By Scott Nelson – Lead Pastor
Still Think Connection Doesn’t Matter?
Humans are relational beings. We all know this, but sometimes we act like we can go it alone. This leads to disastrous consequences, as the last 18 months have proven. Mental health has gone down while suicide rates have gone way up. In fact, Gallup just released a poll that mental health went down in every category except for those who attended religious services regularly. Unfortunately, almost 30% of regular church goers stopped attending church in the last year. This could have happened because they got out of the habit or because of disagreements, especially over policies, politics, or public health measures. Others stopped attending because they felt…disconnected. The feeling of disconnection leads to further isolation which leads to more problems.
Connection is important, and it requires a certain mentality and commitment to work well. Below I want to share some thoughts on what I think is needed to make connection happen for the long-haul in our lives.
Commitment and Cost
Connecting takes time, and every choice to connect with people includes the cost of not doing something else. We can’t connect with everyone, so we need to choose where we will be connected. The more consistent we are in our connections, the more we will get from them. Last year reinforced a lesson from the last twenty years of chat rooms and social media: online is a supplement but not a substitute for learning, worship, and connection. Genuine connections online are possible, but they requires more effort, not less, and many online don’t make that extra effort. The last two decades of research have shown that consistently choosing online over actual connections increases anxiety, isolation, and depression. We live in a digital world as personal beings, our relationships need to blend online and in person in healthy ways with realistic expectations. When we connect in person, it needs to be consistent, not sporadic, if the connections are to help our spiritual and mental health. True connections require commitment and cost, and the cost we pay to invest in relationships makes them stronger.
This may sound painfully obvious, but connecting with another person means they will not think, speak, and act exactly like yourself. If our connections are to last for years, we need to have a level of loving tolerance for differences in others. In our church family, we have Christ in common, and we practice a shared set of habits or rhythms together. We don’t compromise our faith or character, but there is a lot of room to compromise on issues that divide most people. This is helpful thinking at church, work, and home. Our church draws in people from all levels of faith and all walks of life. Our doors are open for people who are political or not. We may not like everything people say or post, but we remember that Christ is bigger than our disagreements. Everyone is welcome. This makes a church family relationally richer, and we learn to separate what is eternally important from what is temporarily divisive. I love every person who walks through our doors, and I appreciate the people who can put up with me!
Connections work best with a common mission. Friends enjoy life together and encourage each other. Families support one another. And co-workers move together towards a common goal. For a church, the common goal is the mission of Jesus (Matt 28:18-20); . The mission of a church is not a personal agenda, politics, or even public health. Those may be important in their way, but they are not the purpose of God’s people gathered together as a church. Some people misunderstood this and left biblical churches for other than biblical reasons. A common mission helps define the relationship, providing clarity on where unity is needed and where compromise is welcome. Our church has a wide variety of opinions on a huge range of topics, but we are united in our devotion to Jesus and our calling to live it out together. This common mission defines our connection, and we are better together as we live it out!
When the pandemic started, a lot of introverts told me they weren’t afraid of being alone–they were welcoming the break from people! I rarely hear that sentiment anymore. Even the introverts I know (and I am one, too) are now emphasizing the importance of regular, meaningful connections, especially in a faith community. The whole world is experiencing an ongoing, devastating mental health crisis. Connections, especially connections of faith, are a key part of regaining spiritual, emotional, and mental health. My hope is that this article will help you understand what connections need and will encourage you to stay connected…or reengage after time away. The doors are open and you are always welcome.