Last week a friend asked me how our church was doing. She used to worship there too, but a life crisis sent her searching for something different, and she’s been a member at her new church for three years now.
I answered the way I usually do—the church is still doing a good job on the things they’ve always done well. The sermons are biblical and engaging, the music has a world-wide reputation for excellence, and the staff is dedicated. Short-term mission teams are being sent out and a new project will focus on the needs here in our city. People are getting to know God for the first time and disciples are being made. In fact, it sounds just about perfect.
Then she asked a harder question: how am I doing with the church? And I had to truthfully state that I’m frustrated.
Basically, I feel like a spectator, not the member of a spiritual family. For one thing, we’ve been faithfully attending this church for eleven years now and I only know a handful of people there. We’ve joined many small groups at one time or another, but we rarely see the people again after the semester ends. Yet, a major reason we go to church in the first place is to fellowship with other believers. We know we can’t grow as isolated Christians.
For another thing, I’m actually bored. Imagine, being bored while worshiping God!
Every Sunday seems the same, week after week. True, we’ve had some memorable exceptions, but for the most part, it’s like every other church service I’ve ever experienced. Changing congregations won’t solve anything.
After 38 years of attending various churches, I’ve learned the pattern. There’s worship through singing, and worship through giving our tithes and offerings. We listen to announcements. There’s a message from a pastor that expounds on some part of scripture or addresses a topic from a Biblical perspective. We greet one another, shaking hands and maybe trading names in the one minute allotted. Sometimes we take communion. Sometimes babies are dedicated or people are baptized. Some churches have “altar ministry” and some don’t. The order and length of the service may vary, but the parts are very consistent. And then we go home.
Part of the “bored” problem is that I’ve been reading my Bible and listening to sermons for many, many years. Yet, the pastor has to preach to a congregation that includes unbelievers and baby Christians. It’s been years since I chose a church based on how much I learned from the sermons. Head knowledge isn’t the hard part—the challenge is putting it all into practice!
Another reason I go to church is to worship God in a corporate setting. Our church is well known for its worship music. In fact, several members of our worship team write songs that you might hear in your own church. It’s all great stuff, but after a while it all tends to sound more or less the same. After eleven years I’d like a bit more variety. As it is, too often I realize—usually about twenty minutes into the worship time—that I’ve been singing on auto-pilot rather than truly worshiping God.
As my dissatisfaction has grown over the last few years, I’ve pretty much assumed that I’m the one having the problem. I tell myself that I should just buckle down and get more involved. I should pick some church program and volunteer to help. I should take responsibility for making church friends and invite some strangers to dinner. I should strive for contentment.
I don’t really have the time or energy for more activities, so this leads to the question of what current responsibilities I should eliminate. That’s not an easy decision.
We had been living here for eight years when I realized we’d met all our friends through church or ministry work. I didn’t have a single non-Christian friend in town. When I signed up to be a master gardener, and when I got involved in our local Audubon chapter, it was largely because I wanted to meet people who shared a common interest, but who did not already attend church. Now I have friends among both those groups, friends who thank me for praying for them, and who are asking some important questions. Should I quit either organization in order to do more church work?
My friend’s question about how I’m doing with our church got me thinking… maybe the problem is with the way we do church. Maybe arranging our sanctuaries and worship centers as theaters has something to do with my feeling like a member of an audience rather than a member of a family. Maybe expecting one person (or a small team) to do the vast majority of the preaching isn’t the best way to learn from one another. Maybe churches should divide before they reach mega-size, so we can all know one another. Or maybe not.
I’ve been reading a series of books on this topic. Apparently, others are struggling with these same issues. One book promoted the idea of dropping a formal “church service” altogether. Instead, they suggest that we just get together with other Christians every so often to fellowship and learn from one another. Several books discuss the pros and cons of house churches. Others are a bit less radical, and just suggest changing some of the traditions in our more institutionalized congregations. Now I think I’m more confused than ever!
What I’d like to know at this point is, should I try to put down deeper roots at my current church? Where will I find the time? What alternatives can you suggest?
Of course, Pete has his own opinion about all this, and whatever we do, we’ll do it as a couple.
What advice do you have for someone in my position?
