Basic demographics (around the area in which I live) show that about eight percent of the people will head off to a worship service on any given Sunday. Eight percent… I heard someone say recently that people are allergic to church.
I remember years ago living in an area where that figure was fifty-five percent, and I thought that was bad. The other side of that coin, however, was the fact that it presumably left a lot of room for new converts to the faith. As Scripture indicates, the fields are ripe for harvest.
“They always had at least one partner.”
When Jesus sent out his seventy-two advance men (Luke 10), he told them to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send workers into the field. The thing that strikes me about these seventy-two was the fact that he sent them in pairs. No one was left to fend for themselves. They always had at least one partner.
One of the problems we face in today’s church is the feeling that we’re all alone. Think about it. If ninety-two percent of your neighbors are non-church going folks (for whatever reason), it’s pretty easy to feel like the deck is stacked against you. Once that feeling strikes, it’s a short path to despair. Despair can be the crushing blow that makes us think, “What’s the use.”
If there’s no use in trying, we fall into some very apathetic habits. Some of us actually join the ninety-two percent.
If the church is supposed to be anything, it’s supposed to be a community. The early church demonstrated to the surrounding culture what a real community should look like, how it would act, and why they were like they were. The one striking feature of that early community was their love. Their neighbors were quoted as saying, “How they love one another.”
What gives credence to the words we say?
If we’ve lost anything in today’s church, it’s that tremendous sense of community. We’ve replaced it with a lot of things—programming, high-tech worship, and modern buildings to name a few. The problem is there’s no replacement for a close-knit, intimate group of folks. It’s what the Holy Spirit uses to bind us together. It’s what speaks to the world around us, giving credence to the words we say.
One of the main reasons we aren’t close to our church family (if we can call it that) is that we choose to be isolated. Many of us don’t even know our next-door neighbors. We’d rather be left alone. That attitude bleeds over into our relationships in the local congregation. We’re cordial enough, but we’d still prefer not to be bothered.
The result of all this is the sad fact that we’re not what we were created to be. The church in such a state is no longer the church. She becomes some sort of service club at best.
Relationships are at the heart of our existence. Ignore them, and we’re lost. Nurture them, and we’ve got a good chance of impacting the harvest.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]