Since releasing Church Reset last year, the thing I’ve gotten most consistently from those who have read it is a strong interest in the idea of a more family-like church. Many, many Christians have a strong desire to be closer to their church families. They want to get outside of the building-centric, Sunday-centric, program-centric model of church and truly start sharing their lives with their fellow Christians.
Of course, this falls into the category of easier said than done. It does not happen overnight. Relationships have to be cultivated. Others have to be either shown or convinced why things should be done differently. Habits, and even lifestyles, have to be changed.
In this article I want to focus specifically on fellowship. The time we spend together is vital in building closer relationships, but we have to use it strategically if we truly want to get the most out of it.
Think of it as a three-tiered figure like the one in the image above, going from a wide base to a narrower top. The bottom layer is fellowship, the middle layer spiritual fellowship, and the top personal spiritual fellowship. Climbing that staircase will take work, and it’s quite likely your circle of people will be smaller at each level, but the true blessings of family-like church are found more and more the farther you climb.
To begin with, we have to spend time together. For a lot of Christians, their interaction with their Christian brothers and sisters does not extend outside the church building. For actual, face-to-face conversation time, they might average 20 minutes per week in the foyer or parking lot. Even if a person attends every time the doors are open, most church events and programs aren’t fellowship-centric and offer only a little time before or after to chat.
This essentially guarantees true closeness will never happen. An intentional dedication to fellowship, and a decision to proactively pursue it rather than waiting for the church to schedule an opportunity for it, is what it will take to break through with each other.
So, don’t wait to be invited. Do the inviting. In most congregations of any size, if someone declines an invitation, somebody else is waiting to accept. Include that widow in your family lunch. Invite that younger family over to your house. Ask the preacher or an elder to go out with you. Be proactive in making time for your church family.
Fellowship is a broad term for spending time together and enjoying each other’s company. We can have fellowship with all kinds of people for all kinds of reasons and shared interests. What takes us to the next level as Christians is spiritual fellowship.
What this means is that at least some of the time we spend together should be spent discussing spiritual, eternal matters. Anybody can discuss the weather, how life is going, what we’re up to at work, how the family is doing, etc. etc. And such small talk has its place. But the thing that moves us forward toward family-like church and helps us realize the shared connection we have with each other is a mutual interest in Jesus and His kingdom.
It can be as simple as discussing the contents of the sermon and what you learned over Sunday lunch, or bringing up what you’ve been reading and studying lately. Maybe you can discuss the spiritual implications of current events (though care should be taken to avoid divisiveness, of course).
When Christians get together and talk and never bring up God, the Word, or the church, we signal to each other that these things don’t really matter to us and should be left in the church building. It is our spiritual foundation that we have in common, so let’s build on it.
Personal spiritual fellowship
This is the most difficult step. The challenge of it will put many of us off. I freely admit it’s a consistent struggle for me, so I’m right there with you. But as is often the case, it’s the difficult, hard to reach things in life that bring the most reward.
Personal spiritual fellowship occurs when we graduate from talking about spiritual truths into talking about them as they specifically apply to us. It’s about opening up and sharing our walk with each other. Confessing our sins to each other (James 5:16). Taking responsibility for checking on each other’s walk (Galatians 6:1-2, Hebrews 3:12-13, Hebrews 10:24-25). Sharing ourselves with each other so we can rejoice and weep together (Romans 12:15).
Personal spiritual fellowship can often start with open-ended, probing questions like:
“How’s your walk going?” (Only ask if you’re prepared to hear and discuss answers beyond a simple “Good.”)
“What have you been studying lately?” (If their answer is a bashful “Nothing,” be prepared to encourage and even offer an opportunity to get started.)
“How can I pray for you this week?” (Write it down, and then do it.)
Plenty of others could be put in here. For those who are in the habit of these things, please feel free to leave a comment with suggestions for other questions that can be used to build these personal, spiritual connections.
The real power of familial love in the church comes from such personal spiritual fellowship. It’s sharing our victories and defeats with each other, letting ourselves be known and working to know others, and letting each other know the constancy of the love of Christ through all of life’s ups and downs.
Put time in for fellowship, because that’s where it starts. But look for ways to step up to spiritual fellowship, and from there work to build personal spiritual fellowship. It will not be easy, but anybody who has ever had such relationships can tell you how valuable they are. They are the relationships God intended for us to have with each other, and we’ll be blessed beyond measure if we trust His plan and pursue it.