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Do Relationships Matter to Your Church?


Because they matter to Millennials

by John Guerra

Hello, my name is John Mark Guerra. I’m 29 years old, recently married, educated, and tech savvy. I’m what many would consider one of those “millennials.” I grew up in the church. I went to Sunday school, VBS, mission trips, and Christian college. Eventually, I realized that what I knew the church to be was nothing I wanted after all. Perhaps I sound familiar to you. Maybe I remind you of many of the people the church wants to reach.

First I’ll tell you the problem: I believe many churches do not understand that the way people like me see church is entirely different from how many “do church. The fact of the matter is that God and the church have become irrelevant to the lives of millennials. This has nothing to do with either the understanding of the Gospel, or a lack of outreach to people my age. Instead it has to do with how the church defines relationships within itself.

If I were to describe how most churches I have experienced lived out their faith it would look like this:

Each circle represents a person. The arrows represent how an individual connects to Jesus (represented by the Cross). This experience of church would best be described as having a “personal relationship with Jesus.”

While many would say this is right, I would say that it is this very idea of relating to Jesus and to the church that is driving away people like me.

If everything is up to an individual, and if it just comes down to how I pursue my personal relationship with Jesus, then why should I join you in church? Why should I give up my Sunday to sit with a bunch of disconnected, anonymous people, and be told how I should live? Why am I to give up an hour of my day if it has no impact on how I live, or who I live with? Personally, I think if it just comes down to doing the actions of “church” I can do that on my own. I could drink some wine and eat some bread in my kitchen and call that “Communion.”

You and I both know that’s not all there is to the church. But, here’s my question, what else is the church to be about?

Relationships – it all comes back to relationships. In Thom and Joani Schultz’s book, Why Nobody Wants to Be Around Christians Anymore they say, “Faith is not a subject. Faith is a relationship.” And I would add to that by saying, “Faith is relationships.” This faith is revealed in both a relationship with God and relationships with God’s people.

As I poured over the Bible, it became clear to me: we are to be intimately connected to each other in the very same way we are to be intimately connected to Jesus [John 17; 1 Peter 4:8; 1 John 3:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; Romans 12:10; Ephesians 4]. But as I experienced the church, these two relationships (one with Jesus, and one His People) were not put together as one and the same.

So, if the focus of the church is to establish my personal relationship with Jesus, I can do that personally and privately. But, if the focus of the church is to build me up in Love, “that I may understand with all the saints (read: church) what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Jesus that goes beyond knowledge, and filled with all the fullness of God,” then I must be in relationship with the church. There’s no way I can do that on my own.

Instead of treating the church as a group of individuals each pursuing Jesus in their own way, I believe what would draw people like me to value the church is if there was a commitment to the kind of love I read in the Scripture being made alive in the church.

Christianity must not be a singular experience; it’s corporate and common, created to be shared within the church – it’s rooted in the family of God coming together for the sake of love.

As you can see in this image, instead of people having their own focus, their own life, they’re tied together because of their relationships with Jesus. It’s shared life, it’s true church, and it’s worth my investment.

So, I invite you to consider this: What would it look like if your church began to call people to know one another in the same way you call people to know Jesus? Can your church exist as a group of anonymous participants showing up at the same time and still be called a church?
Here are some practical actions worth considering:

  1. Have multiple families come together to regularly share a meal. Not a potluck at church – in homes.
  2. Have more established members focus their attention on connecting with younger families and singles.
  3. Consider having families live close to one another – take over a neighborhood. Maybe start by having regular barbeques at a park near a particular neighborhood.
  4. Instead of speaking of relationships in merely practical ways, speak about the mysterious nature of relationships as shown in Scripture, particularly John 15-17.
  5. Make forgiveness and reconciliation a big deal, where relationships are worthy of work and not another cost of church life.

If you only do one thing, consider #5–there are so many people who feel rejected by the church. The #1 reason people don’t go to church is because they feel judged. If we have a radical attitude about reconciliation, we won’t abandon or reject people. Why Nobody Wants to Be Around Christians Anymore, digs deep into this principle of Radical Hospitality. It also covers more areas that the church can focus on to heal their church.

4 thoughts on “Do Relationships Matter to Your Church?

  1. I want to go to church and find a community. I want that community to join me along my journey, empower me, accept me for who I am, be real with me and love me. And I want to experience genuine relationships that tell you what is really going on, and who you can be straight with.

  2. Way to go!
    I am not a millenial, not sure how that happens so fast…but let’s say I am young at heart. I think that was one of the best discriptions I have read or heard. I too spent my life in Christian schools, served in churches, & gave our lives to ministry. We are still serving in ministry & I am crazy in love with the Lord. But, we are not on church staff or even regular attendees anymore. Boy do we get judged for that, I mean surely we must have walked away from the Lord right?
    You put into words both what is missing & what propelled us into ministry. See we had this very thing once, right down to many of us living by church & close together. We did life together…genuinely, without even being asked or begged to fill a spot. Life was so rich & wonderful then…& we had the least we have ever had.
    You are right, we have all moved away since then & NEVER got that back. I always thought it was that maybe it was we never found a church like that again. Nope we never found relationships like that again. We never found ministry like that again & we are just as much to blame because we have let the busy pace of life & our kids lives often keep us from that. You can even ask our kids when they were happiest in life & it was when they had that village of people coming alongside them doing life.
    Relationships take time & personal investment to grow deep roots. You don’t just walk up to someone & say ” HI, I AM JOHN, LET’S BE BEST FRIENDS.” It happens when you spend that time with someone & you understand them. When Christ is in the middle of that, relationships grow even deeper. One thing I might add is that these thriving healthy churches & people are all there to give & engage, not just going to take, recieve, or get something out of it & I am not talking about financially.
    Thank you for a great look into the importance of relationships, they are not time fillers but life fillers.
    So I might be bumped out of the millenial age group these days, but I couldn’t agree more with what you shared or how you described a relationship centered church.

    • Great response to a good article! I too share in your sentiment and I am an 80+ year old man, married 55 years and we have attended church most of those years, literally all over the world (military). For reasons I won’t go into here, I just want you to know we understand fully and do not have a solution. Currently we are (or at least I am) semi attending but not engaged. I have searched for the reasons why, and have yet to define the “problem”, there or here? One would think that after attending the same church for 2 years most if not all of these issues would have resolved themselves but alas, not so. My fault? Yes, partly, but not totally. Guess I need to search out a “relationship centered” church, but pretty hard to find nowadays. I won’t go into all that, but things have definitely changed in my 4 decades of life where the church is concerned. And just to wrap this up, I am a Social Science major from a Baptist University so you would think I would have the answer, but I don’t. Still searching and learning. Maybe one day we will find it again.

  3. “If we have a radical attitude about reconciliation, we won’t abandon or reject people.”

    The reality too often is that a person’s performance and conformity is what is valued, not relationship. That is why you hear story after story of people being bullied and shunned when they are not behaving acceptably. Unless, and until, relationship is more important to us than anything else (doctrine, reputation, compliance…) ‘the church’ will continue to be a dangerous place.

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