Note: I actually wrote this post yesterday (Saturday, February 11) while sitting a coffee shop. I didn't have my computer with me, so had to post it later.
We desire it and yet at the same time we run from it.
We love it and at the same time fear it.
We look for places that have it and also try to avoid the places that have it.
A paradox exists. We know we need it, desire it, seek it. But we've also been hurt by it and so we fear it, run from it, and avoid it.
The church should have a corner on the market for it, but our pews are often full of people who feel isolated and alone as they go through life. I've been one of those people at times in my life. Even though the culture we live in tells us we don't need it, deep down we know we really do need others in our lives. Coffee shops thrive on creating that space where people feel like they belong, but the church - the family of God - struggles to provide this for those in the pews on a weekend sometimes. It makes me wonder: Are we missing something that the coffee shops around us have? Is this an area where we can learn something from our culture?
As I write this, I'm sitting in a coffee shop (the place where I usually do my best thinking) and I've been watching people come and go for the last couple of hours. People from all walks of life, from all classes of society have walked through the doors. They have all been welcome here. They have come for a place to study, to write, to read, to chat with friends. Or simply to get a coffee and leave to continue with the activities of their days. No one has told anyone in their time here, whether a few minutes or a few hours, that they don't belong or they have to do something specific to be able to stay.
It makes me wonder if somehow we could apply something about this to our churches. Not because we are incapable of creating community - we do create it sometimes. But, maybe there is something we can do better. And maybe we can learn from a place in our culture that seems to be doing well at making everyone feel welcome and like they belong.
What would happen of we allowed people to feel like they had people who were their community before they became a Christian? What if they were allowed to belong first? Not that we would not continue to share with them and point them to Christ, but that we would welcome them in first. Would that change people's perceptions of the kind of community the church can create?
And for those already in our pews who are feeling isolated and alone, are there things we can do to help them feel like they belong? What if we reached out to them and loved them even if they couldn't or wouldn't give anything back at first? What if we made an effort to just include those are sitting near us in church in our after church plans for lunch or coffee? I know when I was one of these people in church each weekend, the way I began to feel like I wasn't alone again was because a couple of people just invited me to join them a few times. And once I felt like I had those people who cared I felt like I belonged and I was able to turn around and offer that same thing to other people.
We desire it. How do we learn to do it well, so we don't run from it despite desiring it?
We love it. How do we move past our fear of it that comes with our love of it?
We look for places that have it. How do we create places that have it that we actually want to be a part of, so we stop running from the places that have it?