Just a Social Club?

I still remember the passion and excitement that surrounded our church plant’s launch phase. We were a committed group of 20- and 30-somethings who were all 110 percent sold on the mission of our church, to reach unchurched and previously churched Asian Americans. It was a people group that had largely been left untargeted in our part of the country (Chicagoland), and we had huge aspirations to be the congregation that would help Asian Americans find God again.

My husband and I labored for a year with that congregation, alongside leaders we deeply respected and both old and new friends we grew to love. What kept us going during countless sleepless nights leading up to our launch, what drew the plant team closer than anything else, was our shared commitment to the mission. It was the spark, the inspiration, the glue, the engine that drove everything we did.

And then we had to leave it all behind. My husband and I moved to the East Coast while he did graduate work, and I pined for nearly the entirety of our time away for that church plant. Seven years later, when we had an opportunity to return to Chicagoland, I jumped at the chance. There was no question about where we would attend church.

But from the first moment I walked into our previous congregation, church plant no more, I could sense something was different. Not just the change of faces–most of the original church plant team, 30 people strong, were no longer present. It was something else, something much more troubling.

The church no longer had the same driving sense of mission that had defined its earliest days. Most of the people in the church either did not know the mission or felt ambivalent towards it at best. I felt deflated and saddened by the loss of energy and enthusiasm.

We are still with the same church, hoping we could help the congregation redefine its mission and embrace a more multiethnic approach. But so far, despite our efforts, the church remains in a stable but uninspired state.

When a church no longer has a sense of a mission that drives it, is it really anything more than a social gathering? Once a church loses its sense of purpose and passion, can it ever regain them? These are the questions that continue to haunt me.