Read an Excerpt
The Connecting Church 2.0Beyond small groups to authentic community
By Randy Frazee
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2013 Randy Frazee
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE LONELIEST NATION ON EARTH
The Johnsons appear to have a wonderful life. They own a house in a nice suburb with four bedrooms, two baths, and a rear-entry, two-car garage. Their house is surrounded by a six-foot-high fence to provide privacy for an inground pool, a barbecue grill, and patio furniture. Bob and Karen have two children—a boy and a girl. Bob and Karen each have a college degree, and they both have jobs that provide a combined household income well above the average for their community. Most important, everyone in the family is in good health.
Yet, if you could enter the hearts and thoughts of Bob and Karen Johnson, you would discover that they have dreams and fears no one else knows about. While they have never voiced it to anyone, there is an increasing sense of isolation, distress, and powerlessness growing inside them. In a nutshell, the Johnsons have done a fine job of "keeping up with the Joneses," but they still are not happy.
How could this be? The Johnsons are living the American Dream. So many people are less fortunate. But their personal dilemma—the isolation and distress that quietly gnaws away at their contentment—is a national epidemic. And their experience is no surprise to sociologists and pollsters. George Gallup Jr. concluded from his studies and polls that Americans are among the loneliest people in the world. This seems unbelievable when you think of the easy access to transportation and the billions of dollars of discretionary money available for entertainment. Americans can buy so much activity. How can they possibly be so lonely? We are surrounded by more people than ever before in the history of our country. With these undeniable benefits in place, how could a Gallup poll rank us among the loneliest people in the world?
Let's take a closer look at Bob and Karen's story. Eight years ago, Bob took a job at an office located in a growing suburb in another city. Although moving there took them farther from their families, both Bob and Karen had agreed it would still be feasible to fly home on occasion because Bob would be making more money and the airport was in close proximity to their new home.
Bob and Karen both rise at 6:30 a.m. On this day, Bob hurries to leave the house at 7:00 to beat the rush hour traffic; doing so allows him to get to work in thirty-five minutes as opposed to fifty-five minutes. He opens the door leading into the garage, hits the garage door opener, gets into his car, and pulls out of the driveway. He spots his new neighbor taking out the trash and waves to him with a forced smile on his face. As Bob drives down the street, he reminds himself that this neighbor has been in the neighborhood now for two years and he still can't remember his name. This thought lasts for about five seconds before Bob turns on some music and his mind turns to the matters of the day.
Karen has worked out an arrangement to be at work at 9:00 a.m. so she can drop off her two children at school at 8:15. There is the usual rush to get her and the two children ready on time and out the door by 7:55, and today she manages to pull it off. With the same ritual precision, Karen makes her way to the car and starts heading out of the driveway when her son announces he left a lunch behind. The easiest move for Karen would be to go back in through the front door, but she sees her next-door neighbor, one of the few retired people in the area, beginning her yard work for the day. While Karen would love to catch up with her elderly neighbor, she is afraid if they engage in a conversation the children will be late for school, and then she'll be late for work. So rather than risk being late, Karen makes her way back to the rear-entry garage, opens the door with the automatic opener, and goes inside. As she grabs the forgotten lunch from the kitchen table, she realizes she has forgotten to set the security system. Once this is accomplished, off she goes again.
Bob and Karen encounter an average day at work: nine-and-a-half hours at the office, completing only four-and-a-half hours of actual productive work, as seems to be common in the American office environment. Both will bring home bulging briefcases in the hopes of sneaking in another hour of work after the children are in bed. At 3:30, the children go to their after-school program and wait for Mom or Dad to pick them up.
It is 5:00 p.m., and Bob absolutely must leave the office if he is to pick up the children from the after-school program on time. But as often happens, Bob doesn't leave until 5:20, and he gets trapped in a ten-minute traffic jam because of a stalled car on the freeway. He arrives thirty minutes late. Everyone is just a little edgy.
Bob and the kids pull into the rear-entry garage at 6:15. Bob turns off the security system, which assures him that no one has tampered with their home while they've been gone. Karen arrives at 6:30. The first order of business is dinner. Bob and Karen agreed, with a little help from a family therapist, that with Karen working to help pay the bills (especially the mortgage), sharing household chores was going to be a vital part of suburban life; Bob would need to share the load with her in the evenings.
While the children watch television, Mom and Dad are working together to heat up a tray of frozen lasagna and garlic bread. After dinner, the dishes are cleaned up, the mail is perused, homework papers are checked, and the children get ready for bed. It is now 9:00 p.m. The children are a half hour late getting to bed, but it was the best they could do.
