Things we say: "If you can only give one hour per week to Living Stone. . ."
If you attend Living Stone's Sunday gathering for more than three or four weeks, you will be able to finish the sentence above by memory, because you will hear it almost every week.
"If you can only give one hour per week to Living Stone, it should be spent at someone's dining room table."
We say this almost every week, because we think that, apart from intentional, spiritually centered, quality family time, church should be the most meaningful part of your week. But the simple reality is that most people do not view their church as one of the most meaningful parts of their lives. Really quickly, I want to point out the number one evidence church is just not meaningful to people, and then I want to give a couple reasons why church fails to live up to the goal of a deeply meaningful part of people's lives.
Evidence Church Is Not That Meaningful
Church members don't show up very often. Did you know, according to research done by Lifeway, the average church member in America attends church or a small group 3 times per month? Most church programming comes with a base expectation of providing 8 opportunities per month for people to gather with their church in a small group or at a service. The average member makes it to 3 out of 8 opportunities per month. And, as a reminder, these are church members we are talking about - not just average Americans. These are the people who have gone through the trouble and the process to commit themselves to a church they attend 3 out of 8 chances. Church is simply not meaningful enough to become an authentic priority for those who are committed to it.
Why Church Is Not That Meaningful
As a pastor, I have presided over a lot of funerals. In truth, that is one of my favorite honors as a pastor - to help people find a path under the shadow of death which will lead them to hope and joy. I have never heard a beautiful eulogy about someone who routinely sacrificed relationships for other pursuits. That is because relationships are the key to a meaning life. It's why Jesus summarized the entirety of God's law into the status of two relationships: love God and love people.
Just as relationships are the key to a meaningful life, relationships are the key to a meaningful church.
Think with me about the average church experience today.
You wake up on a Sunday a little later than you meant to, and immediately start running the breakneck-speed gauntlet of drinking coffee, waking up kids, preparing food for everyone, getting yourself ready, getting kids ready, overcoming the 19 small obstacles in the absurdly longer-than-it-should-be 22 minutes it takes everyone to get into the car. Then you drive like James Bond in a chase scene to a building where you have to herd your whole family through a busy parking lot full of other frazzled families trying to make it inside before the sermon starts. You stand in line, drop your kids off, grab more coffee, rush inside, and find a seat in time to hear the end of the last worship song, when the worship leader sings lines you cant join in on because he made them up on the spot. You listen to a sermon that is heartfelt and faithfully drawn directly from a text about a topic which has no bearing on your current situation in life. Then the lights turn on and everyone hustles out to collect their children and save some poor children's ministry worker from the wrath of their sleepy and hungry children. Then it's back through the parking lot, rushing to lunch, to naps, and to football. Then you might do it again next week.
If that were my experience, I would probably stop attending church very often as well, especially if I could live stream the service in my house.
But you know what I would show up for? I would go through everything listed above, every week, without hesitation, if one simple sentence were added in the middle somewhere:
'Then you spend almost 2 hours with 6 of your best friends before, during, and after the service.'
Church is not meaningful, because the way we do church leads us to leave out one of the most meaningful parts of life: relationships with people. If I am spending time with my friends at church every week, then I would be there as often as the doors were open, because relationships make church meaningful.
The ways relationships make church meaningful are almost unending - a sermon on a topic not for you could pierce your friend's heart and open the door to the most meaningful conversation you have had in a month, a text conversation on Monday could be prompted because of a verse read on Sunday, your kid's and your friend's kids could be playing out the bible story they learned in church together instead of rehearsing whatever show they just saw on Nickelodeon, and on and on and on. Meaningful relationships in the church make for a meaningful relationship with your church.
That's why we tell our people, if you have one hour to give to Living Stone this week, spend it at someone's dining room table, because relationships with people make everything more meaningful.