What’s Up With That Empty Chair?

At the gathering on Sunday I gave my students a challenge.  I split them up into 14 groups of about 3 and passed out our “roster” in pieces.  Each group got a list of names and they were asked to identify students they knew.  If one person recognized the name, then it was 1/3.  If two, then 2/3.  If three, then 3/3.  I also asked them to circle anyone they knew, but hadn’t seen in a while.  Here’s a few things I learned from this:

  • Even the “Core” Kids Aren’t That Well Known.  I was looking at the lists and found that even those students are there are every weekend and week night, the ones you can count on to be there, and the spiritually more mature ones aren’t “universally” known.  This tells me that 1) it’s easy to blend in and 2) attendance is great but connection is suffering.  Which is better?
  • Our Students Know Students That I Don’t Know.  Duh.  But there were some names on there that had a 2/3 and I was like, “Who…is…that…?”  I try to know every student in the room.  I try to say hi and remember names.  But the reality is, as the ministry grows, the harder it will be for me to know everyone.  And that’s what I’ve been preaching all along about “being on mission.”  Our students are in places (teams, clubs, classes, neighborhoods) that I have no access to and are around people that I don’t know that well (or at all).  There comes a point when the ministry will bottleneck if it’s about me.  Good thing it’s not.  We have a great team of adult leaders who are coaching our students how to own their faith and be on mission.
  • Nobody Notices Who’s NOT Here.  We have a good size group.  And the saying is true: students who aren’t missed will miss.  Very few of our groups in this activity were even able to identify students that hadn’t been in a while.  They simply just don’t know them all that well.

My thought is that the reason so many students are missing-or are only coming once every 6 weeks or so-is because they haven’t experienced the true value of Christian friendships at church.  THIS place just isn’t THAT valuable.  Other things take on more value than they should because coming to church is a chore; it is awkward; it is boring when you have no connection.

If any of my students read this, hear me out.  Jesus said this:

“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35

If you show up every week, great.  But who are you showing around?  If you’re a wallflower and complain that you don’t know anyone, what efforts have you made to introduce yourself?  If you don’t know somebody, how about you stop looking at them from a distance and invite them in?  Intimacy is all about closeness.  If you keep people at a distance you will never experience the true value of Christian friendship (also known as fellowship, community, koinonia).

It’s unacceptable to have a large group that doesn’t really even know each other.  And a small group program is not the fix.  Obeying Jesus and loving one another is.  It takes courage.  It takes faith.  It takes sacrificing the idol called “me” to love someone who’s not like me.

How will people know you love Jesus?

Love others.

And you can’t love what you don’t know.