What Makes a Church Work?

by Bill Denton

"Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart" (1 Pet. 1:22).

A study conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, released in June of 2006, revealed that Americans have less people they can confide in than past generations.

In 1985, the average American had three people in whom to confide matters that were important to them. In 2004, that number dropped to two.

Perhaps even more striking, the number of Americans with no close friends rose from 10 percent in 1985 to 24.6 percent in 2004. - Janet Kornblum, "Study: 25 Percent of Americans Have No One to Confide In," USA Today (6-23-06), 1A

The sad commentary on modern times is that people are living without the benefit of deep, solid relationships. Statistics like those quoted above tell us some things about ourselves that we might not want to face. The truth hurts. More and more of us bear life disconnected from people, without friends to lean on, and we don't have anyone close enough to help us work through difficult times and events. You may be blessed to beat the statistics, but a lot of people do not.

I've done enough counseling to know that a considerable number of people seek help through a counselor that could be provided by a friend. Many of them just need to talk things through. Many of them want someone else's advice, or help to make sure they considered all the angles and bases before making a decision. A lot of people are basically struggling through a time of grief and sorrow over the death of a loved one, or some other huge loss. It's not that counseling is out of place in those areas, it's just that the kind of help that is needed is not necessarily the kind that only a counselor could give.

We've even lost that sort of connectedness and friendship in our churches. We live in the age of the mega-church where lots of churches are already huge or trying to be. That's not necessarily bad. The very first church started out with a membership of 3,000. What's bad is when people think that all it takes is to attend a massive service where they are entertained and have only a passive participation. One can be really lonely in a crowd of people.

Church works only when there is a way to connect, to build relationships, to serve others and in turn, be served. Church works when we discover that every person is important and has a vital role to play. Church works when Bible study becomes more than an academic exercise and people get a chance to learn how to live what they've learned. Church works when people can heal from the damaging blows of life.

You can do that in a large church or a small one. But you will only do it with a few people at a time. Human relationships don't occur in large groups, they happen in small ones, sometimes one person at a time. If today's church is going to accomplish the mission Jesus gave us, then we must overcome this lonely, isolated, independent, friendless trend. We will only do that by purposely changing our ways, doing things that bring us together, and developing interest in one another.

Just for fun, make a list of people who consider you their friend. Does it tell you anything?

Copyright 2007, Bill Denton
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