At 9:15, Bob and Karen finally sit down. They are too exhausted to talk, so the television gets beamed on, right in the middle of a prime-time drama. They both watch television until the news is over, look at their briefcases for a moment, and agree to let the work go undone. Finally, at 11:30, they crawl into bed. A couple of words are exchanged, mostly businesslike talk concerning tomorrow's details. As they close their eyes, they both gratefully ponder how easy this day had been compared to what is ahead. The remainder of the weeknights ahead will be filled with sports practices and games, music lessons, and a couple of evening work meetings.
While that constitutes the pattern during the week, Saturday and Sunday are primarily used for three activities: house and lawn care, children's sports, and church. These activities take up most of the available hours. But on the average weekend a few hours of open time is available for soaking in life with family and friends.
The problem the Johnsons have is common for many couples. First, their extended family members live in other cities around the United States. Second, they were so busy during the week that they didn't make plans to spend time with another family. Finally, while they would be open to spending some spontaneous time with the neighbors, no one is out in their front yards except a few men mowing their lawns, with earbuds attached to an iPod tucked in their khaki-colored shorts. Everyone else is either away from home or safely sheltered inside their centrally air-conditioned/ heated homes, fully equipped with cable television or a satellite dish. Or if not inside the house, they're in their backyards, which are completely landscaped for privacy.
Occasionally, an outing is planned with another couple or family who may live in another part of town. The time always seems to be a positive experience. Yet, because few of the gatherings are routinely with the same family, neither Bob nor Karen feels comfortable sharing their deepest dreams and fears with any of those people. Another weekend comes to a close with unvoiced stress and boredom, and Bob and Karen individually conclude that this was just an unusual week; next week will be better. Well, eight years have now passed since they adopted their American Dream lifestyle, with somewhere around 416 weeks classified as "unusual."
Oh, there is one more important aspect to the Johnsons' life. Bob and Karen are Christians. They attend church just about every Sunday and have been involved in a church-sponsored small group for a little over a year. The group is made up of other couples of roughly the same age and meets in one of the members' homes every other week. The Sunday worship services are usually uplifting and inspiring. Bob and Karen feel a sense of satisfaction with their children's involvement in the Sunday school program. As a matter of fact, it was their desire to give their children a religious and spiritual foundation that brought them back to church after a lapse during college and their early years of marriage. While the church is extremely friendly, the only people they really know are those who attend their small group.
The Johnsons' small group usually meets on the first and third Thursday night of each month from 7:00 to 9:30. The members of the group rotate the task of hosting the meeting in their homes. Most of the members live about ten to twenty minutes away from each other.
Bob and Karen joined the group in the hopes of finding a surrogate extended family, or at least a set of close friends with whom they could share their dreams and fears. But after a year of faithful attendance at the group, the Johnsons started to miss some of the meetings. Why? For several reasons. First, with their tight weekday schedule, it was difficult to eat dinner, check homework papers, bathe the children, pick up a babysitter, drive to the small group get-together by 7:00, leave around 10:15, take the babysitter back home, and return home around 11:30. This routine simply exhausted this couple, who were in search of meaningful friendships and a sense of personal peace.
A second reason the small group diminished in priority was the children's sports games and practices. Both children play soccer and basketball, which means that at least one if not both of them have either a practice or a game on Thursday nights.
A third reason was disappointment over how seldom members of the group got together outside of the regularly scheduled meetings. Everyone seemed to have a mutual desire to get together, but something always seemed to prevent more relaxed and spontaneous outings. Because the group only saw each other for a few hours twice (sometimes only once) a month, there wasn't the sense of intimacy the Johnsons wanted in order to freely share their dreams and fears. While they would consider their small group members to be their closest friends, the Johnsons long for something more.
To look at the outside shell of the Johnsons' life, it would appear they have it all together, yet on the inside they are two of the statistically lonely people about whom George Gallup Jr. writes. Bob and Karen are just two of the millions of Americans who are searching to belong. Moreover, what is true of the Johnson family is intensified in the single-parent home. Activity for the single parent is often doubled, practically eliminating any time for the development of personal relationships. In addition, the single parent often has to burn a great deal of additional energy negotiating with the ex-spouse.
The single adult without children is not exempt from loneliness. While more time can be allocated to enhancing adult relationships instead of managing children's activities, the additional time available does not mean they are not at home many hours, feeling deeply alone. While they may have an active group of acquaintances, most singles still long for deeper companionship than what seems to be in their grasp. One of the most significant struggles for a single person living in suburban America is the lack of wholesome gathering spots for singles. The lack of access to community means that isolation rules.
