For a few years, we attended a small church where the people had all known each other for years and weren’t interested in adding us to the clique. We decided to switch to a church that was alive and thriving and welcoming.
After trying a few, we settled on a large church located 20 miles from our house. We knew the distance would demand sacrifices, especially if we wanted our daughters involved, but we were so hungry for something better that we determined to make the change.
Several people from the church I grew up in had preceded us to the new church, and there were a few others I knew from work. So from the very first Sunday, we probably knew 30 people well enough to stop in the hallway and have a chat.
Our daughters made new friends almost instantly. Our five-year-old was invited that first afternoon to the home of a friend she made that morning. We soon got to know the parents of many of the kids. After a few months, my wife joined the choir. We became part of an ABF (Adult Bible Fellowship) that met after the first service on Sunday mornings. About 30 couples came regularly and, over the next few years, we met and became friends with most of them.
I got involved in ministry too, first by writing devotionals for the church web site and later as a leader in the boys’ club and substitute Sunday school teacher. After six years or so, we were fully entrenched. We even became members.
But at about that same time, things began to change. Our ABF was canceled for reasons we never fully understood. A few of the couples started attending another one, but we never found that one very satisfying. Then there was a larger upheaval. The church board wanted to split the congregation into contemporary and traditional worship styles. The worship leader wanted a more blended format. Before long, the worship leader was gone and took about a fifth of the church with him. It just so happened that about 60 percent of the people we’d gotten to know were in that fifth. We stayed.
Then the board made the shift to two services. Several of our friends began attending the contemporary service downstairs. We stayed upstairs because my wife was still in the choir.
A year or two later, the church added a Saturday night service. More of our friends disappeared.
This past spring, a second campus was purchased. More friends gone. We’ve been there 12 years now. We now stop and chat with fewer people in the hallways than we did on our first Sunday. It’s not for lack of desire or effort on our part. My wife is still in the now-much-smaller choir. The daughter who remains at home is very involved in the high-school ministry and sings in the worship band. I’ve begun a new ministry as a greeter two Sundays a month. But it is sometimes depressing. On many Sundays, I smile and say “Hi” to a lot of people but don’t see anybody I know well.
I can’t imagine that this is what the Lord had in mind for the local church. When we have seven services meeting at three locations over two days, how are supposed to be unified? How are we supposed to support and encourage each other? How are we supposed to stay motivated to be involved?
I read once that the maximum number of people each of us can know well is about 120. I think that might be the optimum size for a church.
And even though we travel 20 miles, I don’ t think that’s for the best. What if we started all over? What if we got rid of denominations and creeds and “ism”s? What if all the people who were sincerely interested in the truth, and who lived within, say, a mile of each other, got together and studied the Word of God under the guidance of a leader and the leading of the Holy Spirit? Your kids would go to church with their friends from school. You’d see people from your church at the grocery store or out mowing their lawns. We’d be a lot more in tune with each others’ lives and needs. Wouldn’t that be a better condition for unity and encouragement and mutual care?
I know it won’t happen, but I can wish, can’t I? I need something to do on Sundays as I stand at the door with a smile on my face and greet a parade of strangers.