September 19 is National Back to Church Sunday. It’s a day when Christians around the world celebrate by inviting people to come to church with them. It is supposed to be a time when worship and community happen, and when people who may have been outside of that community are invited back.
That sounds great, but let’s be honest, is it even possible anymore? Reading through the book of Acts recently has reminded me that we don’t often see church as a community. In fact, we don’t even do it as a community.
Culture of Individualism
We live in a society that is growing increasingly individualistic, and in order to keep up, the church has developed programs, services, and even sermons about how to strengthen ourselves as individuals. Perhaps we fear that a church seemingly on hospice cannot survive going against the grain of society. As a result, we’ve done everything we can to appeal to the individual, and now we are reaping the whirlwind.
When God sent this pandemic to us, it was like going to the doctor for a full body scan and finding out that the diet you’d been on to live longer had actually given you cancer. Our years of nurturing individualism became our downfall. When congregation members were forced to go home and “do church from home,” people became too comfortable too fast.
When we were forced to go home and “do church from home,” people became too comfortable too fast.
It was like a wave of relief hit them, because now they could go home and be a Christian from there. Bliss.
Then, things started to settle, vaccinations were sent out, people started going on vacations and out shopping again. Normalcy returned. Well, kind of. People went everywhere but church.
What happened? Where did we go wrong? In our attempts to appeal to the world and society, we underestimated how much people value community. We went on vacation to see friends and family we had not seen in over a year; even shopping trips became a chance to spend time out with others you love—valuable time that was previously taken for granted. The church, however, was just the place individuals go to individually worship and individually hear the Word.
Do you doubt this? Then why do many people leave so quickly after church? Perhaps it’s because church members feel like they’ve given as much of themselves as they should have to.
When the New Testament churches were being established, they started in the homes of faithful believers and required them to share their whole lives: “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32).
The early church comprised people who were willing to spend time with other believers, opening their homes and lives to them, because community was a privilege. God designed the church to be a place where we love, strengthen, and encourage one another, and there is an almost tangible spiritual decline when community doesn’t happen.
When I ask whether the church will return, I don’t mean a return to the last few years, but a return to biblical church practices. I mean the bond, trust, and fellowship that believers had knowing their lives depended on one another. Let’s come back to a community.