Something I notice:
Some churches try to avoid having an internal self-understanding of being “just a social club.” In part, they push up against this because they’ve seen what can happen when church is “just a social club.”
I think it’s good and wise to avoid this tendency. Church communities can lose some of their distinct identity when they are gathered around their own social needs alone. When folks stop gathering around shared convictions and a larger sense of calling, it seems that justice, social concern, and relationships with neighbors are some of the first things to go. The church community begins to exist for itself.
So, some churches wisely try to avoid this. I agree with that wisdom.
But I want to swing the pendulum back, at least in one respect. Sometimes, when churches have new ideas about ministry, like new opportunities for relationship-building and action in their neighborhoods, I notice they become very nervous that these connections will become primarily social.
“What if we start a discussion group around this shared concern, but we never talk about faith?”
“What if people come to talk about their [sobriety/kids/caregiver role] but we never talk about Jesus?”
“What if people come for the [food/music/face painting] but we don’t see them again?”
or something that actually is self-serving,
“What if we hold this event for the community, but no one ever comes to our worship service? What if no one ever becomes a member?”
I think we’re forgetting that socialization and community-connections are ministries in and of themselves. I think one of the most meaningful and impactful things things a church community can do is provide avenues for connection and socialization.
Take, for instance, this crucial study, which reveals that Americans Are Lonely A Lot, and Young People Bear the Heaviest Burden.
Or this Ted Talk which discusses how deeply socialization impacts our health and longevity: The Secret To Living Longer Could Be Your Social Life.
Churches recognize that they can have ministries like food pantries, clothes closets, and soup kitchens without the requirement to enter faith conversations or later, join the church. They see a calling around these expressions of ministry and know that they meet vital needs in and of themselves. They don’t need to serve another purpose. But I don’t think churches have largely come to recognize how impactful they can be in providing opportunities for socialization. In the formation of relationships, there are so many opportunities for growth, health, and collective change.