Monday, February 25, 2008

Of big churches--Part II

Thanks for the comments on my last post! Rather than responding in the comments section to the comments I received, I will continue here for the sake of a more readable layout.

In answer to Mrs. Turnbull's question, I do take Noah into the services with me, but Elijah goes to the "twos and threes room." This is because he seems to be a bit sensitive to loud noise, to the point that when he hears even acapella singing in a small church, he whispers, "It's too loud, mama." Well, the music in our church is not acapella, and it is not a small church, so it is quite overwhelming to him, to the point where he will even cry. I am not fond of the music in our church myself, so I don't make him stay through it.

But I would much prefer to be in a church where the children stay with the parents as a matter of course. In our church, the children are segregated from the parents all the way through high school!! They call it "reaching the children on their level." I think the children are being underestimated, myself. That's not specifically a big church complaint, though. I know of smaller churches that do the same.

My concerns with big churches are two-fold, as follows: the clique issue, and anonymity/accountability. Regarding cliques, I know that people generally tend to gravitate towards people like themselves, and I suppose that's not necessarily a bad thing. But in a big church where there are, for instance, lots of other young couples with children, it is possible that you can end up only socializing with other young couples with children; or college students may end up only interacting with other college students, or even older retired couples only with other retired couples. The distinctions can get even narrower--at one point I was in a small group that consisted entirely of young couples where the husbands were in graduate school, and the wives were working to support the family till the husband graduated (I was the lone exception). While it's nice to be able to connect with others who are going through some of the same experiences as yourself, I think that we miss out on a lot when we don't also have relationships with people at different points in life; for instance, I have often thought that I would love to get to know a mom with older children who would surely have good advice for me as I deal with my own little ones! (In addition to my own mom of course, who is always a great source of advice.)

I suppose this issue could be circumvented if people were intentionally placed in small groups of mixed ages.

The second issue is anonymity or accountability. For years I attended this church and was entirely anonymous, in the sense that no one knew me and I knew no one. It wasn't until I actively sought out a small group that I really got to know people. Even now, many weeks I can come and go from church and not see anyone at all that I know, other than the usher who always says hello to Noah and hands me a bulletin, or perhaps the associate pastor who always asks me how I'm doing. But in a church so large, it's entirely possible (and frequently happens) that if I don't happen to be sitting near any of my friends, I may not see them at all in the crowd. I find that if I leave town for the weekend, my absence is usually not even noticed. I begin to wonder, if I stopped attending church entirely, how long would it take for anyone to realize that I was no longer there? (Don't worry, I would never stop attending just to find out!) And previously, when I knew no one, how was I to be held accountable? How would anyone know if my lifestyle was in accordance with even the most basic principles of Christianity?

I'm sure that those who are more "involved" with Bible studies, weekend retreats, volunteer opportunities, etc. have no trouble meeting people of different age groups, and have plenty of people to hold them accountable. But surely I'm not the only person who finds it difficult to get more "involved" due to family obligations and work schedules.

I'm not at all trying to say that I think there is something inherently wrong with a big church per se, and I'm sure that the issues I mention can be worked around in some way, but those are the reasons I think a smaller church would be a better fit for me.

Disclaimer: these are just my opinions, and I hope I have not offended anyone! I am open to persuasion if you feel differently!

1 comment:

  1. I agree with your comments, Sharon.

    I think the "invisibility" in a big church can be a bad thing. And it is also difficult to answer honestly when someone just says a cursory "how are you?" and moves quickly on to the next person.

    Funny story - I won't say who the minister was in case someone knows him, but he was supplying in Varden St (London FP CofS) when we attended there a few years back.

    I was expecting one of the babies and since I was pregnant I was really really sick. (I always was, it was pretty miserable).

    Anyway, this minister came up and shook hands and said "How are you?" I answered honestly and said "I am being really sick and finding things quite difficult"

    To which he answered "oh that's great" and moved on to the next person.

    He hadn't heard or even listened to my reply. He'd made a polite meaningless enquiry and expected me to give the same meaningless answer.

    I wasn't impressed at the time, but we laugh about it now.

    I also think you made a good point about age segregation in social groups - the teens only mixing with the teens, the elderly with the elderly, etc.

    I suppose that doesn't affect me now at church since I don't mix with anyone :-)


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