WHAT ARE PEOPLE LOOKING FOR IN CHURCH?
Part II - The Need for CommunityWhy do people join congregations? We are commanded by our Lord to
go and make disciples, baptizing and teaching everything that I have commanded youand to remain in His promised presence, keeping His word and sacraments in truth and purity. As we learned in catechism, the Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth. But what about those who've either fallen away, lost touch, or perhaps those who've never been 'churched'? As we lift high Christ and His cross should we not also give attention to other needs of those who seek our Lord?
Dr. Kenneth Haugk observed that people have two fundamental longings:
They long to be close to God and to each other (what we will refer to as 'need for community'). The need for community is a creational reality, an instinct within all of us, stamped by God upon our inmost being that can only be fully met within the body of Christ. God has provided for this need in the first and second greatest commandments and as expressed by our Lord,
A new command I give to you, that you love one another. John 13.34 Dr. Haugk notes,
In Christian communities people encourage and support each other through joys and trials, find peace and unity in the face of chaos, and through faith in Christ they risk reaching out to others. So . . . community is what people are looking for and what they need. But how should we go about providing it? Dr. Haugk suggests four areas of focus:
FIRST: Small Group Ministry -
Day by day they spent much time together; devoting themselves to the word, to teaching, and fellowship. Acts 2.42-47 Fellowship in Greek is the word - koinonia. In the early church it was often in the context of communal living; not a practical reality for most of us today. One way Christians may experience this dynamic aspect of community is in small groups. Congregations that emphasize small group ministry encourage groups @ 3-12 people who meet regularly to grow in their relationship with Jesus and with one another. The goal of such groups is to:
- Read and study God's word.
- Join in prayer for each other, the church, for families, for outreach and mission.
- Share life with one another, joys and concerns.
SECOND: Fellowship Groups -
At Zion there are long-standing groups that meet the need described here - Men's Club, Ladies Aid, Lydia Circle, Shipmates, and Christ Care. But is that enough, given our large membership? Might our group-list be expanded to meet even more interests and needs of men, women, couples, singles, youth, service related, recreational related, young parents, single parents - More than we might realize those who are looking for a new church are looking to fill a need for fellowship.
THIRD: Hospitality -
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so, some have entertained angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13.2 The Greek word for hospitality is the word - philoxenos (lover of strangers). A hospitable congregation creates community by being welcoming and inviting. Most churches surveyed think of themselves as warm and friendly. But we need to ask,
Friendly to whom? Those outside the congregation need to feel as welcome and accepted as those who've been members for generations. Here are some things to realistically reflect upon:
- Nursery, rest rooms, location of Sunday school and social hour . . . How are we dealing with providing and directing visitors to these?
- Greeters and Ushers, prepared to welcome and assist visitors . . . Very often the front line of visitor' greeting are the ushers.
FOURTH: Task and Service Groups -
Do not grieve for the joy of the LORD is your strength. Nehemiah 8.10 What a day of joy it was for Israel! The Lord enabled them to complete a great project. They rebuilt the wall of the city; a project accomplished only because they worked together. Laboring shoulder-to-shoulder builds a sense of belonging to a group. Case in point, the Zion Sausage Supper! Laboring together we serve and bless the community, and perhaps even more we are blessed to work together. It's called 'task-oriented bonding', made especially strong when we include the study and application of Scriptures that focus on the relationship of work to the Word of God.
CONCLUSION: God has given instructions on how to create community. From his cell in a Nazi concentration camp in 1943, a Lutheran pastor by name of Dietrich Bonhoeffer described this:
The goal of all Christian community is to point to the Word of God in Jesus Christ which assures us of salvation and righteousness. Community is that place where we meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation.
May the Lord bless us richly with this gift!
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