It was September of 2006, and the five of us carpooling to church in my car formed over 80 percent of our InterVarsity chapter (we were killing it in case you were wondering). Not only did I barely know the four people with me; I had also never heard of this church that was taking forever to get to, and I was pretty sure this random country road was leading us into the middle of nowhere.
A warehouse-looking building finally emerged from behind the trees. “McCarty time” had gotten us there five minutes late and yet not too late to be greeted by the official huggers (not. a. joke.) at the front door. The service itself ended up feeling familiar in many ways and new in others.
But what I’ll always remember most about that particular service is what became the norm for me for the next four years. Our crew of five left the sanctuary immediately after the service, stood in a cluster in the massive atrium with people all around us . . . and talked only to each other. Then we walked to my car, drove back to campus, and went on with our day. A few Sundays in we realized there was actually a drive that took you to the back of the church, where we could literally walk along the outer edge of the building, avoid huggers and greeters, and sit on the far right side of the sanctuary. We never explicitly tried to make this happen, but it became so easy to not engage with anyone outside of our little cluster of friends. We rode together, sat together, circled up together in the atrium, and left together.
By the time I was a senior, we had multiple cars caravanning to this same church and repeating this same process every week. We were displacing people from their seats and taking up a recognizable portion of the atrium . . . and yet we weren’t connected to the church people at all. Once I finally graduated, became a member of the church the following year, and started bringing many students to this church as an InterVarsity staff person, it finally dawned on me what had been happening for my four years of college.
I had taken up space in the church, consumed the resources of the church, and even recognized the faces of people in the church, but I’d never actually gotten the most out of my Sunday morning.
In the eight-plus years since college, I’m deeply thankful that I have been involved with kids’ ministry, hospitality, men’s ministry, small groups, prayer team, and more. But to be frank, I really whiffed in college. Church was a geographical place I found myself on Sunday mornings, but it was never a community I really belonged to. Here are some questions that might help you get more out of Sunday mornings than I did in college.
1. How did you wind up at __________Church?
I’m not sure how I would have answered this question, but it would not have been intelligent! To be honest, the only reason I wound up at MCC was because my friends went there. I could have been easily swayed toward many different church options. And I was so disconnected from the church as a whole that where my friends went was more important at times than what was happening in the actual service. Ouch.
Getting the most out of Sunday mornings begins with an intentional search for a church community and ultimately a commitment to “land” in a particular place. (Note: I asked some local pastors and recent graduates for advice on getting the most out of Sunday mornings, so I’ve sprinkled their insights throughout this blog.) Scot Longyear, senior pastor at Maryland Community Church, said two questions should trump the others when we search for a church: “Is it on mission?” and “Are the people in love with Jesus or do they just talk about being in love with Jesus?”
With that said, it’s so important to remind ourselves that every church has blemishes; it’s like a hospital for spiritually broken people, after all! The goal isn’t to find the perfect church but to find a place where you can fit. Daniel Bryan, senior pastor at Cornerstone Bible Church, challenged, “Make an informed, relatively quick decision. No church is perfect,” he said, “but every church needs you.”
Picking a church based on relationships certainly has value. Of even greater value are the Scriptures being opened weekly, teaching that has the gospel as its foundation, and an emphasis on where we each fit into Jesus’ plan to engage the world. What are your current reasons for attending (or not attending) where you do?
2. Where would you like to serve?
One of my biggest regrets in college is that I never served at church in any capacity as a college student. To be fair, no one ever directly asked me to either.
What other college students might I have met if I had occasionally stepped outside of my circle? Who did I miss out on getting mentored by because I never sought out people with gray hair in the atrium? What kids might I have been a blessing to had I signed up to work with the youth one Sunday a month? My friend Shannon—a brand new mom, InterVarsity alum, and active leader at her church plant—reminded me that “there will always be Christians around you who are more mature than you and those who are less mature than you. Find one who is less mature than you and do life with them. If God can work through a whiny butt like Jonah or a murderer like Paul, then he can work through you too.”
Pastor Bryan said, “No one else has the same combination of personality, past experiences, and interests you do. If you are willing to try your hand and serve, you will find something in the church that you can make a major difference in.”
You might think you’re not a “senior enough member” or that you have little to offer in this season, but 1 Timothy 4:12 reminds us, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” There is no better time to serve than right now!
3. How are you getting connected here?
A reality in 21st-century America is that everyone feels busy. Who has time for small groups, serving, or extra church gatherings? Pastor Longyear put it bluntly: “You can party on the weekends. You have plenty of time for what’s important. For the most part, you are not managing [your time] well.”
Shannon said to “double up where you can. Can you disciple someone by bringing them along with you when you serve? Can you serve during the church gathering since you would already be there during that time anyway?” Imagine if all of us in my original friend circle had committed to go meet new people at church together or join a service team in community.
Here’s the reality: community happens through relationships. And relationships require time. We live in a microwave culture where two seconds of waiting on Safari makes me reconsider my Internet provider and 20 minutes of waiting prompts me to text my friend again and see if they got my first text. I think we’d all be stunned by the impact of arriving 10 minutes before a Sunday service, introducing ourselves to one new person after the closing prayer, or giving one hour a week to a mentoring relationship with someone at our church.
How can you move from consuming to connecting on Sunday mornings?
Getting the most out of Sunday mornings requires some intentionality. It compels me to shift my attitude away from “What do you have for me today?” and toward “What is God inviting me to this morning?” We all have the opportunity to make informed choices about our church homes, get serious about serving, and focus our attention on connecting in community. Scot offered this challenge: “There are people at church you need, and people at church who need you. You won’t get less busy. Find a local church and go all in.”
Image by twentyonehundred productions team member Matt Kirk.