“Hey, Becky! I haven't seen you in so long! It's so good to see you!” exclaimed JoAnn, as she pushed her cart to the side to give her old friend a hug. “JoAnn! Oh, it's good to see you too!” Becky replied. “Do you have time to get coffee this morning and catch up?” The two older ladies made their way to the market's gourmet coffee shop, ordered coffee and found a quiet table and begin to catch each other up on their lives.
Their conversation was filled with excitement and laughter as the two women shared updates on their husbands lives and their kids’ weddings. They discovered they were both grandmothers and shared cute pictures from their phones. The conversation became more serious when Becky asked, “JoAnn, you seem full of peace and happy like you always were. How do you do it? As I have gotten older, I find myself becoming more and more isolated, more alone than I want to be. I know I should be happy – my husband is successful and we have a good relationship, my kids are college graduates and doing well, we have plenty of money and go on cruises a couple times a year – but I still feel kind of empty and depressed. I feel like life has passed me by and I’m just waiting to die.”
“I wish I could tell you the answer, Becky. But to tell you the truth, I am not always as happy and outgoing as I used to be. In fact, running into you here today is the highlight of my week, maybe even my year! I am happy right now because I found an old friend to talk and reminisce with. I have a lot of the same feelings you do – I often feel lonely and disconnected from people. My husband has his career and co-workers, my kids have their own lives, and I just sit around the house shopping online or surfing social media. In a way I am more connected with people – I see their posts on Facebook or my kids send Snapchats of the grandkids – but I long to spend time with real people face-to-face.”
“I know what you mean,” Becky replied. “Remember when the kids were younger and we all went to that home group at the house on top of the hill? I can’t remember that older couple’s name, but they were such great hosts! The kids would play while the adults just sat and talked. I don’t know what we would have done if it were not for the advice and prayers of that couple and the rest of the group. Looking back, I think that group saved my marriage but I was too young and naive to realize it at the time. I thank God for that group and our church back then, I wish we had something like that today. I don’t go to church much anymore, and when I do, I don’t know anyone.”
“I feel the same way!” JoAnn agreed. “We go to one of the most popular churches in town – thousands go there, the preacher is so funny and entertaining that he is a hit on YouTube, the worship team sells out their concerts, the church facilities and kids’ programs are fantastic – but I never seem to be able to connect with people on a deep level. We talk about this, that, and the other thing but then I never see them again. Or if I do, it has been so long that we have to get re-acquainted all over again. And to tell you the truth, I feel the same way about God. I don’t always make it on Sunday morning, and even when I do, I don’t often sense His presence in the same way we used to at our old church.”
“Yeah, church isn’t what it used to be, that’s for sure,” lamented Becky. “After we moved to the other side of town, it just seemed easier to go to the big church that was so close to us and had such great youth groups and college-age groups for our kids. They liked those groups for a while, but after a year or two they kind of lost interest and slipped away from the church and even from God. The saddest part was that no one from the church even seemed to care that they quit coming and after a while my husband and I began to slip away as well. Looking back, I wish we had made the drive and continued on at our old church. Do you know if it is still there?”
“No, the church folded but the building is still there,” JoAnn sadly replied. “It is now a daycare and a Rastafarian community center. We saw the church go through a slow death, and a part of our faith died with it, I think. Some people were like your family and moved to better neighborhoods, others just found it easier to go to a church where they had better children’s ministries or didn’t have to do as much. Of course many of the older saints that were there back then have passed away or live in nursing homes. It was sad seeing pastors come and go while the congregation dwindled down to nearly nothing.
“We go to the megachurch,” JoAnn continued, “but our hearts aren’t in it. The preaching is good and the worship team is excellent but everything seems so choreographed and artificial. It’s more of a play or a performance than a meeting of God and His people. I don’t know what pastors today are thinking – all the churches try to outdo each other with better preaching, professional music, comfortable chairs, whatever – when we can get all that at home! I can sit in my couch and listen to great preaching on YouTube and sing to the Lord with great worship on Spotify, why should I go to church to get preaching and worship music? What I want from church is connection with people and with God and it seems like churches just don’t allow time for that anymore.”
