For many people, the one thing that stands between their leaving a church situation that is not working for them, or staying within and being unhappy, is friendship.
Understandably, wherever we spend our time is where we make friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and social connections, and in a society that is increasingly distant and preoccupied, church is one of the major sources of fellowship.
We found this in our own lives — living in a very small town where there aren’t a lot of groups to belong to (as if we would have, honestly), meant that we relied upon our local church as the major source of our fellowship.
Not a good idea, because when we became increasingly dissatisfied with the way things were going in that local body and found ourselves discussing, every day, why we continued to stay there, we kept coming back to the issue of social interaction:
“All of our friends go to that church. If we leave, we’ll lose them!”
Well, in the first place, when we were honest with ourselves we realized that we did have friends outside the church. It’s just that church was so convenient, putting so many friends (acquaintances, actually) in one spot at one time, that we could get a lot of interaction done, successfully and efficiently.
(I and my family are Americans, you know. It takes a lot to train ourselves out of the negative aspects of our culture.)
In the second place, when we continued to be honest with ourselves, we had to admit that what we were getting, in our 68 minute dose of concentrated fellowship, wasn’t fellowship at all: from the moment we stepped in and were handed the bulletin, our time was controlled, and the amount of informal, unsupervised, uncontrolled interaction with other people was limited to the few minutes before the first song ushered in Worship Service Time.
“What fellowshipping are we actually going to be losing?” we asked ourselves.
The upshot is, it is possible to to leave church, and even if you have wrapped every relationship you think exists around the building and the closed group of people in it, you can build a life — a social life — outside of that system. Indeed, if it is time for you to leave and this is the only thing holding you back, you’ll find — looking back in retrospect — that there was no reason to wait so long.
Please read the full story (this is a customized variation created off of it, so while it can be read on its own, I’d encourage you to see the original because it is different) at my Commonsense Christianity blog at BeliefNet, “If I Leave Church, Will I Lose All My Friends?”
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