"Pastor, I'm just not happy anymore."
Man, I wish I could tell you how many times I've had that said to me during my 11 years of full time ministry. Unfortunately, church members get disenchanted with their church and many times this leads them to a place of frustration, apathy, and, ultimately, leaving their church. To be honest, this is one of the hardest things for a pastor (and ministerial staff) to deal with. They work hard on preparing messages, lead the church in vision, minister to church members and, yet, one of the main things they can't control is typically the one thing that drives people to leave and find a new church.
So, what happens when you feel disconnected? What do you do, as a church member, when your involvement and relationships at church don't turn out to be what you'd hoped for?
Let me offer a few words of counsel that I share with folks who come to me with this problem. Actually, it's three questions I ask that - I believe - help identify the problem and work toward a solution.
1) Where, in the church, are you currently serving?
This is a very telling question. I can tell you, from experience, that the vast majority of those who feel like they aren't building relationships with their church family aren't serving in any ministry aspect of the church. I can also tell you, from experience, that I can look back throughout my life and church involvement and see lifelong relationships I have been able to build - all simply starting by serving alongside someone.
I'll also be pretty frank, here, in saying that most people who aren't serving have bought into the consumeristic mindset that has poisoned the 21st century Western Church - "You're here to serve me...not the other way around." What I've observed is that, for the most part, those who selflessly serve are the happiest. Whether it's in children's ministry, missions, outreach, being a greeter, joining the prayer ministry, get plugged in by serving!
2) How involved are you in a small group?
The whole point of small groups - at least at Taylor Road - is to build community as we grow together in Christlikeness. In fact, we've taken an extra step at our church to help cultivate a culture of relationship building by developing Home Groups. I believe that life is lived better in relationships. No matter where you go to church I can almost guarantee that there's some sort of small group ministry - whether it's Sunday School or a Home Group type ministry. At Taylor Road, we've got Sunday School, Home Groups, Men's Discipleship Groups, Women's Discipleship Groups, a Senior Adult Bible Study Group, as well as other relationship-oriented opportunities.
Look...I get it. We live in an extremely busy world and have chaotically busy lives. There are some things you can say "no" to, though. The problem is, however, that what we so often say "no" to is commitment to a small group. And, thus, we are continuing to disconnect ourselves from relationships. This all boils down to priorities.
Are you struggling to build relationships? Commit yourself to a Sunday School class, a Home Group, a bible study that your church may host, anything that your church has developed to build and foster relationships.
3) When was the last time you invited - into your home for dinner - someone at church that you've not already built a solid relationship with?
This is where the rubber meets the road. One of my wife's "famous" sayings is, "If you want to have a friend, you've got to be a friend." In other words, too many times, we want people to cater to us. We want them to take the first step. Maybe God is calling you out of your comfort zone and putting the ball in your court.
Obviously, this isn't an all inclusive list but, at the same time, it is a pretty revealing list. If you're disenfranchised with your church and are tempted to throw in the towel, ask yourself, "What can I do to make things better?" The easy way out is to jump ship and shop for another church. The grass isn't always greener on the other side. If you are certain that God is leading you somewhere, follow HIM. If the problem is that you're not a healthy church member yourself, partner with Him to do the work of changing your heart and attitude.