I see it all the time. Christians, once excited about the new church they’ve recently joined or visited, begin to grow weary in attending services or Bible studies. The efforts they’ve made to connect with others seemed to have produced little reciprocation and the initial energy and enthusiasm which others seemed to show them has dissipated. These new members or visitors begin to inch to the margin, and then to the fringes, of the church community. Soon, they’re gone completely. Does this sound familiar?
With so many churches to attend, it may seem like the best option for feeling disconnected from your church is to simply find a new one, but not only is this easier said than done (finding solid, healthy churches is difficult and exhausting), but it may actually be harmful to both you and the church itself. The best solution, in my experience, is usually to stay.
PLAY THE LONG GAME
I was reminded recently by some friends that simply laboring with a single congregation over the course of many years is a sweet and rare blessing. Though the size of the church may flux and change, some members come and go, and even leaders ordained or sent out, choosing to walk through the many seasons of communal life produces an unhurried joy that has learned to root itself in the soil of contentment and will come to bear the fruit of Christian maturity.
So the first (and most important) thing you should do if you’re currently feeling disconnected from your church is to commit to stay and not to leave — at least for now. Consider what your relationships will look like not in 6 more months or a year from now, but 10 years or more from now. Consider the families you will see come together, children born, lives restored, marriages strengthened, missionaries sent, pastors ordained, and hope revived over that time, and the joy you will derive from knowing that you were there to witness, and perhaps even contribute to, it all. That kind of blessing takes time to bloom, but the seeds have already been sown in your life and church. Wait, and you will see.
SOME PRACTICAL STEPS
Still, churches are not perfect, and the kind of joyful perspective I described above does not happen by default. It will take work, as much as it does patience. While there is much to be said on how we can make the most of our time now for the sake of our church communities, every church is different and will have its own dynamic and challenges to consider.
However, here’s a list of 5 things you can do right now if you’re feeling disconnected from your church. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and some of these you may already be laboring to do. Keep going! For others, if a few of these ideas seem helpful to you, plan to try them over the next few weeks. Often, even a little intentionality can yield great results — imagine what you can do with a lot!
If you’re committed to stay over the long-haul, you’ve got to show up. This seems like a no-brainer, but we all know that being present takes intentionality. Casually attending worship services and only occasionally joining the church for prayer services or Bible studies will not foster the kind of community that will grow and flourish over time. Unfortunately, while this is perhaps lowest of the low-hanging fruit on this list, it is most sorely neglected.
At our church, we encourage our people to come to as much as their schedule will reasonably allow. It is indeed a commitment, but a worthy one. Not everybody will (or should) come to everything, but the amount of time we spend with others in our churches will be directly proportionate to the opportunities we will have to connect with them in meaningful ways. In addition to this, try to come early and stay late. Never underestimate the value of simply being present with other Christians. Plan to show up, then keep showing up.
2. Lean in
But showing up is only part of the work. While there is value in simply being present with others, it is when we take time to lean in to the lives of those with whom we have gathered that we really begin to make strides in building relationships and connecting with what God is doing in our church.
Leaning in means asking questions that get below the surface-level conversations about the weather, the current event, or some other passing topic. Asking someone if they’re happy with their work situation, for instance, is bound to open up much more of a person’s mind and heart than rehearsing the week’s activities. Leaning in also means participating in the conversation at Bible studies, prayer services, meet ups, etc. At the end of the day, being intentional to have meaningful conversations will result in deeper relationships that will grow in intimacy and love over time as you nurture them. But that will not happen if you’re uninvolved.
3. Invite someone over
A great way to grow deeper in relationship with others is to simply invite them over for a meal or a play-date. There can be all sorts of expectations, real or perceived, around hosting someone, but don’t let this get in your way. At our church, there is almost always a standing invitation to anyone who wants to grab lunch after service. Sometimes the get-together isn’t planned before hand, but because the commitment and intentionality to be with one another is already there, it doesn’t take much to arrange a meal.
Hospitality is truly the backbone of any community — it is the openness with which we welcome, care for, and serve one another. If we want to experience a true sense of friendship and connectedness with other Christians, we must be willing to invite them to share our spaces with us (or, when appropriate, invite yourself into their spaces). Who have you been wanting to connect with? Invite them to lunch or dinner! Hospitality is truly the backbone of any community — it is the openness with which we welcome, care for, and serve one another. If we want to experience a true sense of friendship and connectedness with other Christians, we must be…CLICK TO TWEET
4. Read and pray
Sometimes it can be hard to have a long conversation over a meal with kids running around, bedtimes approaching, or other responsibilities and interruptions to contend with. That’s why meeting regularly with others to read the Bible or another book and to pray with and for one another is so helpful. Not only is this an enriching time of discipleship, but it is informative and encouraging, too. Ask someone if they’d be willing to meet up once a week or twice a month to read a book with you, or to simply talk and pray together. It doesn’t have to be long, but it should be regular. Over time, you will have learned and grown and been stretched by the books you’ve read and the insights you’ve shared.
5. Serve and volunteer
When friends serve together, the bond of friendship is strengthened. Whether you can serve on a ministry team on Sunday, an outreach event in your community, or on the mission field with a group from your church, the time spent in service with and for the other Christians in your congregation will form a shared bond that is not easily broken. Not only does it mean you are more present with them (#1), but also provides more opportunities to lean in together (#2). You will also probably spend some time in prayer as well (#4)! With everyone’s hand on the plow, as it were, you will experience the togetherness that you’ve been missing, and you’ll be contributing to the sense of shared mission and identity for others who desire to grow and connect just like you. So where can you serve? Is there a job you can help fill, or a team you can join? Is there an event or ministry that could use your time and energy? Joining in the work of the church will help ensure that you are connected to the church itself.
WHAT WILL YOU DO?
There are countless other ways for you to drink from the deep well of the fellowship of the saints and to taste the goodness of belonging to Christ’s body (if you haven’t already, you should become a covenant member!), but I trust that the short list above provided some helpful places to start. The work of loving, serving, and even pursuing one other in Christ will be rewarded in time with the sweet joy of communion and fellowship — you may even begin to experience this immediately.
All of us desire connection — God made us for this. But when you commit to the work of connecting with those among whom he has placed you, you will come to know and experience the full pleasures of what the church can and should be, for your good and your joy, and for His glory.