June 10, 2014
By Phil Maynard
My first career was in Radiologic Sciences (X-ray technology). One of the basic principles in calculating x-ray intensities (or lighting in photography) is called the inverse square law:
When you double the distance, the intensity of the x-ray beam becomes one-fourth of the original intensity.
I have found this law to apply to also to the intensity of relationships the congregation has beyond the walls of the church in much the same way. Think about the vertical axis of this graph as the number of people we know and interact with outside of the congregational activities. Use the horizontal axis to reflect the number of years someone is part of the congregation.
It is my experience that the graph looks identical to the Inverse Square Law imaged above.
Within a very short time of participating in church activities, the number of people our congregational participants know and relate to in any meaningful way drops precipitously. And within a relatively short period of time these relationships simply disappear.
We (pastors and church leaders) create this dilemma. We want people to build relationships outside of the church. We want people to be the presence of Christ in people’s lives so that they may come to know God’s love for themselves. We want people in our congregations to invite others to come to church and discover what God is doing in our midst.
We measure success by the participation levels in all of our activities. We encourage people to come to our fellowship dinners, our community service events, our prayer meetings, our age-appropriate ministry gatherings, our gender-specific program groups, etc.
We keep people so busy that they don’t have time to be in relationship with those outside the church and we celebrate when people get more and more active in the church.
And then we wonder why it is so hard for people to invite their friends to worship or other special events when the answer is readily apparent. They don’t have any friends that don’t already go to church. And we are responsible.
Although this does seem to be a dilemma, if we think in terms of the Means of Grace it becomes much more clear. Our role as clergy should not be to get people involved in the many programs of the church, but instead be helping people to strengthen their relationship with God though these Means. When people begin to understand what the Means of Grace are they become more free to interact with the world about them, not cocooning themselves inside the church.