Connection and community are the necessary elements of a healthy congregation.
Church has changed. Depending on your understanding of “church,” how you perceive that statement will vary. There are some who view church as the worship activity that happens on Sunday mornings. Others understand church to be the operations of the Christian institution to which they belong. But whenever the Bible speaks of the Church, it is referencing the people that God has called out of the spiritual darkness of this world to be in relationship with Him and each other through His Son, Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 2:9–10).
Thus, the Church is the community of men, women, and children who love God and each other because of their union with and in Christ. Jesus, then, becomes the connection that creates the social life of the believing community who live in relationship with one another.
The Social Life of the Church
Within each local congregation is a social structure that governs the communal life of its members. According to sociologist Stephen K. Sanderson, a social structure “consists of the organized patterns of social life carried out among the members of a society.” As institutions of the Church, local congregations develop a social life amongst their members that provides spiritual and social formation.
When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the globe, it also disrupted the social life of our local congregations. Church planter and strategist Carey Nieuwhof, says, “What became increasingly scarce were community and connection.” Whether by compulsion or complacency, congregants stopped gathering in-person for worship, Bible study, and prayer. A few people disconnected from their local congregations altogether, some only connected digitally, and others split their time between in-person and online.
In a post-COVID world, the church is now faced with addressing the challenge of maintaining community and connection. For if “church” is not the activity but the people, then community and connection can be established in-house, online, and offline, as long as the people of God develop organized patterns of social life.
In John 15:5, Jesus uses the imagery of a vine and its branches to illustrate the importance of connection and community, declaring, “I am the vine; you are the branches” (NET). As the branches on His vine, our connection to Christ provides us with the life-giving nutrients we need to bear spiritual fruit. And by virtue of being connected to the Vine, we are also connected to each other—and, therefore, live in community to bear the burdens of one another (Gal. 6:2). This means we all have a part to play.
Every Part Must Do Its Part
The Apostle Paul builds on this theme of our connection and community in Christ when he explains, “From [Christ] the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love” (Eph. 4:16 NET).
The members of Christ’s spiritual body, the Church, grow as we are fitted and held together in and by Him. And the local congregation grows as each member supplies one another through our servanthood based on what the others need (Rom. 12:4–6). This is what community and connection are all about—i.e., stimulating spiritual growth through our organized patterns of social life. Thus, church is not about what we do on Sunday mornings as much as it is what we do Monday through Saturday to support each other on a daily basis (Acts 2:42–47).
What’s interesting about Paul’s use of the word “does” is that it speaks to the actions one takes for his or her own benefit. In other words, as we continuously connect in community by using the spiritual gifts Christ has graced us with, the benefit we receive in return is a congregation that “grows in love.”
Church Has Changed, but the Church Hasn’t
So, yes, church has changed; but the Church remains the same. Our response to the changing dynamics is to: (1) remember that we belong to spiritual community led by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and (2) remain connected to each other—in-house, online, and offline—so that we can continue to use our spiritual gifts to help our congregations grow in love. If we do, the organized patterns of our social life may change, but our community will remain steadfast.
Rev. Isaac Hayes is an Assistant Pastor at the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago, Illinois, and author of Men After God’s Heart: 10 Principles of Brotherly Love. He is also a doctoral student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Follow Rev. Hayes on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @RevIsaacHayes.
 Stephen K. Sanderson, Macrosociology: An Introduction to Human Societies (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., 1988), 42.  Carey Nieuwhof, “It’s 2032. Here’s What’s Left of the Church,” Carey Nieuwhof (blog), accessed June 13, 2023, https://careynieuwhof.com/its-2032-heres-whats-left-of-the-church/.  “One in Three Practicing Christians Has Stopped Attending Church During COVID-19,” State of the Church, Barna Group, July 8, 2020, https://www.barna.com/research/new-sunday-morning-part-2/.