The second objection that churches make when invited to renew an emphasis on fellowship is this: We can't waste our precious time together on that.
Yes, that's the word - waste.
Churches have become very invested in the emphasis that they put on preaching Jesus, on being seeker sensitive, on having the right invitation to "make a decision for Christ." Most churches run on a very tight schedule in their programs - there were even times when I was told exactly how many minutes I had to offer a Communion devotional.
We have a lot of Jesus to cram into a very short amount of time, and anything that might take away from that time is, well, not welcome.
We have to sing three songs, read a Scripture, have a prayer, pass the plates, listen to the sermon, and leave enough time for at least a few responses to the invitation (but not so much time that it's awkward if no one comes forward this week). We have rehearsed music, prepared slides, prepped speakers, written out devotionals, poured cups...if we don't get to all of that, if we don't get through all of that, then something essential will be missing from our Sunday morning.
For all of our hustle and bustle, something essential is already missing from our Sunday morning.
That something is fellowship.
Oh, no, Aidan, I hear you saying - there's plenty of time for fellowship on Sunday. Anyone who wants to fellowship can show up a few minutes early or stay a few minutes late and hang out in the lobby fellowshipping with anyone they want to! Our members have as much time as they need to fellowship; we're not kicking them out right after the closing prayer.
No. Just no. See, this goes back to what we were talking about last week, where the fellowship aspect of the church is something extra, something that the members are expected to do themselves, something that they'd have to commit to outside of the core time that you spend together as a body.
What do you say to someone who shows up early to fellowship, but there's no one interested in talking? Not everyone who loiters in the lobby is interested in fellowship. Or maybe there's someone in the church this person would really connect with, but that person is a stay-later, not a come-early-er, so they keep missing each other.
Well, Aidan, it's up to them to figger their schedules and make the time if fellowship is important to them and if they want to meet up with certain sets of folks.
No. Again, no. That's not how the body is supposed to work. That's not how the body has ever worked. (In fact, in seasons in which this has been the primary model for the church, I am telling you - it hasn't worked. That's why our churches are getting emptier, not fuller. That's why more folks are walking away from us.)
Having an opportunity for fellowship outside of your core time together, even if it's just fifteen minutes outside of that core time, is still putting the onus of fellowship on your people to do it themselves. To try to make it happen on their own. To build that if they want to build that...with other folks who want to build that. But not everyone.
We keep saying we can't "waste" our precious, limited time on this fellowship, but I'm telling you - failing to make fellowship central to our precious, limited time together is already a failure. It's already a waste. It's killing us.
Because it means we're not doing the one thing that Jesus called us to do above all other things, which, if you'll remember, was not to go and make disciples, but actually, it was to love one another.