the weblog of Alan Knox

People recognize shallow relationships among the church

Posted by on Apr 13, 2011 in blog links, church life, community, fellowship | 41 comments

People recognize shallow relationships among the church

Yesterday, I received a “heads up” about a recent survey conducted by Crosswalk.com. The results of the survey are revealed in an article titled “Crosswalk.com Survey: Lack of Connection Biggest Reason Christians Leave Church.”

Here are a few interesting points/quotes from the article:

  • 34% of people who attend church leave because of a lack of personal connections there.
  • One participant who voiced his discouragement with his church body said, “There is no depth in relationships. People did not have time to be friends to other members.”
  • 18% have abandoned a church because they felt unwelcome, and 16% stated their reason as an inability to connect with others.
  • 53% agree that the primary reason they currently attend a place of worship is because of the friendships they’ve established.

Now, we can argue about terms like “place of worship” or “abandoned a church,” but let’s not miss the big picture here. People recognize the importance of true relationships. I’m not talking about smiling people who wave and pat you on the back on Sunday morning.

Instead, people are interested in real relationships, in spending time with others – and, generally, the hour or two on Sunday morning does not count (unless of course, Sunday is in the context of Sunday-Saturday). Do you care about them enough to change your busy schedule and include them in your life?

That’s what we do with family. We make time for them.


41 Comments

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  1. 4-13-2011

    I just posted something along the same lines that I have been working on for weeks re: community and accountability. There is a lot of talk about accountability and discipline in the church but how can we truly see that if we lack any real community with one another?

  2. 4-13-2011

    Arthur,

    You ask some great questions in your posts. “Church membership” alone will not provide the relationships necessary for accountability or community. With the relationships, “church membership” is not necessary.

    -Alan

  3. 4-13-2011

    Alan,

    The survey speaks volumes about the reasons why people “attend church”.

    One statement was particularly interesting to me: “A welcoming community makes it a positive experience for the entire congregation and visitors”, reminding me of a time when my wife and I were given the opportunity to be with a Greek speaking congregation.

    We understood very little, of what was said, but we left that meeting blessed more than ever before,or since,with a sense of Jesus Christ in the midst. Without doubt, they were family whose genuine love for one another,and for we, whom they had never met,was palpable.

    That was a one off experience, of what the centurion Cyrus was speaking of when he said, “I cannot understand these people of the Way. They love one another, even before they meet”.

  4. 4-13-2011

    Aussie John,

    If we do not care about people – really care – enough that we would change our busy schedules for them – then why would people think that Jesus Christ in among us?

    -Alan

  5. 4-13-2011

    Alan,

    Changing a busy schedule is merely one way to make it work. Including others in the unchanged portion in your busy schedule (and vice versa) is a good way to be with others.

  6. 4-14-2011

    Steve,

    Yes! Exactly! Of course, including others in your busy schedule often involves changing that schedule somewhat.

    -Alan

  7. 4-14-2011

    In my 30s I had great relationships with people ate church. I felt that they were substantial. Then my wife had a heart attack when I was 40. People seemed concerned at first. Over the next 4 years church “family” were pretty much absent save two. Then my wife died.. many came to the funeral but “family” still seemed absent except when I sought them out. One guy is still a friend some 20+ years later. And I greatly cherish his friendship.

    I remarried and my second wife developed a rare neurological disease which has hospitalized her for weeks at a time. When she was in the hospital a few faithful (non-church) friends would show up. Clergy visits were extremely rare – LOL, I guess they figured that the Care Pastor (i.e. me) would take care of those visits.

    I guess my point (if I have one) is that you do not really know who your friends are until you really need a friend. Saying people in church are “family” only complicates things. Better to have faithful friends than obligated family.

  8. 4-14-2011

    Bob,

    Thanks for sharing part of your story.

    I’m not sure that I understand about the “obligated family” part. But, I agree that we need faithful friends, and I thank God for the ones he has placed in my life.

    -Alan

  9. 4-14-2011

    Many times family members do things from a sense of obligation instead of deep seated love for the ones in their family. People in the church sometimes see their actions as “ministry” obligations to the needy rather than simple acts of friendship.

    An small example is how people in church want to pray for my wheelchair bound wife rather than strike up a friendly conversation. Sometimes our need to be religious simply gets in the way. I don’t know about you but I really do not want to be someone’s ministry project in their quest to get religious points.

    It goes back to your original post.. people want friends in church but it is really hard to befriend certain types of people – not because they are unfriendable but because of our own fleshly insecurities and selfcenteredness.

    Sorry for the rant. Thanks for listening. Hope your day is a good one.

