In the newly published book, Slow Church, C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison offer criticisms of how our culture’s need for “fast” has crept in to the church in North America. They refer to this need as “McDonaldization,” a term defined by sociologist George Ritzer as “the process by which the principles of the fast-food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as the rest of the world.”
Drawing on experiences from their own worshiping communities, the authors offer an alternative to the McDonaldization of the church: slow church, an idea inspired by other “slow” movements, such as the Slow Food Movement. In the introduction, the authors write,
Just as Slow Food offers a pointed critique of industrialized food cultures and agricultures, Slow Church can help us unmask and repent of our industrialized and McDonaldized approaches to church. It can also spur our imaginations with a rich vision of the holistic, interconnected and abundant life together to which God has called us in Christ Jesus.
Like a meal with three courses, the authors have divided the book into three sections. The first section of the book focuses on the principle of ethics. In this section, the authors stress the importance of quality over quantity. For example, in the chapter entitled, “Terroir,” the authors lament the ways church has turned for many into a “spiritual filling station,” a quick stop-off before heading “back out into the rate race.”
The second section of the book emphasizes the importance of ecology or the work of reconciling God’s creation. The chapter entitled, “Sabbath,” is particularly insightful. The authors write,
Slow church communities are marked by their ability to rest and revel together, and to enjoy the time God has given them without anxiety … Sabbath is therefore a practice by which we are trained to be attentive to and to bear witness to God’s loving work. Others are no longer simply a means to satisfy our individual desires (economic, sensual, etc.) but beloved creatures of God with whom we must be reconciled.
In the final section of the book, the authors focus on the principle of economy, “God’s abundant provision for God’s reconciling work.” The concluding chapter includes the authors’ vision of slow church. Not surprisingly, their metaphor is that of a church gathered around the dinner table for sharing a meal and joining in meaningful conversation.
I found this book to be both helpful and inspirational. It is a powerful witness to the need for slowness in the building up of God’s Kingdom. Although it is not written in the form of a “manual to fix the church,” the stories and examples that are shared by the authors throughout the book are quite convincing, and they offer individuals and communities practical ideas and suggestions for cultivating a sense of slowness.
One might find the book to be particularly useful in a group setting. Each chapter concludes with a list of conversation starters for groups.
Eric Mancil (@ericmancil) is an M.Div. senior at Virginia Theological Seminary from the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast.