Whenever we talk to congregations about reaching out and sharing their faith, we often get two back-to-back responses:
1. “Of course our church would like to grow! In fact we need to.”
2. “But we don’t have ____ like other churches do.”
What our churches feel like they lack, i.e. what fills in the blank, ranges wildly. It can be a tool, an asset, or a strength, some key to growth and vitality that other churches have or seem to have. Things like:
- “…a new building or a hip venue.”
- “…a big staff.”
- “…a huge youth group that goes on expensive outings.”
- “…a high population density in the community.”
- “…people in the community who are interested in going to church.”
- “…catchy mass-mailings.”
- “…the latest presentational technology for worship or teaching.”
- “…a graphic artist in residence.”
- “…a flashy website.”
- “…dynamic musicians.”
- “…cool hairdos.”
- “…a media team that produces professional videos.”
- “…a powerful social media campaign.”
- “…a coffeehouse.”
- “…top-notch children’s play areas equipped with inflatable bouncy houses (and a good insurance plan).”
- “…hologram technology that beams the Pastor, Star-Wars-style, into multi-site venues for the sermon.”
In case you think we’re kidding about that list, we’re not. We know churches that have every one of these things. And we’re not knocking the churches that do. We’re happy for them! But (stay with us here) the truth is more than a few of us are guilty of looking down our noses and making subtle sideswipes at other churches that have tools, assets, and strengths that our own congregations lack. We may cloak a critique in intellectual or theological terms, but we suspect, for many of us, the roots of our criticism are well-hidden. Deep in our hearts, we’re envious. And even if we’re not envious of the tool itself (say, hologram technology), we are often jealous of the results that seem to be associated with it.
So here’s some good news: Friendship does not require hologram technology. Caring companionship does not require a big budget, or graphic artists, or good hair (ask us, we know about this one). And friendship can make the biggest difference in our lives, in the lives of others, in the life of our church, and for the sake of God’s Kingdom. Real-life human contact does not require tools.
But there is also bad news: We still resist making friends. This sounds crazy, but it’s true. We can be hesitant — perpetually hesitant — about initiating connections with those we don’t know. And even the relationships we do have, well, we’re not always good at keeping those thriving and healthy. So the one thing that all of us can do –make friends — is the one thing we’ll go to great lengths to avoid doing.