If you commute more than twenty-five minutes to church each Sunday, you are living in a commuter church culture.
Now, commuting is commonplace. Many Americans travel more than thirty minutes one way (some over an hour!) to get to their place of employment. The travel time of two hours or more each day has become fairly normal.
There was a time when people went to a church in their own communities, attended a school within walking distance of home, and worked on a local bus route, but that time is dead and gone with the automobile. On an average ten-minute drive, I can pass by fifty to one hundred churches, depending on which route I take from my house.
And yet, for a season we attended church over an hour away from our home. Good churches are few and far between. Even if you attend a church locally, your time is limited.
Most Americans have a 40-plus-hour workweek combined with grocery shopping, chores, household responsibilities, raising children, soccer/swim/football practice, etc. Most families don’t have much spare time Monday through Friday to spend with others.
In some ways, being a member of a commuter church can be a relief—since expectations tend to be more sensible. You may be expected to attend church weekly and participate in a few get-togethers throughout the year, but not much more can be asked of you—nor should it.
If you find yourself attending a commuter church as I have in the past, what are some ways that we can work toward cultivating community?
I’d like to suggest several realistic things that any commuter church can implement for a greater sense of community and connectivity.
1. Have monthly, regional get-togethers hosted by the leaders of the church.
One easy way to get in some quality fellowship with one another is to set aside one day out of the month (preferably on the weekend) for the pastors and elders (and deacons or other leaders) to host a meal. To eliminate commuting times, your elders can divide the congregation up by geographical region and have all members within a fifteen to twenty-mile radius attend the event.
This will encourage church members who didn’t even realize that they lived so close to one another to begin building relationships. It’s also a great way to easily develop community in the church.
2. Host an annual banquet or church picnic for the whole congregation to come together.
An annual church-wide meal can be fairly inexpensive if it’s done only once a year, and it’s a way for the whole body to come together for a time of fellowship and celebration. Christmas is a great occasion to come together, and it’s relatively easy for members to set aside one evening during the holidays to spend time with their church family.
Summertime is also the perfect time to hold a church picnic at a local beach or park. Plan to have some games for kids to play (and adults), and enjoy the sun!
3. Organize weekly fellowship groups devoted to prayer and Bible study.
If your church is blessed with enough teachers, try to organize several weekly Bible studies to meet in members’ homes for a time of brief prayer and study of Scripture. The studies don’t have to be very long, and can even be based on the most recent sermon.
The point of this gathering is to create space for people to come together and be open with each other. If the group wants to bring food each week, they certainly can. For a more laid-back approach, tea and desserts also create a welcoming and open environment for members to feel comfortable with one another. Try to develop fellowship groups consisting of around ten to fifteen people throughout the geographical area where your members reside.