, Andrew, but I think you just want us to view both of these aspects as important in our spiritual development.

  • Fernando raises a good point, I think. There is room in our lives for both the congregation and the aggregation. I get a ton of benefit from the more occasional, informal settings with believers from a more diverse backdrop, but I also get a lot of benefit from the weekly congregation aspect of my life.
    The result, of course, is that both areas count. I had the impression upon first reading that this is a “count the numbers” type of thing (which often leads to a ‘look, my group is bigger than yours’ mentality), but I don’t think that’s the idea here. Correct me if I’m wrong, Andrew, but I think you just want us to view both of these aspects as important in our spiritual development.

  • hi bob
    i am actually thinking on a more macro level – missiological strategies for understanding countries and continents and a better way to see if growth and multiplication is happening.
    personally, i think the rise of the attendance at annual festivals around the world is a key indicator of growth in emerging and house churches – and since there is so much fluidity in trying to keep up with local expressions, the large aggregations might be a more reliable way to measure it.
    The Old Testament feasts and festivals (aggregations) were perhaps also a more accurate indicator of growth than trying to keep up with the synagogues (congregations)
    but i am really just talking to myself and seeing if i am full of it or if there is something there to ponder
    thanks . . .

  • i’ve been using the language of church scattered and church gathered for a while now in my context and find it very helpful. Your insights on congregation and aggregation has added vocab for my thinking, thanks.

  • somewhere in here some dialogue with Pete Ward’s Liquid Church is also needed. would he see congregrate as an artifact of modernity, but would he consider aggregate as liquid? hmmm?

  • sorry, one more comment. gather and scatter don’t capture reality either. a 24/7 prayer room is not a gathering, but nor is it a scattering cos you “come” to a room. a festival is a form of gathering, not it is not gathering weekly as the term is used. So I have not found gather/scatter helpful terms in our contemporary mission matrix.

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