Lyn recently posted "that some churches are so consumed with their programs that they forget to get outside those doors and be in the community around them." I fear that is certainly the case with my church, and my feeble attempts to get interest in mission work built up there doesn't seem to get very far. The congregation as a whole are basically all lifetime members of that church and that denomination, and are there for the "church as club" experience (with some notable exceptions). Or perhaps better put, "church as family", that is, the people you hang out with because you're supposed to, and whose events you go to because you feel you have to.
Then in Dan's blog he posted about an attempt to build some spontaneous community at his church on the 4th of July and how it didn't go as he planned. In my rather lengthy comments to that post I wrote:
"We are commanded to be in fellowship with each other, and that may be the hardest thing to do. It seems like it is easier in some weird sense to do missional work and love someone you don't know, like a homeless person at a food pantry, who obviously needs help and care, than to have to be friends with fellow congregants who we kinda sort know, flaws and alls, and with whom we are thrust together solely through the accident of which church we attend. It's like the old saw about family being that group of people who, when you have to go there, they have to let you in (whether they want to or not, and whether you want to go or not). I think a lot of us feel the same way about church."
Finally, while volunteering at the food pantry, the organist for our church showed up to help one day. I didn't know him or that he was our organist until we were making small talk, since I attend a small contemporary service on Sunday evenings that operates sans organ. Turns out that while he plays organ for our church, he is not a member, nor even in our denomination. Instead, he attends (somehow) another church in town. Huh. So I guess the organ thing is just a gig for him - whether for pay or strictly volunteer I am not sure, and it doesn't matter.
So where am I going with all this? I have been thinking lately about why do we feel we have to go or be involved in just one church? Unless we think that somehow Christ only shows up at "our" one single church each Sunday, why do we feel constrained to limit our involvement to only one group of people in the body of Christ?
For some, the answer will be denominational prejudice, but I've already written about what I think about that. For others, it will be a longing for continuity, or a sense of loyalty, or the comfort of the known, or the feeling of community. From the viewpoint of the church itself, I frankly think the answer will be money (tithes) and membership numbers. They won't want to "share" members (or offerings), as if anyone that shows up in their pews is "theirs" anyway - we and all we have are all owned by our Father.
My family goes to the church we do for a variety of reasons. It's closer than our last church. It is friendly and much less fractious than our last church. It has a great contemporary service that is small and very family-centric. But frankly the number one reason is that it is the denomination in which my wife grew up, and she feels the most comfortable (and loyal) to that, and agrees with their doctrine. As for me, I chafe a bit at some of the views and values, but ultimately it doesn't matter that much to me. They are good people, if a bit inward focused, and I am happy to go, and to volunteer to do the Web site. I don't believe in "church shopping." And it makes my wife happy, and that's good enough for me.
But that doesn't mean I do believe that I have to just be involved in that one church, either. If it doesn't have any missional activity that I can be involved with, and if the odds of such a thing happening are low, then instead of spending energy trying to get something like that off the ground and perhaps just getting frustrated and annoyed, I can simply help other churches that are doing real mission work. They won't get me as a tithing confessional member, but they will get my free labor, and most churches needing volunteers will be happy enough with that. I am already involved in two food pantry efforts, and both are run by other denominations. I am also considering going on a Katrina clean-up and rebuilding mission this September (yes, these are still going on, and yes, there's still a need), which is being sponsored by the church running one of the food pantries I help.
Does anyone see any reason why such a course is wrong? Does anyone think we're required not just to be "of the body", but to always attend only a single congregation? Even my father-in-law, an elder in his church, goes to other churches (and denominations) worship services from time to time, just to hear different ministers and pastors, and to probably gain some insight into how different congregations are "running the business". But I am not talking about that. While I think that's OK, too, from the vantage point of gaining perspective and avoiding mindless attendance and ritualism, it is a bit like flipping the channel on the TV, a "Let's see what else is playing at the other theaters this weekend", church-as-entertainment approach. A fine thing to do, as long as you don't make a habit of it. Instead, my question is does anyone have any objections to being actually and actively involved in more than one church at once? And if so, why?
As always, comments appreciated.