Spiritual formation occurs primarily in the context of community. Persons who remain connected with their brothers and sisters in the local church almost invariably grow in self-understanding. And they mature in their ability to relate in healthy ways to God and to fellow human beings. This is especially the case for those courageous Christians who stick it out through the messy process of interpersonal conflict. Long-term relationships are the crucible of genuine progress in the Christian life. People who stay grow.
People who leave do not grow. We all know persons consumed with spiritual wanderlust. We never get to know them well because they cannot seem to stay put. They move from church to church, avoiding conflict or ever searching for a congregation that will better satisfy their felt needs. Like trees repeatedly transplanted from soil to soil, these spiritual nomads fail to put down roots, and they seldom experience lasting, fruitful growth in their Christian lives.
Despite what we know about spiritual growth, nearly all churches in America are characterized by an unwillingness of members to commit themselves deeply to their respective church. For some, it means church hopping; for most, it means keeping the church at arm's length—that is, living as if the individual's life is primary and that of the church is secondary.
Social scientists have intensively studied the particularly pervasive loss of social capital and lack of genuine community that characterize life in America and its churches. They have concluded that we are a radically individualistic society, oriented toward personal fulfillment in ways profoundly more "me-centered" than any other culture or people-group in world history. It is our individualism—our ...1