Friends at Church vs. Being a Friendly Church
When my wife and I visited churches after getting married, we noticed that every place made the same claim. Before service, a longtime churchgoer would approach us and say:
“You're going to love it here. This is such a friendly church!”
Were some of the churches friendly? Of course—at least in the customary way done for newcomers. But other churches made us feel like we just walked in on a private funeral reception!
Does this mean those people lied to us? I doubt it. After all, why would they continue to attend a church that they did not genuinely believe was friendly? The fact was, the people we talked to believed that their church was friendly because their friends went there. But having friends at your church and being a friendly church are two very different things.
It's About Who You Know
Relationships are one of the biggest factors in church attendance. People like to go to church on Sunday to a place where they have friends. Parents will drive an hour to get to a church because that's where their teenage kids want to go. Friendships build lasting attendance at churches more than talented guitar playing or exciting programs. People will endure a bad sermon week after week as long as they can endure it while sitting next to friends.
It’s tempting to see this as a bad thing. But friendships and churches go hand in hand. Jesus built His church with people He called His friends. Paul ended his letters to the early churches with greetings to his friends that attended there. How could a church be a place full of love, joy, and kindness, if not also filled with friendship?
But how can church become a place where newcomers easily and naturally build lasting relationships? At Bayview Bible Chapel, we are seeking to solve this problem through starting small groups. By small groups, we mean a co-ed group of 6-12 people meeting at someone’s house once a week to discuss prayer needs, go through a brief Bible study, and eat desserts! Below are three reasons why we think it has the chance to transform our church.
1. It Gives Newcomers A Bridge To Belonging
Many churches deal with the issue where newcomers visit their church for a while, never get involved, and then disappear after a month or two. Our church is no exception. The reason why that happens is usually because those newcomers didn’t know how to transition from being attenders of the church to being members within the church. As a result, they tried something else. (And no, holding more church membership classes wouldn't have changed that).
Small groups give newcomers the opportunity to build relationships with other churchgoers by putting them in a casual setting in someone’s home where real fellowship can happen between real people. It’s in these small situations that relationships form, and as a result, makes newcomers forget that they were newcomers.
2. It Fulfills the Purpose of the Church
It’s hard to have fellowship in a crowded room after Sunday service over a paper cup of coffee. In the same way, it’s hard to experience the power of prayer while bowing your head on Sunday while the pastor prays aloud. Small groups provide an opportunity to engage in the spiritual disciplines of the church that are hard to do in a large setting.
Small groups give people a chance to share their struggles with others. It also gives others a chance to hold the person’s hand and pray for them. Small groups also allow people to hold each other accountable, and to encourage them to do good works. Many people have said that they tend to learn more from the Bible in a private setting amongst friends than they do in a Sunday Service. This should come as no surprise. It’s always better to hear God’s Word while someone talks about it with you instead of someone talking about it at you.
3. It Makes Sunday Mornings Better
In fact, it makes everything better. Churches sing louder when done in a group of trusted friends. They also serve better. At our church one of the best group of servers exists within our men’s and women’s Bible studies. If there’s a project that needs done, those who show up to help usually belong to one of those two groups.
It’s no wonder. These Bible studies are effectively small groups already existing within our church. When a circle of friends make plans to clean a nursery to rake a field, most of the people in that circle show up because they know that they will serve alongside companions. Small groups strengthen individuals and encourages them to stay and even invite others to join them. Because of this, focusing on fellowship in small groups bolsters worship in large groups.
Small groups will form in our churches whether it’s intentional or not. Even a congregation of 75 is too big for newcomers to feel close with every single attender. As a result, cliques will develop, and when they do, it will usually be based on shared similarities like age, gender, occupation, and wealth—the exact ways in which we don’t want to divide a church!
By starting small groups, we allow the church to pursue meaningful relationships with each other in a manner reflective of the Spirit and worthy of the Gospel. A small group may comprise of people with different backgrounds, skin color, wealth status, or education levels, but with two shared traits: a great amount of sin, and a great amount of need for a Savior.
Churches that bond together over these two things thrive.
Resting in Him,
*For more information about joining a small group at our church, click here for the info packet.