One of the challenges pastors regularly face is trying to get people connected into true community in the church. I know it is one of the things I think about all the time. There are few things that burden me more than the thought that someone in our church doesn't feel loved and cared for. And so, as leaders, we must work hard to do all we can to provide clear on ramps of opportunity for individuals and families to connect.
At the same time, after serving as a pastor in the church for over 20 years now, I have all too often seen that some folks are quick to criticize a congregation's failure to connect their family, while not owning or taking responsibility for their lack of effort toward pursuing relationships with others through the options that are already available. This is a pastoral leadership challenge and opportunity every leader in the church will face.
So how do we respond to: "We just don't feel connected at this church." Let me share one way you could respond pastorally either in talking with a person or couple face to face or through a written response:
Thanks so much for sharing your concern. I'm so sorry you have not felt very connected at Calvary. I assure you, we deeply desire for you and your family to feel incredibly loved and connected to other believers in our congregation! We want you to feel at home here, we really do!
You are right: God made us for community in the church, not isolation. We grow most when we are in relationship with other believers. Of course, Satan hates this and seeks to put up any type of road block/lie/confusion he can to prevent us from connecting with other believers. Connecting also takes work and intentionality. As a church, we are always trying to grow in helping individuals, couples, and families (like yours) have easy "on ramps" to meet others and really get connected. I can tell you, our staff is regularly having conversations about this, working hard to get folks connected. At the same time, it is also our responsibility as individuals to pursue community, to pursue relationship with people. And while it takes work, and can be a little awkward and at times scary, it is worth it! It is worth putting ourselves out there and really trying to build relationships with others. The Lord made us for relationship.
Let me suggest to you and your family three of the most simple and often overlooked ways to get more connected to our church family. Many families at Calvary are connected to others and I can tell you it is primarily because they have done the following:
1) Stay around after services.
One very simple first step is to just stay around after the conclusion of our weekend worship services. We want to encourage folks to stay around and talk, to hang out with new people and those they don’t know super well. Certainly this can be awkward at times. But please stay around anyway; make an effort to talk to others you don’t know. We will always have leaders and pastors around who are eager to spend time with you. Many of our people have met life-long friends in just this way.
2) Join a group!
Another helpful step may be to join a Calvary group. We don’t require joining a group as some churches do, but we do try to make it an easy and welcoming option. Groups meet at various times and locations around the Denver Metro area. We offer gender-specific men’s or women’s DNA discipleship groups (2-4 in a group) and also intergenerational, mid-sized, mixed groups that include unmarried and married members and their children, which we call Community Groups (15-25 in a group). These Community Groups get kicked off for the Fall this next month. We will have 12-15 groups meeting, spread out on different weeknights. These are a prime way to connect. Another option is our Calvary Institute classes. Each Fall and Spring, we offer 4 different classes on Sunday mornings at Calvary…2 at 9am and 2 at 11am. In addition to these avenues, we have multiple women’s studies and men’s studies throughout the week to get connected to. As you can see, Calvary is blessed to have many different types of groups that meet at different times on different days and nights. Any of our pastors or staff would be glad to talk with you about a group that might work well for your schedule and location. Our web-site has info about these different groups also.
While we encourage and desire all who consider Calvary their church home to commit to a group, we don’t intend for our small groups to be relational cul-de-sacs that define and, frankly, end your integration into the wider congregation at Calvary. We want our different groups to be welcoming and nurturing environments that help you continue to grow toward even broader and deeper relationships within the congregation. For most of our people, these groups play an integral and vital role in their ongoing spiritual growth and connection to Christian friends and community.
3) Offer and accept hospitality.
Throughout the Bible one of the things that regularly marks God’s people is their love for others through hospitality. Admittedly some folks may feel a little weird about being the one to invite people over, or out, when they don’t know many people very well. But we’re trying to build a culture at Calvary where hospitality is normal. For this to happen, it takes individuals who can help model and lead this. We hope that those who consider Calvary "home" will reach out to those who are new or checking us out, but we also hope that those who are new will step up and invite longer-term attenders and members over for a meal or out for an activity from their very early days attending Calvary. Living these kinds of open lives together is a big part of how we can create and sustain a hospitable culture of a gospel community at our church. It takes work on all of our parts. As Christians, we each need to pursue this. If we don’t, it really doesn’t matter how many programs, classes, groups, etc. a church has to offer, we will never experience the kinds of friendships and community the Lord wants us to have.
Let me know how I can further serve you, encourage you, and help you feel at home at Calvary. Again, if you feel Calvary isn’t the best fit for you two, I would love to do what I can to help point you in the direction of another solid church where your family can plant your roots deep in a church family!
Grateful for you and your sweet family! Love in Christ, Mark