Over the weekend I was at a training class and I overheard a couple of the other guys talking about what Christians always talk about when they get together: “Where do you go to church”. The one guy mentioned the name of his church, a large evangelical church in our area. He said they had been there for almost four years and then he said something else. He said he and his wife still meet, outside of the church, people that they “go to church with” and never realized they went there. Imagine being in the same church body for years and having a sizeable population of people you hadn’t even met, much less gotten to know!
That is hardly a unique story. We were “members” of a largish Southern Baptist Church in Kentucky (they still send me the member bulletins and have tracked us down after a bunch of moves and in spite of me gently letting them know we were not likely to ever set foot in that church again). We sat in the same basic place every Sunday. So did many other families. We sort of knew the people who sat around us and some of the people in our Sunday school class. The people on the other side of the “sanctuary” (we sat to the right of the pulpit)? Didn’t know except maybe by sight. In fact I was talking to one of my clients in a business meeting and found out that he and his family were also members there. We never crossed paths and believe me we were there every Sunday.
I wonder how many Christians spend time every week with people who identify with the same local congregation but don’t know them at all. I don’t mean don’t know their names or know them by sight, although there is lots of that, but I mean don’t really know them at all. We always used to be identified as “the people who used to be mormons” and “the family with 5 (then 6, then 7) kids”. Many people could have probably picked us out of a police line-up because they had our kids in Sunday school or children’s church. Perhaps they had seen us a time or two in our Sunday best. They didn’t know us and we didn’t know them. Worse, no one seemed to think it was a problem.
I know that at its core, this is an issue with us. We were not making the effort to meet others. We were content to show up and “worship” and then make a mad dash for the parking lot to beat the post-worship service rush (we never beat it because we had to round up our kids). The problem was that we never saw the disconnect and apparently nobody else did either.
It would seem to be obvious that if you don’t know the people you go to church with, you by definition cannot truly be in fellowship with them. I am not in fellowship with strangers in an elevator nor am I in fellowship with strangers in a “sanctuary”. Little wonder people are leaving churches in droves. They are told that going to church is how they fellowship with others and they walk away each Sunday thinking “That was it? That is all there is to the Christian life?”. Yet another reason that I think that in the long term, the collapse of Christendom and the cultural religion of America will be an enormously positive change in the church.