When Church is just an hour on Sunday

After a hardened drug dealer was evangelized by a pastor over a period of time, he ended up making a confession of faith and was baptized. He immediately began attending a local church.

Robin Schumacher
Courtesy of Robin Schumacher

But within just a few weeks, the man was back in the same gang, running with his former crowd, and immersed in his old life again. When confronted about his activities, he gave a simple explanation.

“You didn’t tell me that the Church is just an hour on Sunday.”

He went on to say that, as bad as his old environment was, his gang provided him with a continuous sense of belonging and companionship; a place where he felt needed and wanted on a daily basis. The church, he said, was just a sterile gathering of people once a week that quickly dispersed and whose take-or-leave-you attitude left him feeling alone.

Does that church experience sound like one you’ve run into? Sadly, I wouldn’t be surprised if you said yes.

The clique or the crowd

While the body of Christ is meant by God to be welcoming, loving, and a real family that each member is supposed to participate in, many times, it unfortunately doesn’t present in that way. Instead, the two most common representations are the clique and the crowd.

Years ago, my wife and I started attending an adult Bible ‘fellowship’ class that typified the clique. For 4 weeks running, the designated class greeter came up to us and said, “You’re new here aren’t you?” Hey, give the guy credit for at least that. Maybe my wife and I aren’t that memorable.

Still, something didn’t feel right to me because the core group carried on only with each other while stragglers like us were kept on the outskirts. I brought a trusted friend with me one Sunday to get his take, and his impression was one that’s always stuck with me: he said, “It’s like everyone’s family but you.”

The opposite of the clique is the crowd, which is the norm at most large megachurches with multiple campuses. The video streaming aspects of the arrangement heightens the superficiality of the experience, making it feel much like a detached, group Youtube session. Beyond the forced and always-awkward, “Now stand up and say hello to the person next to you” time, there are few ways to get to know anyone during services even before the COVID virus.    

Both the clique and the crowd are foreign to many of us who grew up in more family-styled churches decades ago, but they are regrettably common in many houses of worship today.

Doing life with Christ

Although I’ve had some bad encounters, I was fortunate enough years ago to experience how the Church was designed by God to function. My wife and I started attending (and then I started leading) a home Bible group composed of about 10-15 church members.

Our group came together over a period of months and stayed together for years. We didn’t just meet once a week; we actually did life together. Beyond church, we went to events, helped one another when needs arose, and gathered for meals each week both in and out of our homes where intimate and lasting conversations were had.

It was awesome.

Looking back, I believe God knew we were going to need each other. Over time, three of the young women in our group died of cancer and lupus (my wife being one of them).

Life ended up taking many of the group members away to different cities and so our group eventually dissolved. Although I’ve tried to build other groups, I’ve never been able to recreate the special bond and family-type togetherness I had with that first one. But I believe that’s how God wants it to be – each of us doing life together with His Son, who is reflected in the hands, faces and hearts of His people.

Real relationships make all the difference

Historian Antonia Tripolitis argues that Christianity’s sense of community and its universal charity were a major reason, if not the most important reason, for its growth and subsequent victory over the Roman empire and other competing religions and philosophies of that day.[1]

Such a thing differs from what the people back then received at the hands of other religions and worldviews such as those of the Stoics and Epicureans. Unlike the deterministic and apathetic Stoic philosophy that left first century people with a burdensome feeling and a need for deliverance, or the Epicureans who were not at all concerned for the welfare of the general populace, Christianity’s acceptance of all people without distinction and its communal organization – a close-knit community bound together in fellowship and love – had universal appeal.

It still does today.

But when church is nothing more than an hour on Sunday, and when the clique or the crowd short-circuits the process of developing meaningful relationships that feed the lonely place each of us have in our hearts, I fear we’ll constantly have new converts throwing in the towel and going back to any group or community that makes them feel wanted and provides a sense of belonging.

[1] Tripolitis, A. Religions of the Hellenistic-Roman Age (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2002), 97.

Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.

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