Editorial: Feeling Lonely at Church?
Editorial by Celeste Ryan Blyden
You aren’t alone. A recent survey of executive committee members across the Columbia Union Conference identified lack of community among church members as an issue. “The greatest challenge is lack of social connectivity between the families and members within the churches,” noted one participant. “The large majority of members limit their relationship with one another to only Sabbath School, worship service and fellowship meal time—basically once a week.”
While Sabbath potluck remains high on the list of member favorites (Who would want to miss haystacks?), for many, the fellowship ends as soon as the last piece of dessert has been claimed.
“Go and Build Community”
Chesapeake Conference Pastor Bill McClendon, who shepherds the Ellicott City (Md.) church, works to foster a strong sense of community in his congregation. “We take the command to ‘go and make disciples’ as ‘go and build community,’” he says.
“God believes in community. The great commands of the Bible can only be fulfilled within community, which is a bi-product of a healthy church,” he adds.
On our recent visit to his church, members warmly greeted my family in the parking lot with a golf cart ride to the entrance. At the door, like all members, we were given a nametag. Not once all day did anyone ask, “What’s your name, again?” We were also immediately invited to stay for lunch and afternoon programs, which occur every Sabbath. In our welcome bag, filled with gifts and information about the church and its mission, there was also a booklet describing every ministry of the church and an invitation to get involved. I was especially drawn to the prayer room, where members could write prayer requests on a large whiteboard, keeping others informed of personal challenges and needs. “We do everything we can to create lingering opportunities and give people every reason not to go home at 12 o’clock,” McClendon explains. It’s working. In the last three years, this once declining congregation has grown from about 70 to 80 weekly attendees to nearly 300.
We at the Visitor were also pleased to see how other churches in the Columbia Union are intentionally seeking to engage members during the week, create space where people feel safe sharing life’s joys and challenges, and foster relationship-building opportunities (see stories and ideas, pp. 6-9). What I especially appreciate is how each story illustrates that being Adventist is not something we do on a weekly basis, it’s who we are every day.
Celeste Ryan Blyden serves as editor and publisher of the Columbia Union Visitor.