Grace has been going to a new church for nearly three years now. It seems silly to call it her “new church” when she’s been going there for so long, but she still feels like a newcomer, like an outsider. If you knew Grace, you’d realize that’s quite strange, because she’s one of the most social, relational people you’ll ever meet. In any other social setting, she’s the life of the party, makes friends easily and builds relationships quickly. Grace loves the new church. The music is good, the teaching is great, and many of the people are exactly the sort she would like to connect with deeply and have strong relationships with. She has a small group of friends she already knows well from outside of church, and most weeks she ends up chatting to them over morning tea at the end of the service. But she’s frustrated that it is taking her so long to truly connect with the other people in the church, who could have such an impact in her life and be part of her journey growing in God. With two small kids and many other commitments in her busy life, she can’t make it to other church events such as small groups, lunches, camps and other meetings. She’d really like Sunday mornings to be more relational, to have the chance to go deep with people and get to know them better.
Grace wants to feel connected.
Josh struggles to concentrate through the Sunday morning service each week. He tries to listen, but he finds his mind wandering during the sermon. Like most people his age, he’s completely at ease behind a keyboard and an active user of social media, but he finds it hard to get anything out of a one-way lecture. He’s used to being a part of the conversation, not a passive listener. Outside of church, he usually gets to participate in the discussion and contribute his own opinions, even if it’s just by pressing “Like” on his Facebook page. At home, he gets to control what footage he wants to view, what music he wants to listen to, and what topics he wants to talk about. He is an active contributor to the online community, writing a regular blog and developing a strong following on Twitter. He doesn’t own a television set, and doesn’t need to, preferring to direct his own viewing and learning experience online and in collaboration with his social networks. In church, he finds that his voice isn’t welcome or invited, and that he is treated as a member of an audience, not as a person who may have something to contribute. He wants to be there, but he gets bored when he doesn’t get the opportunity to participate.
Josh wants to feel engaged.
Michael is in his fifties, and became a Christian when he was 20. He’s been actively involved in church for well over 30 years, and has a deep love for God and his people. He is a highly intelligent man, a deep thinker, with lots of energy and lots to give. He recently approached his pastor to discuss his frustration with the church format. He said he didn’t feel comfortable anymore being told when to sit, when to stand, what to sing, what to think, and when to leave. He was told he needed to submit to God-given authority and change his attitude. He didn’t try to bring the topic up again.
Michael wants to be empowered.
Grace, Josh and Michael are attending good churches. Great churches, even. Churches filled with wonderful people, solid teaching, uplifting worship services. The problem is, those churches are meeting the wrong needs. They are using a model which assumes God’s people need a weekly ritual of inspirational music and pep-talks. Until churches creatively rethink the format, they won’t be able to meet people’s deep needs for connection, engagement and empowerment.