I’ve often described the church as a community. Many churches do. Many churches have it right in there name. This-or-that Community Church.

But, is that really the best description of what we are supposed to be as a church? What does that communicate to the people of our church or the people outside our church? Have we even thought about it?

What is a community? This is the primary definition:

“a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.”

Is that what we are? Is the church just a social group, and the only reason we’re together is because we live in the same neighborhood?

What do you think of when you think of community? For me, I think of neighborhoods. I think of the people that live around me. That’s my community. Many of us go to church with people who don’t live anywhere near our community.

Are we just together because of our cultural and historical heritage? Is that all that binds us? Let me challenge you, if that’s the only reason you’re a part of a church, you need to dig a lot deeper. You don’t go to church simply because that’s what your family does. There’s so much more to it than that.

So, what are we? We are family. We may not be related by dna, but we, who have put our faith in Jesus Christ, have the same Father. We have been adopted into His family, and now we are sons and daughters. We have a seat at the table of the King. We have an inheritance. We are co-heirs the the Lord of all creation.

More than that. We were bought with a price. We are joined together by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In that sense, we are all blood relatives. We are bound together by the blood of the lamb. He is the bridegroom and we, all of us joined together are His bride.

It’s still more than that. Because of this love we have received, we are all on the same mission – bringing more people into the family of God. We are called to go out into the people in our communities and live a life that shines before them and share the love of God with them. When was the last time your community passionately tried to get new people into the neighborhood? Usually, the talk is “how do we get that one crazy family out?” But, not in the family of God. We are joined together as family.

Does that sound like a community to you? It doesn’t to me.

“What’s the big deal?”

Well, as a pastor I do a lot of thinking about the state of “the Church” today in our culture. One of the things I dwell on quite a bit is, what has led the church of today to it’s current state? What do I mean?

The church is nothing like it used to be. Gobs and gobs of “regular church attenders” consider themselves a part of their church community even when they only go once a month or less. Commitment levels in church across the country have dropped and continue to do so. Why? Why does it seem that our current church climate is so apathetic about these communities they are a part of?

Well, I think there are probably dozens of reasons. But, this, in my humble opinion, is a big one that is seldom talked about. Reasons tend to include things like busyness of schedules, widely increased sports activity for kids, crazy work schedules, etc. Are those problems? Sure. Is that the biggest problem?

Let me ask you a question: When there is something that is really important to you, how to you approach it? Let me give you an example. For most of us, our families are very important to us. Most of what motivates us in life revolves around our family priorities, agendas and desires. We take vacations to spend time with our family. We hurry home from work to see our family. We save money to care for our family. When a family member is sick, we care for them.

Our families are really important to us, so we approach our families with intentionality, purpose and passion. We make our family the top priority – as we should. Our family purpose changes the way we approach everything in life. Why? Because it’s our family.

Our approach to church used to be quite similar. The example set before us in the New Testament was very much like a family. The “held everything in common” they “shared with anyone as they had a need”,  they devoted themselves to fellowship, they ate together daily. They were a family. In fact, I would challenge you to look at the descriptions of the church in the New Testament and see for yourself which word best describes what God did among them: Community or Family?

My church experience growing up was like a family. Everyone knew everyone in the church. We at meals together regularly after Sunday evening service. We visited people in the hospital. We brought food when other families needed it. Other families in our church provided our family with clothes. All of this, by the way, happened without the church leadership having to facilitate it an organize it. Sure they would encourage it and teach about it from time to time. But, it was just how we cared for one another. Why? Because we were family.

When our approach to our church is community, I think it creates some problems.

  • In a community, the problems are always someone else’s fault and responsibility. That’s why we have Neighborhood associations and elected officials right? It’s their job to take care of the problems that arise. Isn’t that what they’re paid for? Have you ever heard that kind of talk in a church? I have. Why do we have to visit people in the hospital pastor, isn’t that why we pay you?
  • Communities are full of critics. You’ve heard your neighbors complain about this problem or that problem. How many of them ever take initiative to do something to fix the problem? They/you may care, but not enough to act. Or, when the community leaders make a decision we disagree with, we voice our complaints loudly. Our churches are full of critics too. Full of people who like to complain about the things they don’t like but refuse to get involved to solve the problems. We like to voice our complaints, but when challenged to solve the problem, we resist.
  • Community isn’t permanent. It used to be. People very rarely moved. Today, people move across town all the time. I’ve known people who moved multiple times a year. Others who move every couple of years. We get bored with a house and with our neighbors, so we decide it’s time to find something new. So we do. And we love it until it gets old too. Church used to be something we committed to for the long haul. Now, many of us change churches more often than we change communities.

I’m sure there are other problems, but these are some of the big ones I’ve noticed.

“Gee, it kind of sounds like you’re being critical.” I guess I am. But, there’s a reason.

In treating the church like a community, we miss out on the majority of the benefits. 

I’ve often said, you get out of something what you’re willing to put into it. Over my years in several different churches, we’ve had people leave our church, frustrated that they never really connected with anyone. When we ask the question, “what did you do to try to get to know people”, the answer usually comes, well, “I just didn’t have the time…” or “Isn’t that your job?” In essence, the reason they’re leaving is because they expected others to do the work of getting to know them, but were unwilling to put in the effort to get to know others.

Do you know the people who stick at our churches? They’re the ones that come in and make it their mission to get to know the family. It’s very rare that one of these families will leave the church unless they’re moving out of the area. They get more out of the community because they invest into it.

In other words, they treat their church like a family. They approach church like a family. They see it as something into which they need to invest. It’s not a commodity to be consumed. It’s a family to be committed to.

How are you approaching your church?

Do you feel like you’re not getting anything out of being a part of a church? Is church just something you do once in a while, if there’s nothing better to do? Are you sitting and waiting for someone to twist your arm to be a part of this or that? Or, are you jumping in to the deep end?

We can sit around and blame the church all we want, but in the end we all know, that much of the reason we don’t get anything out of church is because we’re not putting anything in. We want to make continual withdrawals without every making a deposit. We want to be cared for and loved without ever having to care for or love anyone.

Our mindset towards church needs to change. If we can get the right mindset and approach church as a family we are eternally committed to (because we are), it will drastically alter our personal experience of church. It won’t be this outdated thing that people used to do, it will become an extremely relevant and extraordinarily powerful part of our day to day lives.

Will you join me? Will you start to shift the way you think about church? Will you start to see the church family God has placed you in as your literal brothers and sisters in Christ?

If we will, I think the end result will be so compelling to the unbelieving world around us. That was what Jesus said would happen, “They will know you are my disciples by the way you love one another.” What kind of picture of Jesus have we been painting for the world with the way we approach our church?

Maybe it’s time for a new canvas.

(If you’re looking for a church family to be a part of, we would love to have you join us at SixEight Church!)