This is an over-generalization, but, for a long time, the American church could be counted on to be the locus of community nearly anywhere. If you and your family moved towns, the first thing you'd look to find was a local church that fit. Some of this was due to following and living out one's faith, but it was also due to our human need for community. And with a gathering of people and a robust list of social programming, the church was the best place to find such.
But that's not the case anymore. Church no longer has the exclusive patent on community. Gyms, coffee shops, meetups, online forums, workplaces, night classes, bars, running groups, book clubs - these all now offer opportunities for humans to connect, congregate, and commune. These are things that are in our very nature, a deep yearning of our souls. And the church is failing to meet that need due not only to rising competition, but also to its narrowing mindset.
Two communities are coming to an end for me this year, at least as I know them. And while I won't wade into the details of these communities, I will share that each offered me, perhaps for the first time, a glimpse into what community looks like when it's wide open, accepting, forgiving, willing to draw the circle bigger, and risky. While many church communities I've been a part of have been nice and fun, I didn't experience great open community until I was a part of each of these.
And this is how the church is losing. In its attempt to be a community, it continually draws its circles smaller. If you're in, then you're in, qualifying how you may and developing perhaps an arrogant thankfulness and pride. Kind of how I feel each time I walk into a SkyClub. And if you're out, you really don't care anymore. You're not aching to get into the church, a narrowing community that judges and expels, wags fingers and shames.
Besides, you can make friends elsewhere nowadays. The church isn't the only game in town.
Will the church wake up and realize this? That it's selling a product no one wants? It has a product everyone needs, but the marketplace is crowded and the branding being used to hawk this ware can't overcome the ingredients and method in which the product was assembled. Consumers can easily do their research and see that you don't stack up to the competition.
Of course, I'm not talking about every church and every Christian and every person. And I'm certainly not talking about your church. I'd never do that. Your church is perfect, it really is.
But until the church takes the fear and loathing out of what it means to be a part of its community, until it lessens entry requirements and behavioral standards, it will ride its desire for exclusivity to emptier and emptier pews. Meanwhile, our restaurants and schools and gyms will keep filling up as people make meaningful connections.
It's not that people don't want community. They don't want your community. And with more options than ever, the alternatives are endless. Turns out your patent wasn't all that valuable if you can't update your product every once in a while.