Church is More Than a Place to Make Friends

By most standards, my local church is a large–dare I say, megachurch.  A couple thousand people fill the seats every week.  My wife and I have been attending for about three years, before they moved out of the high school and into their exclusive space.

Occasionally, I ask my wife what I believe to be deep, introspective questions, like, “Why do we go to church?”  She usually rolls her eyes, uninterested in entertaining my squinty-eyed search into her soul.  But sometimes she answers.  Sometimes I answer first just to get things going.  Here’s what I think to be true:

We typically go to church for one of two reasons:  Habit and friends.

I was raised in the Catholic Church.  My wife was raised in a Southern Californian, non-denominational Protestant church.  We attend our current non-denominational church every Sunday partly because that’s just what we do.

We also go to church because, thanks to a few small groups we got involved in early on, we’ve made some friends who we enjoy seeing.  And if I’m being honest, I like being recognized by other people in the church.  I think it makes me feel important to some degree.  I belong.  I’m vested.  I’m noticeable.  I’m a part of something bigger than myself, and for better or worse, that makes me feel good.

But that’s not the point of church.  The point of church is to provide believers with a community in which they can worship and glorify God.  It is a place where we can identify and develop our spiritual gifts.  It is an environment in which we can encourage and love one another, and compassionately hold our members accountable to God’s commands.

The Point

I’m not saying it’s wrong to make friends at church.  Certainly, that will likely happen naturally as we encourage and challenge one another.  Rather, my encouragement to you (and myself) is that we would maintain a healthy perspective; one in which we acknowledge that while human relationships are important, we are ultimately living to glorify God, and no human relationship should be permitted to have a higher place in our heart that our bond with Christ.

They May Never Ask Where the Hope Comes From

I once worked with an older woman who always came to work smiling. She was always cheerful, almost to the point of annoying, but thankfully just shy.

I personally appreciated her attitude, mostly because I was a manager and I felt a level of responsible for the morale of our work environment.  That said, it never occurred to me that I might ask her why she was the way she was, or what motivated her joyful disposition.  I admired that aspect of her, but that’s it.  At best, I may have envied her, but that’s where it ended.

Maybe that says more about me than I’d like it to, but even now, I’m pretty content not knowing why she was as she was.  I suppose I assume now, as I did then, that she was a Christian.  But she may as well have been Mormon or into stones and healing energies or anything else.  Maybe her attitude was a byproduct of a great self-help book.  Maybe that’s how her mom was.  Maybe that’s how her mom was not.  Whatever the case, I never asked, and I’ll probably never seek her out in order to ask.

And here’s the thing:  I don’t think you would, either.

Hoping for an ask

1 Peter 3:15 encourages Christian disciples to “always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”  And so we should.  But having an answer prepared doesn’t mean it ought only be offered upon request.  Jesus often took the initiative.

Consider:  If you are a Christian, and you sincerely believe that we have been saved from an eternal abyss that we deserve, and have instead been provided a means to eternal glory in community with the Creator of the universe, His angels and all the rest, how does it make any sense that we would only share this with those who are lucky enough to ask why we smile so much?

I realize no one wants to be the infamous “bible thumper” who scares more passersby away from the gospel than leads to it, but there’s got to be other ways to initiate the conversation.  Because while pouring soup and moving furniture is thoughtful, these things don’t set anyone free from eternal separation from God.  Truth sets us free.  Christ sets us free.

“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent?” (Rom 10:14-15)

For Christ’s sake–for their sake, preach!