How local is the local church?

Over the past few years the word “local” has taken on a powerful identity in our increasingly global economic market, dominated by multinationals and ruled by trade organizations that benefit the rich while neglecting the poorest humans, and the also poor Earth. Independent producers of goods and retailers, farmers and regional financial institutions are transforming our concepts of consumerism and pushing us towards embracing and contributing to the local economy. This means supporting independent artisans, farmers, tradespeople, and businesses that are keeping their revenues and tax dollars within the town/city/region, and also supporting other local businesses for their own needs. This creates a cycle of interdependency and a sustainable regionalism that is extremely beneficial to the economy and the earth. This is contrasted with supporting large, national or multinational corporate chains that drain money from your city, are not invested in your region, and are not interested in sustainability and the long-term influences upon the economy and environment, nor with the quality of life their presence adds beyond creating a need and telling people they have the solution for the lowest price.

These concepts correspond quite well to the the categories of “universal church” and “local church.” The universal church being a global market, fairly nebulous, and you don’t like everyone involved but you graciously allow them a place beside you because competition is healthy. The local church is the regional expression (or accident) of the universal category of Church. How does that regional nature affect and influence the local church? Does it at all?

Is the local church a chain store that identifies itself with a larger entity/headquarters rather than identifying itself within its bioregion, its economy, and its community?[1] Is the church establishing local roots? Is the local church worthy of being called “local?” Is the money people give to the church put into local banks/credit unions? Does your church community know what watershed you live in? Does it have a sense of local history? Is there support for local agriculture? Is there resistance to multinationals and large corporations? Is your church supporting foreign missions more than neighborhood and community missions? Does your church offer its building/space for community events? Can the land your church building is on support community gardens to provide fresh vegetables for the poor? What resources can your church community provide to the greater public community?

This is no more than contextualization. However, this goes beyond contextualizing the gospel to philosophical shifts. This is the type of contextualization that embeds itself into a community and becomes a part of its sustainable future. Part of building the kingdom of God in your community is more than adding people to the church, but building healthy and positive futures for your communities, intertwining the peace and justice of the gospel into the every day life of your city. If the church is merely consumed with the bottom line of getting people saved, then it is operating like a national chain.

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1. I am not trying to argue against denominations, so this metaphor obviously has its limits. The Lutheran church is currently doing a lot of great work in this area.

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