Leslie, I adore you! You put into writing, because you are so good at it, my feelings exactly! We were discussing the same issues and that the reason we are still at the church is because the kids are so involved. We noticed the same issue with the preaching needing to be geared toward new believers. And I’ve started the same thought process about meeting new people who don’t necessarily attend church and I’ve joined a few Meetup groups. I don’t want to sit on the sofa every night of the week, I want to get out there and live life meeting new people. I’m reading Unfashionable by Tullian Tjavidjian (sp) and he brings up some good points about living in the world but not being of the world. I have all christian friends, it’s my kids who are impacting non christians and OH how I admire them! They are my example to get out there and make an impact in the world around me by developing new friendships. We’ve been at the church for about 10 years and have very few friends, our roots are not deep. It just seems difficult to develop them. That being said, I’m so grateful for the friends I have there and how unique they are. Every church hopefully has a Leslie, someone who lights up when she sees me and envelops me in a warm, gracious hug! I wonder, do I do that to others at the church? Hmmm….I need to start! Love you heart, love your willingness to put into words those thoughts that others definitely are having also! As for priorities, I know God will lead to you in the right direction as you ask Him. He’s pretty faithful that way 😉 Love you!
I’m not sure what you should do! I know you and Dad would have to do whatever you do together, and that’s super important. I personally have found that I love the size of our church… we have about 200 members. Big enough to have projects, but small enough that we can still have potlucks. Size does matter for meeting people… it sounds like going to a mega church is kind of like living in LA- so many people but yet it’s hard to meet anyone on a deeper level. Perhaps you could pray for God to help you make some more friends at your church?
We were in the same situation here in TN. We’d attended a number of churches, but never found one we liked. Then, I stumbled on a link to another link to another website and found a ‘new’ church that I’d somehow missed. I’d heard of the Baptists, the Presbyterians, the Catholic Church… and many others, but never had heard of the Orthodox Church as being Christian. So, I went to find out more. Long story short, we’re now attending http://stelizabethtn.org/ and it’s NOTHING like anything we’ve ever attended before. Bridget and I are currently in the process of joining the Orthodox Church, and, while our lives are rather full and we can’t be involved as much as we want to (due to time and distance), We’ve found a great home and community.
I was going through my reader and found this post (right after having read yours): http://michaelcook.wordpress.com/2011/04/15/one-church-42000-different-ways/
Nathan, I’ve met a number of people who have joined the orthodox church in the last few years. Usually, they point out the contemplative nature of the services as a bonus, compared to the celebrations most evangelical churches put on.
As far as your link goes, I understand that there is an uninterrupted historical continuity that is appealing. However, I consider the Church to be a spiritual entity–the kingdom of God–that has little or nothing to do with earthly organizations or structures. I believe that as Christ followers with the Holy Spirit living in us, we are all part of the one Church that Jesus left behind on earth, no matter where we worship or which group we associate with.
You bring up so many good points and questions. My husband and I are currently looking for a church and I have felt some of your same frustration with churches. At this point we are just looking for a church that will provide a good community and fellowship- but I can’t help but critique the churches we visit regardless of the community. I discuss our search here http://www.3-foldcord.com/2011/04/th-search-for-church.html
I think there are so many questions and frustrations that come from having a good heart and a vast knowledge of scripture, but sometimes I think many of these questions are still stemming from our own ideas and not God’s. I know what I want in a church- but I also know I might be asking too much. I haven’t really asked God what kind of church He wants me to attend. If I could loosen my grip on the control of choosing a church maybe I wouldn’t be so frustrated. I know I need to follow God and He has all the answers, but sometimes my own ideas and expectations cloud my ability to see or hear His answers.
I really enjoyed your post! It was heart felt and witty, it had be laughing and nodding my head in agreement.
Can you mentor someone? A college student or young married couple? Or a small group of 4 couples? Twice a month, something to look forward to, fellowship, meal, coffee, Bible study, read a book together, the Truth Project video series or TrueU, etc. Maybe you could make the large church smaller and more meaningful by helping someone else who is looking for the same thing.
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Carla, I finally got a chance to read your blog. Wow. You’ve been thinking thru many of the same issues. I’m working on another post on why I want to attend church, and you’ve hit the nail on the head. Thanks for commenting!