As a pastor, I have noticed over the years that one of the main reasons people stop going to church is the lack of friends and meaningful relationships in the church. Loneliness and church should be an oxymoron.
“The Seventh-day Adventist Church is losing members at an alarming rate. Even though the evangelism in our churches is winning people, we lose about 49 of every 100 baptized,” writes Kirk Thomas.* We are losing many members because of the lack of meaningful connections in church.
Recently a friend who will soon retire and move away went to visit a church in which no one made eye contact with him. The next Sabbath he went to a different church. The people were friendly. A man asked if he had plans for lunch and told him not to make other plans, because he was coming with his family to eat. I call that a warm welcome!
Our present post-pandemic culture is making it harder to develop meaningful personal relationships. The shopping mall is Amazon. The movie theater is Netflix. The office is Zoom. And the church service is on the Internet.
Church as a Social Club
Some say that we go to church to meet God, and it should not be used as a social club. I disagree. Acts 2:42 says: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (KJV).
The social aspect in our churches is bigger and deeper than we realize. In fact, this verse says that as important as doctrine is, it is not the only thing the early Christians were committed to. They steadfastly hadkoinonia (Greek for “fellowship”).
Acts 2:46, 47 continues: “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
People should join the church because of the doctrines (or the truth), but they should stay because of the friends they have in church.
After the pandemic, people are more disconnected than ever before, and some of them are not coming back. But for those that do, there should be a small-group ministry they can be immediately connected to — not only for Bible study but also to socialize and have fun. This small group should be established for more than studying theology — it should also develop deep friendships.
Sabbath School Classes as Small Group Ministry
Several years ago my wife, Janet, and I had just moved to Columbia, Maryland, and were looking for a church to call home. After visiting several churches, we found the one we were looking for — all because of the Sabbath School class. They gave us a warm welcome at their class. We join their potlucks; we go on Sabbath afternoon walks. We play table games on Saturday night; we go camping together and celebrate special occasions together. Our Sabbath School class goes beyond the Sabbath morning time, because there is koinonia.
If every Sabbath School class were as engaging, many of our churches would need to have a couple of services. Why? People are looking for meaningful Christian friends that go beyond Sabbath morning. It should be a requirement for the local church to plug every newly baptized member into an active Sabbath School class.
During the month of January this year, Maryland went through a wave of COVID-19 Omicron variant illness, and my wife and I got sick. Our Sabbath School class showed their care for us by bringing us food. The best medicine against the loneliness of COVID is an active Sabbath School class that is watching out for each other.
And for us, going to Sabbath School is not a duty but a delight.
*Kirk Thomas. “Nurture, Retention, Reclamation: Can You Hear Their Cry?” Ministry, April 2019, https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/2019/04/Nurture-retention-reclamation.
— Rudy Salazar is associate director of stewardship for the North American Division.