  10. 4-14-2011

    Bob,

    I understand your concerns, and you don’t have to apologize for the rant. I’ve been around that kind of family as well. But, that’s not the kind of family that I’m talking about in this post and others when I say that the church is a family. We care for one another out of love, not obligation.

    -Alan

  11. 4-15-2011

    “I say that the church is a family”

    As a first time reader, I am not privy to the experiences of church family that you have shared here on your blog. But if that is your experience then I am really happy for you. But for me, and the 34% mentioned in your post, it is not. Many of us long for those types of relationships but cannot break the family bonds (i.e. cliques) that exist in many churches.

    I do appreciate the ideology though. I embraced it in my 20s and 30s until hard times came. Yet I do hope that kind of family exists. A family where people call you and love you when you are led to attend a different church than the one they attend. Maybe you can share some experiences along that line?

  12. 4-15-2011

    Bob,

    I think there will always be disciples of Jesus who do not understand their relationship to one another. That’s true among the church here as well. However, more and more, we are beginning to understand that we truly are family. That doesn’t simply mean tacking the word “brother” or “sister” in front of our name, by sharing our lives with one another. It has been a growth process for us.

    Yes, we have even managed to maintain relationships with those who meet with another church now. Sometimes, they even come to us when they need help because they know we love them and that we will help them.

    -Alan

  13. 4-15-2011

    Thanks for the dialog Alan. The problem with such dialogs is that so much of it is anecdotal and based on our own good and bad experiences. You have obviously not had very many negative experiences with church family like I have. So our anecdotal perspectives are very different.

    Whether people are called to friendship or family relationships seems to be a non-starter as each of us have different experiences in those arenas. For me I would rather have deep friendships – whether they be with blood family or spiritual family.

  14. 4-15-2011

    Bob,

    Yes, there are many, many within the church who do not live in relationship with God and with one another. In fact, even for those who do see one another as family (the kind of family that includes deep friendships), we often fail. I know that I’ve often failed those who need help. Your comments have been a good reminder that we need one another. Thank you!

    -Alan

  15. 4-15-2011

    “Yes, there are many, many within the church who do not live in relationship with God and with one another.”

    So what is the problem? Is the church just filled with self-centered people like the world is? It seems that most of the churches that I have gone to give lip-service to what you are saying but do not really walk it out. A few questions I think one should ask before they get involved in a church:

    1) Do leaders in the church regularly attend a small group?
    2) Is preaching or shepherding the main focus of the church?
    3) Are there small groups that are open to new members?
    4) How often do you go to church and no one talks to you?
    5) Is the church ethnically and socially diverse?
    6) Is there a focus on relationship building in the preaching?
    7) Do leaders actually talk to you when they see you?

    Probably more questions could be added.

  16. 4-16-2011

    Bob,

    That’s a good list. What about for people who are already part of a church? How do we help one another develop those deep friendships that you were talking about?

    -Alan

  17. 4-16-2011

    A few thoughts Alan:

    1) Vulnerable and transparent preaching. This creates a healthy environment where people are encouraged to go deeper with each other. When the preacher shares his pain and his failings it gives others permission to do the same.

    2) Small groups that have times to pray for needs and encourage each other. As a leader I have often asked for prayer that has shown that I am needy and in need of people in the group.

    3) Events that consider the disabled and their physical limitations. My wife attends a weekly women’s group at a coffee shop where she has been able to develop friendships with the gals.

    I am sure there are many other ideas. Thanks for the opportunity to share these.

  18. 4-16-2011

    Bob,

    Thanks for the response. Helping one another to grow in our relationships with one another is one of the main reasons that I write posts like this one.

    There’s another issue among the church that hinders relationships, I think. When the church typically gathers together on Sundays, they do so in one of the least relational manners possible. Yet, this meeting is what many churches use as their basis for identity, purpose, and mission.

    -Alan

  19. 4-17-2011

    Alan,

    Something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is that in a church, community has to be a community thing. That is, the idea of family and community has to be shared by all or it’s a tough go for people who want it.

  20. 4-17-2011

    Steve,

    Community is definitely mutual. But, often, one person or a few people will have to make the first move. You’re right, though, this is a tough go.

    -Alan

  21. 4-18-2011

    And if your circumstances make it nearly impossible to make the first move, then it’s even more difficult.

  22. 4-18-2011

    I do think that it is important to note that “family” has a very wide context with varying commitments. A Father’s commitment to his children is certainly different than that to one of his siblings and even less to a second cousin. So if we are to use the imagery of family, I think that it is important to acknowledge that, even though we are all connected spiritually, the relational aspects of family are very different depending on the context.

  23. 4-18-2011

    Bob,

    Yes, absolutely. Just as our relationships with family members differ, we will have different relationships with our church family from person to person and from situation to situation.

