Tuesday, February 10, 2015

An easy "out"?

I normally seek out a small church when looking for a place of worship. But staying last weekend with our son and daughter-in-law in Sydney we went with them to their usual place of worship - the large congregation of Wahroonga Seventh Day Adventist Church.

The preacher of the day commenced with some statistics about church growth and decline. Leaving out the percentages and other details, the memorable one was:  "Almost every member who leaves us says that the reason was 'relationships'".

For a congregation that has a strong sense of "family" and prides itself on its effectiveness with relationships, this was no doubt something of a shock. It certainly got attention among the large crowd of people of all ages who comfortably filled the very large church. It made for a smooth entry into a sermon on compassion.

Later, I reflected that most small churches also value the quality of their relationships. And people leave small congregations as well as larger ones. And they would probably also say they left because of something to do with relationships (especially if their former church or denomination were asking the question!).

Relationships within and among a group cannot be taken for granted. They need to be nurtured, and some members will always do this better than others. At a personal level, individual relationships have to be related to the good of the whole fellowship. Conversely, the declared wishes of the whole group have to be achieved within the context of the relationships between the individuals in it.

When individual relationships fail the group has not necessarily failed. On very rare occasions it may be appropriate for people to withdraw. But this is usually because they no longer feel the overall sense of belonging that is strong enough to balance any sense of unease with one or more individuals. Probably they no longer wish to make the necessary effort to include themselves.

But I wouldn't be at all surprised if they said "relationships" was the reason for leaving.

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