How does your church rank on the Informality Scale?

How much does your church resemble the community around it?

Contextuality is a hot issue. Pyromaniacs have posted a lot on engaging the culture over the past year. Emerging church folk have popped up on the other side to defend it. Even I had some response to John McArthur’s “Contextualization is a curse” rant. More importantly, there is some discussion in the Lausanne scene about the relevance of John Travis’s contextualization scale C1-C6.

There is a underlying suspicion that contextualization leads to syncretism, C1 somehow being morally neutral and each step forward up the scale being a little more daring and dodgy which finally, unless stopped by well-meaning people, ends up at a C6 which everyone knows is a negative and compromising stance. Cody Lorance has responded with an argument that the inherent negative connotation between contextualization and syncretism is not helpful.

There are other problems I see. The scale assumes there is a single culture and a single kind of Christian gathering or approach. This may have been somewhat true back in 1988 when John Travis created the scale but less so now with so many different models of church working in complex environments.

Another bad habit that needs to be addressed:

Contextuality and the Travis scale automatically points our attention to the fields out there somewhere but very rarely do we apply it to our home situation. It is assumed the churches in our sending countries are somehow perfectly adjusted contextually to our societies and the only time we need to pull out the Travis C1-C6 scale is when we go overseas.

Not so.

The first church I pastored in USA was highly contextualized (dare I say ‘syncretized’) to the professional business world around it.

– The church board meetings were set by Roberts Rules of Order (1876) as recommended by the Southern Baptists and other Christian ministries. and were probably not much different that any other secular organizational board meetings.

– The church financial structure was set by the 501c3 taxation requirements.

– The thinking and argumentation in the sermons was influenced by Scottish Common Sense Realism introduced by James McCosh in 1868.

– The stance on alcohol was contextualized with the secular Temperance and Abstinence movements of the 1800’s.

– The dress code on Sunday morning – suits and ties for men – was a close match to the business dress code during the week.

– The titles and functions of the church leadership were set in accordance with similar titles  [like “executive”] used in the secular business setting.

All in all, I would say it you viewed that church alongside the typical for-profit business down the road, it would probably be rated C5 on the Travis scale. However, if you compared Sunday morning in church with the Sunday morning rituals and informal dress codes of the neighbors, it would rank much further down the scale – perhaps a C2.

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OK, a little off topic but still related:

Here is another kind of C1-C6 scale that I created to measure your church’s formality or informality. Don’t take it too seriously, but how would your church service rank?

THE CHURCH INFORMALITY SCALE

C1 – Courtroom. The most formal. Assigned seating. Silence while being addressed by a robed official sitting higher than everyone.

C2 – Corporate business meeting. No agenda deviation. High dress code but more interactive.

C3 – Classroom. Orderly but interactive within boundaries. Semi-formal dress. Leadership from front.

C4 – Coffee Shop. Interactive but people seated and orderly.

C5 – Club. No seating. All casual dress. Fully interactive.

C6 – Children’s birthday party. No dress code. Interactive games and activities. Food. Laughter. Gift-giving.

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" :-)

9 Comments

  • What a great scale! We probably come into C3 on Sundays.
    But like most churches I suspect that Sunday morning meetings can be more formal than other gatherings and that we, therefore, fit into more than one category depending on which meeting you choose. They’re all church meetings – just fulfilling a different role.

  • agree with Dyfed… i reckon we’re generally a C3-4, but here’s a weird one- last sunday we hosted the district council’s civic service, with MP doing the Bible reading and National Anthem as the final song…but alongside the usual lack of formality- prayers led without any bidding or response by a student, no church leaders in robes etc… and next sunday we’re having the service on the beach for baptisms with picnic and footie to follow… definitely not fitting into just one category!
    – but the process of thinking about it is still really helpful, thanks for putting this up…

  • In most cases it probably depends on the size of the congregation, with C1 being the largest of course. We have gatherings from C3.5 (our national, whole Church events) to about C5.5 (mid week cell group), with verious other meetings in between those two extremes.

  • this is all well and good, but it does sidestep the fundamental divide of ‘doing’ church vs ‘being’ (the) church, which is something i know is dear to andrew’s heart.
    of course the delineator is already used ‘church _service_’ (emphasis mine).. but i still have to stick my nose in..
    it’s all contextual.. it’s difficult to make friends in a courtroom, hard to hear anyone in a club, tough to meditate at a birthday party, and maybe that coffee shop should pull those tables into a big circle.. also maybe replace the caffeine with a pint or two.. 😉
    having said that, my personal opinion is if your meeting with other followers of the way strays far from the birthday party, you are missing out!

  • thanks Tim. I remember having “church” with your house church group in portland many years ago, sitting around a table with a meal and a list of questions.

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