Had an interesting conversation with a couple of brothers today. One of them, call him Bill, along with his wife, has been searching for a new church home. The church where they had been going for several years was changing. Many of the couples they had relationships with had moved away, changed churches, or otherwise lost contact with them. Several of their friends had gone to one particular church nearby, and they tried that church, but they didn’t like the preachers. The assistant preachers were younger than Bill and his wife, and in their sermons they told stories that were not relevant to Bill’s life.
So for several months (maybe even a year or more) they have been casting about for a ‘new’ church. They have partially settled on a large church in the area (with an auditorium that seats about 3,000 people, which is filled every Sunday morning. They like the preaching. The preachers preach from the Bible and they expect the congregation to participate in application of what is preached to their lives. And one of the primary reasons for their attendance there is that their 17-year-old son knows several kids who attend church there and they’re all actively involved in the church activities. In Bill’s words, “If my son is willing to get up and go to church regularly, then that’s the place for me.” His wife is not yet so enamored of that church, so they have not yet made a commitment to join. But they are going to worship services regularly.
I asked Bill if they were involved in any church activities besides attending worship services, and he said no. He said they don’t say much about personal involvement with small groups in the church. He said if you want to become involved in small groups you can locate them on their website. He said at their old church the pastors spent a good deal of time during the worship services on Sunday morning talking about small groups, where they meet, what they’re into, and what they’re studying. (He even mentioned the “motorcyclists for Jesus” group that meets on Sunday morning before or after church.) He again mentioned that he and his wife had many friends at the church, but they’d all moved away. He said that was a substantial difference between the ‘big’ church and their ‘old’ church. At the ‘big’ church they never see any one they know. The people are seated in the auditorium in a very structured way, so that no one gets to sit in the same place twice. No one has ‘their’ pew, like they did in the ‘old’ church, so they would see the same people on Sunday mornings, and have a chance to develop a relationship with them.
About that time in the conversation I had a revelation about how this all fits together. Growing and developing in the Lord IS about going to church, but it’s not necessarily about going to a ‘big’ church that does lots of advertising and marketing, that has exciting preachers and exciting programs. It may be a lot more about the relationships you develop and what you do to maintain them.
Turns out we’ve been having similar problems with our church. Our son is 17, a junior in high school, and he has been very involved in our church and its activities almost his whole life. But during the last year almost all his close friends have graduated, or moved to a different church. Only one or two families remain that he is close to their kids. My wife lost most of her friends to attrition several years ago, and she’s having a hard time staying connected too. I, being older, still have friends that I meet with regularly, but mostly I’ve been working in the youth department, and the long time youth director (one of my and my son’s favorite people) just moved to a new church last month. We’re all kinda lost.
So what do you do? Why go to church? Well, for starters it says so in the Book. Secondly, and more importantly, church should be where you go to share what God is doing in your life; to build each other up in the faith; to remind yourself and each other of all the stories of how God is revealing Himself to you on a regular basis, not just Sunday morning in church. I find that most of the support I get for my walk with Jesus comes from people in the extra-church ministries I’m involved in. Those people are ones who I know and love because we share a common ministry, a common understanding of what Jesus wants us to do, and how He wants us to do it. I feel the presence of the Spirit waay more when I’m working with those people at the appointed times and places we minister, than I ever do in church. And I long ago gave up worrying about whether the preaching is satisfying to me, because I’m convinced that we maintain a closer relationship with God by spending a little time with Him every day, than we ever will sitting in a pew listening to someone else talk for 20-30 minutes once a week anyway.
There are a few churches out there that focus their discipleship efforts on developing personal relationships with God and other Christians, rather than focusing on advertising, marketing and promotion. Ultimately I’m satisfied that developing personal relationships is the only way that works (that lasts), and it’s right because that’s the way Jesus did it.
So why go to church? To develop relationships with other people who God has called and share with them the work of making disciples, like it says in the Great Commission. Secondly to share the miracles and the revelations that God is showing us and build each other up in our walk with Him.