Written by David VanOpstall –
I read somewhere once that the top reason a new person visits a church isn’t for the preaching, it isn’t for the music, and it’s not even necessarily for spiritual fulfillment.
They are looking for friends.
That’s the top reason people listed in a study for why they first visited a church. Another way to say this, is that people are looking for a place to belong.
Which in many ways makes sense. Churches are filled with people. People make great friends. Church people are supposed to be nice and loving. Those are great qualities in a friend as well. And if people know anything about Jesus, I hope they know that Jesus tried to make even the most broken and hurting human beings feel like they belonged by his side.
We also know that the world can be an unfriendly place where we always have a sense of being on the outside. And that’s tough. That can be lonely.
In the gospel of John, Jesus says these words, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)
The apostle Paul, and early follower of Jesus says this, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph. 6:12)
We all face struggles of many kinds. Sometimes we think it’s because of another person. Sometimes we think it’s more of a systemic problem with our society. In reality, it’s deeper than that. Whatever it is, it seems we are having the life sucked out of us every day.
The solution is not to retreat.
You can’t ever run far enough. The solution is not to give up. If you can see it, there is far too much beauty in the world to let it all go to waste.
No, we believe that the solution is to find a place to belong (and in so doing, find Jesus there). Find a place where people are willing to accept you as you are. Be willing to accept them as they are too – nobody is even close to perfect. This is the very thing that Jesus did when he was on earth. The bible says he welcomed sinners and ate with them. He came across the outcasts and forgotten of society and it says he “saw” them. To the wounded and hurting, he offered the promise to heal.
But it often started with an acknowledgement of who they were. “What do you want me to do?” he would say. “Do you want to be made well?” he might ask. “Zacchaeus, come down out of that tree. I’m going to your house today!”
You belong near to Jesus.
You belong near to friends.
You belong in the church.
Because once you’re here, you can help make the church a place where others feel they belong too.