Church family? Or maybe we just call it family?

When you think of family…

What do we think of when we hear the phrase healthy family? Whether or not our natural families measure up to our ideal, I’m sure we can think of an ideal.

I love you no matter what.

I have your back.

No matter your decisions I love you and I am with you.

I imagine most of us are all looking [or have looked] for family, for home, for a place to belong. Some of us have found a family, while some have not. Some have come into family in common hobbies, passions, work environments, sports, outdoor recreation, or coffee shops. Family is important, yeah? I think so too. It’s hugely important.

What if we call “church” family?

The organizational church also opens it’s doors as a place of belonging, a place of family. And family does reside within its walls, no doubt. But I think the language of family can be tricky and if not communicated carefully, church communities can use all the right family language, yet fall so short of what it’s participants are expecting.

Can the Organizational of Church be family?

The reality is, church as organization cannot hold up its end of the bargain of being family. And this generation [along with those before it] is becoming dissolution. Healthy family is intimate and reaches across structure. It is spontaneous moments after dinner or mundane tasks topped with catching up about the day. Family is people who are committed to one another relationally, no matter if the outer scaffolding is there or not. Family will even exist within structure and organization. But, if the structured [read as church leadership structure or gathering structure] is all that holds people together, there will tend to be a lack of authentic connection over time.

Church as family — A short story

How many times have we heard [or lived] the story of a young adult who joins a church community and participates within the community for several years. They participate in all the rhythms of the community [church meetings on Sunday, small group meetings on Tuesdays, and perhaps even a monthly one-on-one meeting with a leader in the community because of their own leadership role]. After 3 years or so, this young man decides that the mission of the organization doesn’t track with the path he sees laid out before him. And he communicates this with his church community.

The young man is blessed, sent on his way, and [often times] he never relates to this particular church community as family again. Why? Because the community is based around a calendar of meetings, gatherings, and events. And when the young man no longer fits into the schedule or leadership organizational chart, the community [not having margin outside of the organizational calendar] has no relational energy left for him. He feels dissolution by the concept of family [because family is what he was promised]. And he goes on to find family elsewhere.

This is not the only story, but it is a story that resonates with many individuals and families I relate to around the topic of church as family.

Could this end differently?

Would this young man’s expectations have been different if he would have been presented with “church as organization”? Most definitely.

These are the meetings we have and these are the ways to relate to one another in our organization. Our members are fully committed to our organization and if you want to be part of it, just jump in!

If this young man decides to leave the organization, there is an obvious expectation that he is leaving these rhythms of connection w members of the organization. You don’t leave a job w a company and expect to be invited to the next marketing meeting. But you do with family. Family goes beyond structure and system. We have common love for one another that ties us together.

Hear me in this. Organization is not wrong or bad. It is necessary, from the small nuclear family to the 10,000 person mega church. But organization is not family. Family communicates longevity. It communicates commitment beyond phase of life. Family is a group of people relating to one another in overlapping areas of life — the mundane, the exciting — parties, baby showers, graduations, spontaneous movie nights, family dinners, camping trips, doing the dishes, and taking out the trash. Honestly, the physical locality of living under the same roof is a huge contributor to family. The dynamic of family grows as we grow. It changes as we change. It is as complex and vast as we have energy to give it.

Organization is not healthy family… but healthy family will thrive within organization.

When we start with gathering people to an organization we must work diligently to cast vision for family within an that organization. For a 1000 member organization, weekly or monthly gatherings will create “family reunion” type environments, but in my personal experience the human heart [my human heart] longs for more.

If you have the opportunity to start with family [and you are up to the challenge], protect that family. Always make decisions in favor of building healthier family, rather than larger groups or gatherings. What if, as the Church, we thought in these terms?

Moving toward family within a given structure

For those of you who resonate with some of these thoughts and are looking for a way forward, don’t leave this conversation bashing the particular organizational structure your community functions within [it’s not the structure’s fault you don’t feel connected to people… It’s just not]. You may have expected your organization to cultivate family in a way you’re not seeing it, but let’s just move forward in the conversation. Why not take the next step in asking, how do I take personal responsibility to build family where I am? What would it look like if I allowed God to lead me down the path of a spiritual mother or father for a group of people within the larger spiritual community I’m a part of?

Again, organization is not family. But healthy family can thrive within larger structure and organization.

Any Thoughts?

Any thoughts or perspective? I’m not an expert on this stuff, I’m simply an observer wrestling through a bunch of pieces. Always feel free to reach out and we can continue the covnersation.

Phil Rice

Oh yeah, and if you resonate with this article, consider joining the conversation more regularly!

I send out a super helpful [I think it’s helpful] short email with [5] highlights of content over the last month [or so], my 5-things email — meaningful content for the religiously disillusioned [or spiritually tired] seeking to practically and authentically follow Jesus in real life.


Phil writes like he speaks – with a God-centered, challenging, winsome humility. He gives permission to reflect on the edge about what it means to be the Church. — Lance H.


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