Grace Emerges

Friday, October 21, 2016

Failure to connect

by Brad Duncan

What are the challenges for the church today?  One of the biggest challenges is connecting people together in meaningful ways, to create genuine community.  This article continues the discussion.

These posts are excerpts from a full-length article and presentation.  For more information or the full documents, please email me at

Challenges, cont'd

Overdependence on Worship Tradition

Probably we all recognize that Jesus didn’t come to create church services. Yet, we have too much dependence on our worship traditions if we think that those traditions will bring transformative change to the world. They are merely a tradition, a preference, something we like, something that has worked to bring people together on the past. We do need to come together and organize ourselves, share ideas, sing songs together, get our kids to play and learn together, and spend time with one another. On the other hand, the time we spend looking toward the front of an auditorium and listening to a well-planned program of worship, is not the most effective way to build communities and share life with one another. The other stuff, where we spend time with people, is where the real love happens.

What responsibilities and functions do we assign to the weekly worship service? Do we expect it to change the world? Do we expect it to shine a bright light that glorifies God so people will come to him and receive grace? For the people that are present, do we expect it to meet everyone’s individual needs? Will singing about God and talking about God be enough to heal wounds and transform hearts? Certainly it can be a part of the plan to meet people’s needs, but it’s not enough. People need people. For this, people need to look at each other and listen to each other.

Worship is a great thing! Jesus told the woman at the well that he came to bring true worship. “Someday soon,” he said, “true worshippers will worship God in spirit and in truth!” He came to show people that worship is not in a traditional location or system, but it is a way of life. Jesus taught so much about loving one another, that it is clear this way life was meant to be lived in relationship with one another.

This is the beautiful gift we can give God. Growing into the loving community that God wants to see. This is true worship. In order to find true worship, and worship God in spirit and in truth, we have to leave the traditional mountain. We have to find Jesus by the well. We have to love God through the life we live, in relationship with others.

Failure to Connect

Even as I write this I feel the painful realization that people often don't want to connect and share their lives with one another. Churches will agree that community is their goal, but they may not see how they can accomplish it. They keep worship and individual spirituality as a focus, and they encourage community, but they fail to focus on community as a primary goal, so it becomes relegated to more of a desirable side effect.


The reasons I hear are related to pleasing God and serving God. People feel that the church must continue its activities because God wants it that way. They point to the Bible, and they point to theology.

Easy enough to fix! What if God wants something else? When we study the words of Jesus and other church pioneers in the Bible we see a different goal than pleasing God through attending church services.

Will we then change to do the new thing God is wanting? What if God wants us to leave the traditional mountain and go on a new journey with him? We can innovate to create community more intentionally. To do this, we can reduce our dependence on traditional worship. Those traditions can still be there, but they serve us, instead of us serving them. Instead we can recognize that God loves it when we simply love one another. Let’s do that as our primary focus!

Another reason I observe for the lack of focus on community is the budget. Churches have limited resources. You can count the church’s resources as being all the talent of Its members, the money it raises, and the time that people have available to use for one purpose or the other. The church uses a startlingly high fraction of its resources for normal operations, keeping the lights on, paying the staff, and running the programs. It takes time and money to organize more events, and in fact church services are a fairly cost-efficient way of meeting everyone’s needs at the same time. It is also important to bring all the people together so you can talk about budgets and ask for money. During a worship service you can also efficiently advertise other events or projects of the church and offer sign-up lists!

Do we realize that we go to church services for such practical reasons? And yet as a result we use perhaps 90% of our resources on keeping things moving the way they are. We only free up about 10% of our resources to spend on projects that help people outside the church. Like a tithe paid to the world, the church gives a small portion of what it makes for God’s work. In terms of time resources, the ratio may be better. When church-goers participate in events planned by the church, what percent of that time is spent sharing God’s love inside the bounds of the church, rather than outside the church? Is it 80%, perhaps 70% ? What percent of time and resources should be spent on loving one another, compared to keeping the church running?

What would we like these ratios to be? What if we could find a way to operate where less is needed for overhead? What if we could operate using only 10% of our incoming resources, and the other 90% could be used for loving people, shared equally between church-goers and the needs of those outside the church: in our communities, in our country, and around the world.

What about these #s?

  • 10%: Overhead for operations
  • 45%: Helping one another
  • 45%: Helping our community and the world

In addition to streamlining our operational budget and reducing expenses, the church could reach this ratio for operational expenses by expanding its reach to many new faces! But do it without building more buildings or expanding staff hiring. If we do it right, we can grow using a new approach, without cutting budgets – just by not growing them in the same proportions we use today!

This notion of expansion requires a more grassroots approach. More work done by volunteers, and less by staff. The role of staff is to prepare us, and provide an opportunity for us to organize and grow. As church-goers we need to reduce our mindset that the staff should perform the work of God for us – instead of hiring them to do the work of the church, we should hire them only to administrate the organizing of the church, so that we can all do its work. Help us learn by doing! For instance, a sermon on the Good Samaritan, about how we should love our neighbor, should be short and to the point to make sure we are all on the same page. Then, we should spend a larger fraction of time learning about loving our neighbor by actually doing it! Perhaps some face-to-face discussions, perhaps a project outside the church, perhaps an event where people setup booths to show ideas for changing their communities. Certainly if all we do is listen to a great sermon, with a challenge to “go and do it” at the end, we are missing a huge opportunity. We are already sitting with a number of other people that could make it happen. What if we put it into practice right away, helping each other, and then organizing more activities for outside the church?

If we operate this way, then church services will be just one of the many events offered in the church. There will be many more. And they won’t cost money for the church budget. We church-goers can organize them ourselves and expand the scope of influence of the church. In the process we can learn and grow! This is how I want to teach my kids about God. I want to organize with other Christians to do things bigger than I can do myself.

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