the weblog of Alan Knox

Church and Loneliness

Posted by on Jan 27, 2009 in blog links, community, fellowship, gathering | 13 comments

I’ve recently come across Steve’s blog “From the Pew“. Steve has written several very good series, including “Re-Thinking Church Membership” and “Re-Thinking the Sunday Church Service“. In that last series, one post in particular caught my eye (“Disconnectedness“):

It is possible to feel loneliness, disconnectedness and a sense of helplessness in a large crowd of people. Many who live in the big city can attest to this. Some even find anonymity in large crowds. When one is in a group of people where they are supposed to be intimately connected – and yet aren’t – the disconnectedness can be amplified. A bad marriage can be an example of this. Or a marriage where the two simply go through the motions. The marriage is supposed to be a close relationship, and when it isn’t, it is much more obvious than if the two were mere roommates.

So it is with church. We are supposed to love one another, to bear one another’s burdens, to fellowship with one another, to stimulate one another to love and good deeds. When this doesn’t happen, the feeling of loss is increased. Something big should be happening here but it isn’t.

Through my own experience, the experiences of family and friends, and from the testimonies of many other people that I’ve talked with personally or through email, I know that Steve is correct. Many, many, many, many, many people sit through “church services” every Sunday with a feeling of loneliness and disconnectedness. These are not unbelievers, but people who believe in Jesus Christ – are filled with his Spirit – and are desiring fellowship with other brothers and sisters.

So, what’s the problem? I think one of the main problems is that the way we have structured and organized our church organizations (including the Sunday church service) fuels loneliness and disconnectedness and hinders fellowship and relationship.


13 Comments

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  1. 1-27-2009

    Alan, once again you’re right on the mark. At the church we last attended, we were in charge of the greeters. I was always near the entrance to the church for at least twenty minutes before every service and until twenty minutes after each service started. We knew literally everyone. We knew more people than the pastor.

    I talk to people and many of them talk back. Yes, it really works! And you might be surprised what they tell me. Loneliness and lack of community and friends was a major issue at that church, as it has been at all churches we have attended. This really bothers lots of people, and is one of the major factors that causes them not to stay with churches.

    Now that we have stated the obvious problem we should state the solution. Correct?

    We have never seen these issues successfully dealt with by any church. We took it on ourselves in every church we attended to work on the problem, with modest success. I could list dozens of things that work, sort of, and dozens that don’t. People give seminars and write books about such things. But at the end of the day, little changes.

    I think you are very much at the heart of the reason when you say “I think one of the main problems is that the way we have structured and organized our church organizations (including the Sunday church service) fuels loneliness and disconnectedness and hinders fellowship and relationship.”

    While we think it is wonderful that some people find Jesus, community, and friends in the IC, we know many more who do not. I don’t necessarily think the answer is deconstructing what we have, but doing something radically different for everyone who is lost in the IC.

    I’m not proposing a model for everyone to follow. It will look different in each place, with each group. Perhaps we even need some never-churched people to help each group find its shape. Previously-churched people will just try to make it look like what they’ve known, which probably wasn’t addressing the problem.

  2. 1-27-2009

    Sam,

    Thanks for a great comment! Recently, on another blog, a friend of mine wrote a post about the lack of fellowship and relationships in the church. He asked if anyone had suggestions of what should be changed in order to foster relationships. There were only a few comments, but they all agreed about the lack of fellowship. But, only one person was willing to admit that changes much be made in order to foster fellowship. I think this is a huge problem with the church. We want fellowship, but we’re not willing to do anything about it.

    -Alan

  3. 1-27-2009

    I think we’re created in such a way as to crave meaningful conversation, friendship, etc. We talk a lot about this in Christian circles and use buzzwords like “relational” and “community”.

    Unfortunately, I think we organize everything that happens when we gather together (particularly on Sundays) to such an extent that we leave out time to talk with each other, and truly get to know each other.

    The difficult part is figuring out the alternatives, and getting enough people to believe that such alternatives are okay.

  4. 1-27-2009

    I don’t think organization is the culprit. It is the outcome of our own withdrawal. The organized church has developed by people making decisions. These decisions were supported by perspective. The perspectives were of the soul not the spirit, so the decisions have served the fallen soul not the enlightened spirit.

    Generally speaking church organizations serves two selfish needs: Control within the group that protects the group from expenses and liabilities related to sin within the congregation and isolation based on falsehoods since openness means being more honest than we care to be about ourselves.