The purpose of this book is to help people who feel like the Johnsons find what they are searching for, to help people discover a rich sense of community. To belong! In our journey of discovery, we will explore three obstacles that hinder our attainment of biblical community in America, and we will look at three comprehensive and practical solutions to overcome these obstacles. These three solutions will be broken down further and defined in the fifteen characteristics that must be present for true Christian community to be experienced. The promise of this book is that restructuring our lifestyles around these fifteen characteristics will fulfill our "search to belong" and give us the rich, enduring fellowship we were created by God to experience.
Chapter TwoCREATED FOR COMMUNITY
A number of years ago, my wife and I finally cracked under the pleas of our children to add a dog to the family, giving in after eleven years of begging. Two days before Christmas, we purchased a full-bred beagle puppy we named Lady. She had lived with us for about a year when we took a family vacation without her. The children were very concerned about Lady's well-being while we were away and insisted that if we couldn't take her with us, we had to get her the best possible accommodations. Through the help of another pet-obsessed friend, we located a place—The Pet Hotel.
Imagine that, a hotel for pets! This was the first I had ever heard of such a thing. Each pet was assigned an individual room. A television played during the day for the dog to watch. The feedings were at precisely the time we offered them in her normal routine. The pets were actually walked and doted on more at The Pet Hotel than at home. This made the children feel better and made me feel a little poorer. (I've never been able to tell my father that I spent hard-earned money for an animal to stay in a pet hotel. For anyone born during the Depression, this would be an incomprehensible decision.)
The family returned home on a Friday night, too late to pick up Lady. So the first order of business on Saturday was to head to The Pet Hotel. We gathered all her personal belongings, received a report assuring us that they had done everything they promised, and paid the bill. When we got into the car, each of us eagerly petted Lady, genuinely happy to have her back. As we petted her, however, large clumps of hair clung to our hands. While I tried to convince the children that everything was OK, I was thoroughly concerned.
When we arrived home, I called the veterinarian in a panic. When I explained our dog's symptoms upon picking her up after our seven-day vacation, the doctor told me that Lady was stressed by our absence. He suggested we spend about two hours with her at home, and then her hair would stick on once again. I seriously doubted the prescription, but the thought of avoiding a visit to the vet after paying the pet hotel bill worked for me. I kid you not. Within fifteen minutes of her being with us at home we couldn't pull a single hair from Lady's body. It was quite unbelievable. The doctor was right after all.
If a dog starts to fall apart after just seven days of being robbed of community, how much more is community a necessity for humans, who are created in the image of God for fellowship? We were designed by God physically, emotionally, and spiritually to require community for our health and well-being.
THE BIOCHEMISTRY OF CONNECTION
In Genesis 2:18, God tells us it was "not good" for the man he had just created to be alone. Scientific evidence now supports this idea as well: God has hardwired us for community! Allan N. Schore of the UCLA School of Medicine reports this from his extensive research: "The idea is that we are born to form attachments, that our brains are physically wired to develop in tandem with another's, through emotional communication, beginning before words are spoken." In other words, our brains inextricably develop in the context of our relationships with others and their ongoing brain development. When a relationship is healthy, it imprints into our brains a resiliency against psychiatric disorders. When a relationship is unhealthy, it imprints into our brains a vulnerability to disorders.
Other studies show that males have attachment hormones, like prolactin, which trigger us to care for our children. When we engage in care for our kids, our actions trigger the development and release of more attachment hormones, reinforcing the bonding process. Researchers studying these effects conclude, "Social behavior and biology are involved in an intricate dance of mutual reinforcement."
A study conducted at the Ohio State University Medical Center examined the connection between married couples and the physiological processes like immune, endocrine, and cardiovascular functioning. Researchers concluded that there is growing evidence to prove that the relationship intimacy between a husband and a wife leads "to better health, including stronger immune systems and physical wounds taking less time to heal." In other words, those who lack the relational intimacy of marriage are more prone to struggle with their health. In The Gift of Touch, Helen Colton says that hemoglobin in the blood increases significantly when we are touched. Hemoglobin is the part of the blood that carries vital supplies of oxygen to the heart and brain. She concludes that if we want to remain healthy, we must intentionally touch one another. All of these studies reinforce one fundamental truth about our need for relationships: this is how God has made us.
Excerpted from The Connecting Church 2.0 by Randy Frazee Copyright © 2013 by Randy Frazee. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.