What’s the one thing that the church offers that the world cannot live without? In a word, community.
As society becomes increasingly fragmented and as the family becomes increasingly broken, Christians have something to offer that the world cannot: true community. It’s a community that is fundamentally different because it’s based in the nature of God who gathers people from every tongue and tribe. It’s a community not based on economic, ethnicity, or any other social variable. It’s a community of wide diversity sharing one common union: Jesus.
Some years back, Robert Bellah argued in Habits of the Heart that most people don’t experience community. Most have “lifestyle enclaves” comprised of people who are similarly minded people who have similar socio-economic backgrounds. These similarities are the basis for how many connect and experience community in the world.
In contrast, the church offers community based on only one common denominator: one’s relationship to God though Jesus. We call this gathering “family,” but that’s a stretch of that word, because the blood of the church family that runs thicker than water is not the blood of the nuclear or extended family. Instead, it’s the blood of Jesus, which unties wayward, diverse people into a great, global family, tethered together only by their union with Jesus.
There are many, many things the world does very well: technology, entertainment, innovation, the list goes on. It’s tempting to compare those gifts to what the church offers, and to feel inadequate or irrelevant. But the one gift the church offers the world that the world cannot replicate is true community.
What are the implications?
- As the nuclear family continues to break down, the church provides a much-needed family for people, especially for those who have experienced a broken family.
- As culture becomes increasingly skeptical and cynical about doctrine and belief, the church offers people a place to belong before they believe.
- And as society becomes increasingly polarized, the church offers a union of solidarity that is higher than political persuasion, socio-economic standing or ethnic heritage.
Now I understand that the church does not always live up to this high call. Churches are often just as fragmented and segregated as society. In spite of those shortfalls, we are called to to offer the gift of community.
It’s the one thing the church offers that the world cannot offer or live without.