    Do we sit in rows facing the backs of other people’s heads and call it fellowship?

    Do we give to the poor trusting the leadership has made sure that the poor being served are not in any kind of sin first, since that would be poor stewardship?

    If we would make two small changes, the depth of fellowship among us would deepen easily. Face one another and speak the truth in love.

  5. 1-27-2009

    John,

    You said, “The difficult part is figuring out the alternatives, and getting enough people to believe that such alternatives are okay.”

    I think you’re right. We’re so enamoured with our traditions that we’re not willing to question them.

    David (ded),

    I think that “facing one another” and “speaking the truth in love” are not currently allowed because of our organization and structure.

    -Alan

  6. 1-28-2009

    My site traffic spiked today. Now I know why. Thanks for the plug.

  7. 1-28-2009

    I'm convinced we'll never solve this issue until we have a really fundamental re-think about what church is and, more importantly, about how we 'do church'. There is a lot that I could say on this subject, but it would be easier to plead with people to read the book 'Total Church' by Steve Timmis & Tim Chester for a more coherent explanation. One of the emphases expounded in this book and worked out in daily life in 'The Crowded House' in the UK is about church being a gospel community, a network of relationships. This can only be achieved in a relatively small congregation setting. It doesn't have to be a house church, but that gives an idea of the sort of size congragation needed. Once you get above 30 or so people, it is fundamentally IMPOSSIBLE to have the depth of relationship and mutual interaction and support of each other that the NT describes. It is also impossible to be that living visible expression of the Kingdom of God that the church is called to be. That's when things start to get less personal and people get overlooked or forgotten. That's when people with problems in their lives don't get the love and support they need. The other important factor is to emphasise that we assemble together as church to minister to one another NOT just to sit in rows in silence listening to a salaried professional guy at the front doing all the ministering. The church assembling together never was meant to be a passive affair which could be approached with a 'take it or leave it' consumerist attitude. The fact that we even talk in terms like 'attend church' shows just how far we are away from understanding what church is meant to be about. Church isn't a meeting you attend – church is something you are and do. It's about shared lives and modelling the love of Jesus in visible and practical ways to each other and to unbelievers around us.

  8. 1-28-2009

    Steve,

    Thanks for a great post! Dave Black and I talked about another one of your posts today. :)

    Goblin,

    Isn’t it interesting how our ecclesiology affects every aspect of our lives together. Just changing one thing – i.e. meeting format – isn’t the goal – at least, it’s not my goal.

    -Alan

  9. 1-28-2009

    Alan,

    I agree that structure is a hindrance. But I also always encourage others that structure is not the issue. After all, organization is a tool not an enemy, eh? When we meet in a house setting, if there is not an agreed upon time and place (organization), we do not have much of a get-together!

    Though I voted against organizations with my feet 11 years ago, the issue is our hearts. Hence, I took this opportunity on your blog discussion to suggest what simple changes, regardless of organization, had the potential to support our hearts.

    Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

  10. 1-28-2009

    David,

    I think my reply to you was too short, because I agree with you, but it came across as if I didn’t agree. In other words, I agree that organization is not our primary problem. Whenver people get together – from 2 to 2000 – there will be organization. The way that we currently organize and structure the church hinders our relationships and fellowship. But, like you said, behind (driving) these organizational and structural decisions are issues of the heart.

    -Alan

  11. 1-28-2009

    You are one busy man. I don’t mind short responses, but I did misread yours.

    No harm done. I am always very encouraged by your blog.

  12. 1-29-2009

    Hi Guys
    Just to clarify one point. I’m not claiming that meeting in a small household congregation is an instant answer to all church problems. As Alan rightly points out these are fundamentally heart issues and if the heart isn’t right, no way of doing church will make any difference.
    HOWEVER, I would still strongly suggest that unless your PRIMARY ‘Christian assembly’ – whether it is household church, cell group, home group or whatever else you call it – is small enough to allow the development of deep and intimate relationships which enable us to ‘one another’ each other as the NT describes, then we are going to continue to see people on the fringes of churches to whom no one ministers.
    Dare I suggest that those who maintain that ‘big church’ works are probably those for whom big church does work but that they are not the ones being left neglected on the sidelines?

  13. 1-29-2009

    David,

    And I am always encouraged by you.

    Goblin,

    Your comment demonstrates one of the many reasons that I think discussion is so important: through discussion we are able to help one another see many sides of the same issue.

    -Alan