I grew up in the 60s and 70s when most churches ran between 100-500 in attendance. We didn’t need a lot of programs to bring us together. We just got together. To worship. To celebrate. To mourn. To live life.
You really did know everyone regardless of age or stage of life. We lived relatively close to each other. I don’t recall people driving 30-60 minutes to get to church. Why would they do that when they had a local church much closer?
In the 80s, mega-churches became the rage. The goal became to get as many people to attend one location as possible. Pastors went to conferences to learn how to attract more people to their campuses.
Churches began to run 1000-2000 or more.
In order to meet the “needs” of the attendees, pastors had to add event coordinating to their long list of responsibilities. The staff placed people into similar age or life stage groups to make programming easier.
People came from further distances creating an environment where many lived up to an hour from one another.
The intent behind a program driven church was good one.
But I think the pendulum is swinging back to local, community driven church, or at least gatherings.
The Art of Neighboring
A book with the title—The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door—was published a couple of years ago. Here is a description found on Amazon:
Interestingly, many large churches are encouraging their attendees to read and put into practice what is found in this book.
Sermon series have been or are planned to be preached on about the idea of knowing your neighbor.
No doubt many will take to heart what is taught. Many will learn the last name of their neighbors. They will invite them to parties, dinners, and simply to just hang out.
Then the book will be put on a shelf to collect dust. Preachers will move onto the next greatest sermon series you have ever heard.
And one of two things will happen.
It comes down to time and focus.
The programs at church will take precedence once again
calling families back to the main campus to attend classes, events, and all kinds of programming.
Or people will keep spending time with their neighbors
developing deeper friendships leading to vulnerable conversations allowing believers to share who they are in real time instead of some pre-scripted interaction.
For the simple reason that a person can’t be in two places at the same time is why a program driven church can’t sustain the art of neighboring.
I have personally benefitted from attending churches that had a lot of programs. But I also think its time for our churches to evaluate its desired outcome.