Sometimes I feel like church is a glorified social club. Where the activities and events take more precedence than the worship of God. Yes, we have “worship” but even that is more about the planning and execution than the mere fact that we are in the presence of God. How many of the comments after the service have to do with how well/or how badly something was done, ie the powerpoint or the microphones or the ushers. Instead of having to do with how lives are changed, renewed or how empowered someone is to go out and change the world for Christ.
I know I’ve talked about how during “coffee hour” it seems that most of the conversation drifts towards everyday life instead of what happened for the last hour. Here I want to focus a little bit more about the over all structure of church.
I think a good indicator of the life of the church is the calendar. What kinds of events are on it, how frequent, and who are they targeted to.
In my experiences, most of the church calendars I’ve encountered, have things like meetings for different committees, boy/girl scouts, bible studies, practices (choir, play, etc), rented rooms for other groups (AA, NA, etc), and the occasional “special” event. Special events can include anything from a movie night, to a potluck dinner/lunch, or even the retreat weekend.
Do we have the tendency to attach something “spiritual” to an event to justify it’s legitimacy for a place in church life? Or by being sponsored by the church does it become “spiritual”? Like a trip to the theatre or to a garden or even a picnic in the park.
I think a lot of things that the church “sponsors” while good for “fellowship” (which is a whole other post) is not exactly any more than a glorified social event. I’m not against relationships or meeting with people, but I believe more in strong relationships and intentional and deep relationships, which I do not think occur as well when we exist within a social, “fellowship” model of church. Instead if we truly desire relationships and good ones at that then we need to make sure we are doing intentional things to strengthen those relationships. More over we need to put in the time and energy to have the majority of the growth of these relationships happen outside of church functions. And on top of this we need to include non-christians in these relationships. See Dan Kimball’s post about non-christian relationships.
What seems to have happened is that we are stuck in a 1950′s model of how church operates as a central point in the community. We still subconsciously believe that if we as a church put on events than the community will show up in droves and then we can be living out a missional call to the community. But the church is not a pinnacle in community life anymore. This is deathly clear by numbers alone. We (as the church) are not looked to, to provide entertainment and gatherings as we once were. Yes, we may still retain some of that for our members, but our members do not make up the majority of the community as they once did in the 1950′s and probably even into the 70′s and maybe 80′s.
I’m not saying that church being partly social is totally bad, but I’m being more convinced that if we truly want to reach out to those around us in our communities and strengthen the relationships that already exist then we must abandon a social minded calendar and move towards a missional or social justice type of church.
Our focus is moving outside of the church walls to hold events, even if purely social, we then begin to break down the social stigma attached to the church building. Also when we move towards a missional focus, relationships begin to deepen, because we are asking people to make conscious efforts to deepen their relationships instead of relying of the connivence of events and/or time/day where they know people will be. As we move away from being a social hub, we start to view the surrounding community as a place to be and to interact with instead of continuing to think that people will come, if we provide events. I like how in Dan Kimball’s article (see above for link) he talks about the desire need to make sure that we maintain good relationships with people in our community who are not christians. This can be as simple as really getting to know our neighbors and even other parents of our children’s friends. There are plenty of places we can begin.
The issue becomes whether or not we are willing to make the effort and do the work that is required to make sure that we are not falling into a social trap of church. It is much harder to be our there and doing the necessary steps to make sure that we are living out a missional call to our community.
We need to being to know the people who live in the closest proximity to the church. I’m sure if you polled the majority of the churches in the country they would have little to no contact with the people who live across the street from their church or around the corner. Why do we buy houses next to our church, (not all of them, but a few) and make these centers for reaching out. Spend time with a neighbor, without an “evangelical” agenda. Get to know them, share life. Spend time with the poor. Funnel the money and effort and time that it takes to plan a gathering/outing/retreat/dinner to set up caring for the poor who no doubt live/work/hang out in the surrounding area of your church.
Why is the church not respected in the community? Because we spend so much time and effort taking care of those within the church instead of making sure those who are “outside” the church or those who we would say “need church” are taken care of.
Let’s have our calendars filled with service, with support, with prayer, with places where we are actively meeting and building relationships with those without faith. Go to a club, join a group, meet migrant workers, eat with sinners, who cares what people think. Stand up for those who don’t have the luxury of a pot-luck dinner, or better yet, invite people who cannot bring anything. Find the ways to transform your church calendar into something that does not resemble a social life, if you want a social life then get one, but make church about God and not as much about us. Let us live out the church, by going out.
Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17