    -Alan

  24. 4-18-2011

    On Saturday I began posting a few devotions about the last words from the cross. The post today blends in nicely with your post about family. Please check it out at http://redeemed.kansasbob.com if you get a chance.

    Blessings, Bob

  25. 4-18-2011

    Bob,

    You were right. Your post is a great addition to our discussion of the necessity of deepening relationships among the church. I especially think your prayer at the end is appropriate: “Lord, give me an open heart for your family. Help us to share our pain with each other.” Amen.

    -Alan

  26. 5-27-2011

    We have visited churches at times since leaving professional ministry and have been shocked at how closed and unwelcoming many churches are. Our opinion did not change after multiple visits to particular congregations and making attempts to connect. We were fortunate while serving as pastors in the institution to be graced over the years with people that loved to reach out and help visitors connect to a rich and familial body life. We were “organic” in our view of ministry since the 80’s and I think our churches were functioning much more relationally than what other pastors were experiencing. Regarding these “closed” churches we’ve encountered recently, I’ve thought to myself a number of times how helpful it would have been for some of these churches to have a consultant come in and report on the whole experience from parking lot to pew and back out by way of the pastor’s handshake. Pastors would be shocked to learn what a closed culture their fellowship has become. I’ve learned that visiting can be a brutal and disheartening experience. I have also observed this clique-mentality in more organic expressions of church. The model is not important to me. The main question for all of us is: Are we exclusive or inclusive? We need to make room in our hearts for an ever-broadening circle of relationships. – John Blake

  27. 5-27-2011

    I have yet to see any deep, loving or relationship between two christians. In my experience, The Christians are extremely pleasant behold at first. All smiles, very eager to say hello and welcome you. Before long you realize the smiles are a facade. Fake. Before long, their judgemental stares and gossiping mouths are all you see. These people are arrogant and evil. They know nothing of love. I’m not sure why God would choose to save such hideous creatures.

  28. 5-27-2011

    The words of the bitter and betrayed.

  29. 5-27-2011

    John

    Unfortunately, many Christians have been taught (and believe) that the best way to be a Christian is to show others that everything in your life is good. Thus, for the most part, many Christians find it difficult to let people into their lives because they will start to see under the veneer. Also, Christians, as with others in our society, have bought into the “American dream” and spend so much of their time chasing it that they don’t have time for others.

    Stephanie,

    Yes, it can be extremely difficult. I can’t even begin to imagine some of the things that you’ve faced and heard. But, one thing I know, those were not the words or attitudes of Christ.

    There are Christians around who truly care for people. I have a friend here who is a good example of this. If she asks me how I’m doing, and I say, “Okay.” She’ll stop me and say something like, “Are you really okay or not?” These are the kinds of friends we need. People who care about us even when things are not okay.

    I pray that God brings more and more people like that into your life.

    -Alan

  30. 5-27-2011

    Interesting that you used the word ‘friend’ in that last comment Alex instead of ‘sister in Christ’. You and I have had a few discussions about my thinkings on ‘friends’ and yours on church ‘family’.

    I think that both John and Stephanie’s comments point to the lack of friendships in many churches. The people who have friends in these churches rarely want new friends. And people needing a friend rarely find them in the established members (i.e. cliques) in a congregation.

    It is something prevalent in established churches of all flavors. If one wants to make new friends they should probably visit new churches.

  31. 5-27-2011

    Bob,

    Yes, I use the word “friend” often. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, and should be friends as well. Again, either term can be misunderstood. So, I try my best to explain what I mean.

    -Alan

  32. 5-27-2011

    Thanks for the response Alan but I feel that you miss the point. Family descriptions (i.e. brother or sister) are titles that people give to each other. A friend (except the crazy way that it is used on facebook) describes a relationship. One can be related to another person (i.e. third cousin) and not have a relationship with them. It is why I think that we should get away from the antiquated way that people use terms like brother and sister in church.

    Your usage of the term ‘friend’ basically makes my point. Because she is your friend she knows you well enough to ask you personal questions. Others in your church ‘family’ probably do not know you that well.

    Alas, even though I consistently make these points, I feel that you will not agree based on your ideological perceptions of family. And I suspect that you might wander off into some utopian existence where some ideological church family is better than practical friendships in church.

    I endeth my rant saying simply: Brother Alan, you would probably be a great friend to have. :)

    Blessings, Bob

  33. 5-27-2011

    Bob,

    Yes, we disagree on the important of brother and sister and other family language. Again, when I use the term brother and sister, I’m not talking about titles that people give each other. If someone is not your friend, then that person is not your brother or sister either.

    You can rant any time, and I’m sure we’d be great brothers :) and friends in Christ.

