Sounds great. Sounds like a fine idea. I see this idea put forth in quite a few churches. But, let’s step back a bit and really take a look. Let’s study the brush strokes. Let’s learn a bit about the painter. And the subject.
If this thought is directed toward the person who rejects the value of church life, I can understand the point. Church community truly is important. God puts forth the model of family in the Trinity. It's important to Him. So, it has to be important to you and me. However, I think it’s important because humans need to belong. It’s important to belong and not just to attend.
But, let's take a closer look at the role of the church in establishing community. what is the church responsibility in establishing community in a safe haven?
Churches where I live have shown a real eagerness to invite people to attend. They love to focus on getting people through the doors. At least, getting them through the doors for those first few times. After that, the responsibility to form community seems to shift. I've seen churches on my island host elaborate picnics, block parties and concerts to draw the unchurched. They welcome the unchurched through the doors give them a bulletin and point to a seat. And, often, it ends there.
It’s then that the church seems to think it’s job is done. From there, the newcomer is expected to make all the next steps. They are welcome to join the women’s Bible Study at Betsy’s house. That’s what it says in their bulletin, after all. Betsy’s house. No address. No way of knowing who Betsy is. Just go to a stranger’s house in a secret location and find it full of other strangers. Other strangers who know each other.
You can join the men’s breakfast on Saturday and find a place at a table where everyone knows each other but no one knows you. That’s fun for anyone.
But, what if you are the person who is a bit socially awkward? I admit that I am. What if you can’t easily merge into a group of strangers? It's always been difficult for me.I wound up leaving the father/son family business church because it had gotten too big for me to ever feel comfortable there. I left it for a tiny church where it seemed I could do some really helpful things.
Was my awkwardness in the father/son family business church my fault? Of course not. But, if a church demanded community from the congregation, and this one did, doesn't the church have a responsibility to treat you like a family member? Wouldn't that family extend itself to make a relative feel at home? So, no, the church hasn't met it's responsibility to encourage community. It's the difference between welcoming you and merely letting you in.
To say that I’m a poor carpenter is being very kind. But, once, a door in my house came off the hinge. Over time, the holes for the screws had gotten too large and new screws wouldn’t hold. I summoned up all the cleverness I possessed and filled the screw holes with wooden matchsticks. This made the screw holes smaller. While the screws now held securely once they were in, it was much harder to get the screws in at first.
Church shouldn’t be like that. It shouldn’t be hard to get in. And it shouldn’t be the responsibility of the new person to wedge themselves in. If community is important to a church that church needs to assume responsibility not only to search the highways and byways for new people but to carry the lamb already in the flock on it's shoulder.
Church, are you ready for that challenge?