“That is really sad, if you think about it,” Becky agreed. “Church isn’t about connecting with God and people anymore. We just go to sit and listen and watch, then we all go our separate ways as if we were leaving a movie theater or the mall. We really don’t get much out of it, so I guess that is why we don’t go very often. I do still love God, though, and read the Bible and watch Christian podcasts, I just don’t get much out of modern church.”
“Hey, I have an idea!” JoAnn exclaimed. “How about we get together from time to time to talk about old times and to pray and study the Word like we used to! I bet our husbands would love it, and we could take turns hosting it. Who knows, we might like it so much that we might even invite some of other friends to join us! We could have our own little church!”
“That’s a great idea!” agreed Becky. “Jesus said that when two or three are gathered in His name, He is right there in the midst of them! I think God is in this, and it is going to be good for all of us.”
The women went on to exchange contact information so they could stay in touch and set up their first meeting. Their husbands liked the idea too, and the four of them became the founders of a home church.
The questions that they brought up, though, remain to be discussed by Christians and church leaders across America and even the world. Why do we go to church? To watch a Sunday morning performance? To put on a personal performance for others so that they know how godly we are? Or to worship God and connect with other people?
If we go to church to connect with God and people, then our church meetings should look a lot different than they do today. Our praise and worship times shouldn’t be an audience listening to a worship team or choir. Instead, everyone should be entering into worship by singing along, giving God praise, sharing testimonies with one another, praying for one another, giving words of encouragement and exhortation to one another. Leaders can figure out how to facilitate this, but it must be done if we are to be the Church God wants us to be. Some churches will choose to break up into smaller groups for prayer or testimonies while others might want to have prayer teams in the front. Some might call people to the front to get prayer or meet with God while others might have people kneel or lift their hands as they pray. The format doesn’t matter as much as giving people the time and place to meet with God and with one another.
The same principle applies to our teaching times as well. People need to participate, not just watch. We all need to apply Biblical truth to our lives, not just take in information. Think about it. People today don’t choose to go to lectures very often unless they are forced to do so in a school or workplace training. And if someone does want a sermon, there are millions of them available online. Why, then, can’t pastors shorten their lectures a bit and allow time for people to interact with one another in small groups or to think quietly and write their own responses to the teaching?
Remember, people come to church primarily to connect with God and with one another. If they are coming for some other reason – e.g., to be entertained, to learn moral values, to get free coffee and donuts, or free childcare – then they are not really coming to church but to a social club or theatrical performance.
Let’s be the Church! Let’s encourage people to connect with God in prayer, in worship, in confession of sin, in crying out to Him for ourselves and for our loved ones and communities. Let’s exhort people to connect with one another and be real with one another, sharing our needs and testimonies, telling each other the good, the bad, and the ugly about our lives. Let’s teach and admonish one another with Biblical truth that is not just boldly preached but courageously applied to our individual lives. Let’s be the Church, the place where God dwells in and among His people.
Questions for Contemplation or Discussion
Think about the church services and meetings you have attended over the past few years. How many were performances where a handful of people on a stage played or preached to an audience? How many were participatory where everyone participated and interacted with the truth being presented? How many were some of each, like (90/10, 70/30, 50/50, etc.) performance/participatory?
Looking back at those services, which ones were most effective in helping people connect with God and with one another? Which ones were most effective in teaching truth and applying it to individual lives?
What could be done differently to make church services better at the above?
What could be done at your local church services to help people connect with God and one another better?
Let’s Pray Together: Lord, help us – Your Church – to be the Church you want us to be. Help us to not settle for being a place where people go for free childcare or live entertainment or free coffee and donuts. Help us to be the Church – people who are called out of the world to follow Christ and who are full of the Holy Spirit and have an abundance of life, joy, peace, and all the other things that mark followers of Christ. I pray for my local church Body and its’ leaders that I bring before You now…(continue praying as you feel led)