“Regardless of its true character and intent, the Christian community is not known for love, nor for a life transforming faith,” said George Barna in his study entitled, “Seven Paradoxes Regarding America’s Faith.” 1 Today’s churches are loose affiliations of people who often live in many different communities and usually share only a weekly worship service in common. This together time is almost entirely programmed so there is little or no opportunity to exchange anything but a casual greeting. Consequently, relationships tend to be shallow. There is no opportunity to discuss important life issues or to seek counsel. After all, you cannot just drop a bomb on someone when you only have a few minutes together once a week. Neither should it be necessary to join a small group just to get someone to listen.
The churches in Asia Minor, on the other hand, were a collection of believers who lived in close proximity to one another and depended upon each other to nurture and sustain their common faith. Church for them was the organizing element for life in vital community.
The True Measure of Christian Commitment
Today the measure of Christian commitment is participation in programs rather than the quality of relationships and depth of devotion to Christ. People transition easily between churches to find one that suits them. They barely leave a ripple when they go. They don’t make much of a splash when they join, either. It would be difficult to characterize these churches as Paul described the churches of his day because their members are such an amorphous bunch, their bonds are so tenuous and their relationships are so superficial. In short, they have little in common.
Ministry in the modern church is almost entirely about acquiring Bible knowledge, not about strengthening fellowship. Preachers expound Scripture in the weekly worship service. Sunday school classes teach Bible lessons. Evangelism is all about spreading the gospel. Teachers and preachers offer answers to life’s questions. Their teachings apply almost exclusively to individual experience since there is no real Christian community in the apostolic sense. Putting teaching into practice is an entirely individual matter. The church provides few resources once the believer has left the premises Sunday morning after the worship service.
Because the church in America has so miserably failed at being the Body of Christ, people cannot see the importance of belonging to a church, as Barna notes in his study on American’s commitment, “While nearly half of the adult population attends religious services during a typical week, people’s conceptual bond to the local church remains tenuous. Fewer than one out of every five adults firmly believes that a congregational church is a critical element in their spiritual growth and just as few strongly contend that participation in some type of community of faith is required for them to achieve their full potential.”2
According to a study reported by the Internet Evangelism Coalition, ninety–two percent of church visitors who leave after less than six weeks do so because they do not feel welcome.3 The churches in the town where I live are notorious for their lack of welcome, and this town has been called an “Evangelical Mecca” for its overabundance of churches and Christian institutions.
Have A Warm First Century Welcome
It is interesting to note that no apostle ever chastised a church for not welcoming new members. The closest word to “welcome” in the early church was the word “greet.” Today we have “greeters” who meet people at the front door and shake their hands. In the language of the early church, “greet” meant to “embrace” or “kiss.” It entailed a level of affection and familiarity far surpassing a mere handshake. The modern day equivalent would be something more like a bear hug. Paul frequently admonished believers to greet one another “with a holy kiss,” but never felt it necessary to urge them to welcome new members into their midst. It would certainly have been impossible for a total stranger to join one of the intimate little church gatherings without anyone taking notice!
I have yet to attend a church where the members are so fond of one another that they express their affection openly. How would Paul describe your church? Are relationships among your members deep and rich, filled with compassion, caring, and self-sacrifice like the Thessalonians and Colossians? How much do you know about the personal challenges and triumphs of your fellow believers? Do you trust your Christian family enough to share your own personal struggles with them?
It was the believers’ love for one another that drew others into their midst in the first century. Do you know anyone in your church who came to Christ because they were drawn by the members’ love for one another? On the other hand, how many people do you know who won't darken the door of a church because they believe Christians are hypocrites?
Article From The Casual Christian pp. 124-125
1. Barna, Gorge. “Barna Identifies Seven Paradoxes Regarding America’s Faith,” Barna.org,http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/5-barna-update/87-barna-identifies-seven-paradoxes-regarding-americas-faith50. December 17, 2002.
2.Barna, George. “Americans Have Commitment Issues, New Survey Shows.” Barna.org,http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/12-faithspirituality/267-americans-have-commitment-issues-new-survey-shows?q=salvation. April 18, 2006
3. Internet Evangelism Day, http://www.internetevengelismday.com/church-site-tips.ph