Saturday, February 26, 2011

Personal Connection

Was Tocqueville right that religion contributes to American democracy? The evidence suggests that with one important exception he was. Religious Americans are generally better neighbors and more active citizens, though they are less staunch supporters of civil liberties than secular Americans. Morever, religious Americans are more satisfied with their lives. As we have seen, however, theology and piety have very little to do with this religious edge in neighborliness and happiness. Instead it is religion's network of morally freighted personal connections, coupled with an inclination toward altruism, that explains both the good neighborliness and the life satisfaction of religious Americans.
Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Unites Us and Divides Us, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010), 492.
Religious social networking. According to the research, religious Americans are more apt to be good neighbors and civic-minded simply because of the social networks provided by their particular religious institution. In other words, a church can have good preaching, good music, and a dynamic building - but without relationships it will mean squat. Without providing a forum and opportunity for true networking (none of that Sunday bullshit of "How you doing" & "I'm doing fine") - people will not change because of church. As Putnam and Campbell say it, "devout people who sit alone in the pews are not much more neighborly than people who don't go to church at all. The real impact of religiosity on niceness or good neighborliness, it seems, comes through chatting with friends after service or joining a Bible study group, not from listening to the sermon or fervently believing in God." People MUST connect with people to make religious participation meaningful. A perfect call for community.

It is amazing to me to see a well researched and articulated book point out the obvious and yet for the church to still not get it. How is it that we see book after book written about the need for community and then even have researched data to back it up - and yet it can still feel so hollow and empty when we go to church? We see the show, we feel the entertainment, and we can tell time and money have been invested...and yet none of it matters or penetrates. Even when we remark on the "timeliness of such a great sermon" - it usually has exited our thoughts by the time we hear that 6 am alarm the next morning. In many ways, that after church lunch with our group of church friends is more critical to developing our lives than the service we just got out of.

So should we ditch church all together? I don't think that is the answer or even a logical step. The church service still has meaning and purpose. However, the reality is that what churches need to do more of is develop ways for people to move beyond attendance and into meaningful relationships. The primary source of all time, creativity, energy, money, and effort needs to be relationship development. Because at the end of the day - that will truly transform more lives than a service. People become better people as a result of truly doing life with other people. Don't tell me you have Bible studies, small groups, or midweek programming. Give me something every single time I come in contact with your church that shows me relationship. Then, and truly one then, will church showcase the intimacy, relationship, and love that Jesus Christ desires with us.

After all, in heaven I would expect Jesus to give me a hug, share a story, or simply laugh with me NOT show me His ability to shock & awe my senses.


bigdave said...

Your commentary makes me feel that this has been a great read. Much can be said about it in reference to your comments, but with the caveat that commenting on a commentary without reading the book is a slippery slide, at best. However, since that has never caused me to hold back in the past, I will proceed. Many ideas that come through your commentary run parallel to the thought process of Frank Viola. We so glibbly speak of the church today, but one wonders if that all encompassing term "church" is really fair to what the first century followers of Christ would have claimed to be. The relationship of believer to believer, and of both to Christ is what truly should be considered "church," but one rarely sees that in the West today, especially within the walls of the so-called churches of our society. Philos and eros in our society are primarily in existence for the good of self, and agape seems to have become a philosophical term. Yet, love is what the true "church" is commaned to do, and that love can only be understood to be unconditional. The entire wordsmith we have applied to "church" seems to have taken a course that can only lead to the continual down turn in the numbers who want to be associated with it, and at the same time the true body of Christ seems to be more appealling now than ever. (Although having not been in former ages, it was probably just as appealling then!)