    -Alan

  34. 7-27-2011

    I agree with what Kansas Bob says. Very few of the people that I have met in church over the years are my true friends and even less professing Christians behave any differently than the rest of society outside of the four walls of the church. The simple fact is the Church today, at least the American church is more or less a place where people go to punch their religious ticket so to speak and less so a place where people go to genuinely worship God and fellowship. Now not all churches are like that of course but so many are. I have been hurt more in my life by people who were supposed to be brothers and sisters in Christ than any of my “real” friends who are not even believers. Many people have rifts and just leave the church instead of trying to reconcile like the bible says, in fact it’s a leading cause of people changing fellowships. I left my last church because of a relationship that went south with a girl that I was dating (I am mid 30’s single, another big minority in the church,the mid 20-30’s single folks) and was hurt by the way things turned out. People are no different in the church because very very few church members actually practice what the bible teaches.

  35. 10-5-2011

    Couple thoughts come to mind: The institutional church my wife and I attend is known as a friendly church compared to others in the area because people are greeted and so forth. But we lose a lot of people afterward because friendships don’t develop. There are several cliques.I pointed this out at a committee meeting and the response was a shrug and that maybe people have too high expectations.

    Small groups are no guarantor of deeper relationships, Neil Cole and others point out. In fact, one of the things that keep small groups from multiplying is the fear that breaking up a group will break up friendships. Cole points out that our relationships must be pretty shallow if breaking up a small group will destroy them.

    The answer is the biblical/Jesus model of two or three. That’s how discipleship occurs and where deep relationships are made.

    My wife and I have since given up on helping church programs and instead are focusing on those one-on-one or groups of two or three relationships.

  36. 10-5-2011

    I’ve been a member of a large and Biblically sound church for 4 years, but just have superficial friendships there. I’m not sure why. I surely could have done more, but there also seems to be little community at this church, in general. We are the last ones to leave church meetings, but most people leave within 15 minutes. A few of the church leaders are downright not friendly, and at times, some are even boorishly unfriendly at times.

    Over the years, I’ve found that about half the churches I’ve attended have community, and the other half have not.

    Jim

  37. 10-6-2011

    Jim-

    I am assuming by biblically sound you are referring to doctrine, so I completely understand what you are saying and where you are coming from. But perhaps we should not accept “unfriendly leaders” especially “boorishly unfriendly leaders” as biblical, but as decidedly unbiblical. :)

  38. 10-6-2011

    Hutch,

    Yes, the church is sound in doctrine and also in practice. Its weakness is lack of community. IMO, one of the causes is that the lead pastor’s strengths are in theology, but he is not a strong people person. The church is largely a theology training center. I think the lead pastor has recruited church leadership that are like him–strong in theology and intellectual gifts, and people skills haven’t been a high priority.

    For me, as a member of a large church, it seems there’s little I can do in not accepting unfriendly leaders. It wouldn’t be right to stir-up dissension. What I should do is talk with those men, but I’ve shied away from that, as I barely know them, and it would be hard. Really a lack of courage on my part thus far. I could also talk with the lead pastor, without naming names. I don’t think it’d be right to identify these men by name without talking with them first. The other thing to do is pray. Christ is head of the church, and through Him it holds together and grows.

    It’s really sad to see church leaders who are consistently unfriendly. Love for the brethren is something all believers should have, and if someone does not show love for the brethren, it is likely that they are not a believer. Though, for context, in Act 20 Paul addresses the Ephesian church elders and says that from among them, savage wolves will arise, seeking to devour the church. So, as disturbing as it is, I don’t think it is too uncommon for there to be unbelievers in church leadership.

    Any ideas or suggestions here are much appreciated.

    Jim

  39. 10-6-2011

    In his book, “Introverts in the Church,” Adam McHugh cites statistics that shows that the ministry profession has a higher percentage of introverts in it than the general population. It makes sense that the ministry would attract bookish types.

  40. 10-6-2011

    1 Tim 3:2 and Titus 1:8 indicates a quality or qualification for those who should be considered as examples worth emulating by the local assembly is “hospitable/a lover of strangers” meaning they should be the type of people who never met a stranger who are friendly towards and welcome those who are newcomers or outsiders. So in essence if you have a “leader” who is not hospitable, you have a “leader” whose example is not worthy of following. Not qualified, IE: not biblical

    Sounds like that assembly might actually be following those “un-hospitable leaders” (I know an oxymoron in scripture? example.

  41. 10-6-2011

    Good point. If a leader is not friendly with the church, how would he be friendly to outsiders?

    I assume hospitality involves having people over to their house. This also requires that leaders’ home lives be transparent, which is a means of ensuring they lead their homes well…

    Jim