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About 10 years ago, I grew disillusioned with the church I had attended all my life. I continued to attend, but I avoided the people there. I kept greetings brief and conversations superficial. I came late and left quickly after the service. It surprised me how easy it was to hide in plain sight in church, especially when I had been active there my whole life.

What has surprised me even more since then is how common this experience is. This Sunday thousands of people will arrive at church right as the music starts, find a seat in increasingly dim auditoriums, sing music that touches an array of emotions, listen to an interesting sermon, and leave having never really spoken to anyone.

These reclusive congregants neither give nor receive hospitality, share no burdens, do not assist the weak, receive no prayer for discernment over major life decisions, no repentance for grudges or grievances, no healing of estranged relationships, no rejoicing with another's joy, no sorrow in another's tears.

Sermon and songs will conspire to give the worshiping consumer an experience of having connected with Christ even while they ignore the very real members of Christ's body sitting right next to them.

For many this has become normal. In my case, this was a phase of anonymity and alienation (wasted months that still grieve me). For many, however, anonymous attendance is all they know of church. It is perpetual and permanent.

These days it is far too easy to go to church alone.

Dangerous Isolation

Now I'm a pastor, and this phenomenon is no surprise to those of us in ministry. It is, in fact, the result of our calculated efforts to never ever make anyone feel uncomfortable or pressured at church. Trying not to be intrusive, we dim the lights to make it feel like it's just me and Jesus. We plan out every moment of the service so there are no awkward moments where someone might feel obligated to make conversation with someone next to them.

And don't dream of asking folks to pray for one another! Leave no space for an uncouth congregant to burden anyone with their needs (we have proper channels for that anyway).

In short, we alleviate our congregants of the awkward impression that they might be obliged to engage another human being. Our format communicates that as long as you and Jesus are alright, you can go to church alone.

This is a dangerous game for churches to play. Dangerous because we pretend that people can connect with Christ even while remaining disconnected from his body.

At its ugliest, we teach congregants not only to ignore those who worship beside them, but to resent those who might distract from our well produced worship presentation—the elderly man oblivious to his squealing hearing aid, the mother and her fussy baby, the malodorous transient.

All these become hindrances to communion with God rather than opportunities to serve God. It's not long before everyone is an interruption to my consumption ...

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Posted: October 14, 2013

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Displaying 1–5 of 10 comments

SYLVIA THOMAS

October 31, 2013  11:41am

I dont want to be left alone. I thought Church is supposed to be a fellowship of believers where we gather together as a community of the body of Christ. I cannot imagine any part of my body wanting to be left alone to itself. I grew up in Africa and miss the kind of church community they have. It is like Acts 2:42-47. I attribute 'aloneness' church in USA as a culture thing - people want to be left alone, which is so opposite to what the body of Christ is supposed to look like as 1Cor. 12:12-28. Whenever am in Church, I feel deprived and lonely. I try to engage people and come across as intrusive; I end up chatting only with people I know or who know me. Sometimes the pastor makes everyone talk to their neighbors before and after most services; you need to see the strange/panic look and change in body language that comes over some people as if he asked them to undress in church....sigh. Where are we supposed to be free if not in church? It is our club/disco hall/entertainment center.

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Pablo

October 24, 2013  5:10pm

YEs, sometimes people are the problem, and I just need to meet God. When I need to meet with God in church, sometimes people interrupt my time with God. Please just let me focus on God!

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Jeri Bidinger

October 24, 2013  3:47am

Church as spectator sport is how I think of it. For us it is painful. It seems that the only way to find any kind of community is to sign up, attend some program, join a committee, or take a service role. Which encompasses the notion that "ministry" is doing some organized church program. Relationships tend to end if one leaves the program--suggesting they are relationships of convenience and proximity. As one who lives in the Muslim world most of the time, I find the contrast between "community" at church vis a vis community of shared lives, generous hospitality, and engaged concern--well, sad to say the church compares poorly. Missing extraordinary possibilities for those indwelt by the Spirit of Jesus, eh? Several here say, "But I served long and hard. I am burned out. Leave me alone." They touch the emptiness of zealous doing without the discerning soul-care the Body is called and resourced by Jesus to give. But He is not finished with us yet, and He is patient and

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DJM

October 23, 2013  7:34pm

I agree with one of other comments here where it was stated that, sometimes you just want to be left alone. I served in several ministries at my church for more than a decade, during which I was often the target of attacks by several older women who seemed to be jealous or envious of me. I eventually just grew weary of always having to contend with people and defend myself and explain my motives, so I withdrew my membership. After a few years, I found another church-home, but I find that I don't want to join any ministry or board. I just want to attend services and exchange pleasantries as I leave. I just don't want to deal with "church folk" now. Still somewhat bruised and battered mentally and spiritually, I guess. I understand what the Pastor is saying in this article, but he assumes that everyone wants to be "connected" in church, and does not consider people who have been "stung" by their past experiences with other members in church, and now, just want to be left "alone".

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Jon Davis

October 23, 2013  4:10pm

I'm certainly guilty for my part of participating in this, while at the same time being very, VERY much aware of the culture problem even as I contribute to it. To that end, sorry people. I guess we all contribute to the problem together and we get motivated to contribute when we see each other contributing to it. "This trend is not improving. Boomers are more relationally isolated than their parents, and the children of Boomers more isolated still." By the way, please don't call parents of children "Boomers". They are not boomers. It's 2013, boomers today are middle-aged going into retirement. Boomers' children are Gen-X'rs. The children of Gen-X are Gen-Y or millennials. The children of millennials are today's very young children.

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