A Christian polling organization known as the Barna Research Group identifies a segment of the Christian population they call the “Unattached.” The Unattached consider themselves to be Christian but without any personal interaction with a regularly-convening, mutually supportive faith community. In other words, the Unattached are those Christians in our neighborhoods who have no church family. It is likely that we all have friends who consider themselves Christian yet are not actively involved in any church family.
The reasons for being among the Unattached varies greatly, but a popular sentiment among them goes something like this: “Church wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for all those other Christians.” Some of you reading this right now may hold this sentiment; hopefully not. Others among the Unattached do not consider it worth the time and resources it takes to be part of a church, given the busyness of their lives and the worldly demands for their time and money. To some, church is simply not important and does not matter, given the other foci of their lives.
Let us, however, look at this from God’s perspective and see if being part of the church matters to our Lord. Let us start by considering why God created humanity in the first place. As Christians we know that we are created to be in a relationship with Him and, by extension, in a relationship with each other as the Family of God. We also know that we were created out of God’s unbounded, unconditional love to be the objects of that love; thus, being in God’s image, we are to relate to one another with that same unbounded, sacrificial, unconditional love with which God first loved us (1 John 4:19). But how and where do we learn to do that?
To better understand this, we can look at where all Creation is pointing- that is, the destination of all redeemed and yet to be redeemed humanity. Our destiny as God’s people is to be gathered into the full presence of God, but not just with God- also with each other, into what we know as the Communion of Saints. The Church on Earth (what the Church Fathers called The Church Militant) is the embryo of the Communion of Saints in Heaven (The Church Triumphant). It is as if this life in the Church is our opportunity to learn to love one another again (i.e. un-learn the “Fall” of Genesis 3). It is in Christian community that God teaches us to love others as He first loved us. In a way, to shun Christian community in this life is to miss the dress rehearsal for that great gathering of the saints in heaven. The truth is that eternity (Heaven), and thus life as part of the Communion of Saints, begins in the here and now.
From all this, it would seem that stepping away from intentional fellowship with God’s people is not a Godly option. As we have heard it said, “God did not create us to be Lone Ranger Christians.” We in this church family should be proactively inviting our unattached Christian friends to come enjoy this church family with you. They will discover, as you most surely have, the blessings of Godly community, something we are designed and destined to enjoy forever.
The Reverend Rob Hartley is Rector of the Anglican Church of Holy Trinity in North Augusta, SC.