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The Precarious Church: Developing Congregations in an Individualized Society

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This article discusses the social phenomenon of shrinking face-to-face organizations and the so-called 'decline of long-term commitment' of late modern populations and the consequences for Christian community formation. Social and organizational bonds are precarious, as research in such diverse contexts as Great Britain, The Netherlands and The United States seems to indicate. In each of these contexts the results of empirical data are subject to sociological dispute and the question with regard to the direction of the developments remains open. Will Christians (paraphrasing Putnam's study on social bonds in America) end up 'worshipping alone'? In that case, what might the theological consequences be? Can there be communio cum Christo without community? Are communal 'carriers of faith' a necessity? The author discusses this question and argues that 'believing without belonging' is a dead-end route for the church. In the last section of the article four ideal-typical church-concepts, reminiscent of the Weber-Troeltsch distinction of 'church' and 'sect', are outlined of which the contours are emerging in each of the different contexts. The concepts serve heuristic purposes, located between the polarities: 'individual and community', 'freedom and bonds'.


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