Church Should Look Like Family

Day 23

So we talked church this past month. And you shared with me your stories, and I shared mine. And I loved every single email and comment even if we disagree on some things. But I am sharing where  I feel God is leading me in regards to church, and while you may totally disagree (I would have last year) I’m sharing my story.   I am still deeply in process and in no way have arrived but these thoughts have resonated with me so I hope you’ll read along either way. 

Is there a difference between community and church?

Fellowship and church? We all want church to be a community and to have good fellowship. One of the very reasons we so quickly fall out of going is that disconnectedness that comes from lack of those essential things. And I think that is the primary reason we search for something different.

We burned out on church.

We wanted something open, organic, a chance to meet in living rooms with coffee and crack open His word and dig in together. And so we did. We wanted to do life together.

But there was something essential missing.

Because when we gather with those who are known, who already connect and fit, we lack the diversity that the church should be known for.

We lack the open door policy because although we longed for growth, you can only fit so many people in a living room.

And what happens when someone invites a new convert who happens to be a former sex offender? You make policies to protect. And when that happens the former organic free-flowing organism turns institutional by necessity. It’s very nature meant not to control but to protect everyone, including the former offender.

What happens when someone comes to church with so much marital baggage or emotional turmoil that they need to be ministered to by wiser, stronger Christians? It’s great if there are wiser, stronger Christians but not so great when the entire community is made up of twenty-somethings with no life experience in those areas.

Diversity is crucial to a healthy church. Lateral growth in the diversity of people and horizontal growth in maturity. 

Learning from the grandmother who weathered loss and raised 5 children and is still married to her college sweetheart. Discipling the nineteen year old college girl who is living on her own for the first time and is finding her way in purity, and direction, and identity. Helping in Sunday School while cutting out construction paper fish and writing memory verses that you pray will be written on their precious 8-year-old hearts.

We are so segmented by age, race, status, financial means, and background that we often end up in a monocultural church with the widest range being one type of person. The type that looks, believes, and acts just like you.

Now I’m not against home churches at all. In fact, I still love the heart and idea behind it.

I just feel that sometimes when we gather and slap the name church on it, we might be missing something. Because community is vital for growth but community is not necessarily church.

Church should ideally look more like family than an affinity group.

“Love is the expression of the one who loves, not of the one who is loved. Those who think they can love only the people they prefer do not love at all. Love discovers truths about individuals that others cannot see”
― Søren Kierkegaard

There’s your Uncle Lester who always double dips the appetizers at family functions, and Aunt Gladys that still pinches your cheeks like you were five, and Grandma Louise that used to play basketball on her all girls college team way back in the day, and cousin Mary who has the best style and can rock ankle booties and skinny jeans like no one else, and your niece Emma who lost her two front teeth and lisps wide and silly when she talks to her doll.

Because these are the people you can’t get rid of and you choose to love and tolerate and learn from and teach.

These are your kin. Your people.

These are the relationships that reflect generations and bonds and vows and have history together. And yes, it’s community and fellowship, but it’s not necessarily the people you’d choose if you were to randomly pick those you’d want to do life with.

You do life with them because they are family. And what is church, if not a family?

Do you feel your church looks more like family than an affinity group or club? In what ways has your church family helped you to grow? Do you have someone you disciple or have you been discipled by someone in your church? 


  1. Carrie K says

    my church is my family… however im in the midst of deciding to leave… to take a chance on something i want instead of listening to what all of them are saying. i desperately hope that i am not making a colossal mistake. i dont know if i can survive without my church/family.

    • Alia Joy says

      Carrie, I find this really interesting. Why do you feel the desire to leave something you so obviously love? Are you moving somewhere or something? I’d love to hear more of your story and what has gone into this decision. You can email me also if you’d like.

  2. says

    Again, girl, you are speaking my language. I love your wisdom here.Thinking about this a lot as we discuss community at our church and try to make it work among a very diverse (racially/ethnically/socioeconomically/generationally) body. It’s hard stuff. I’ve learned — much like you — that I need those at a different stage/position/experience of life in mine. They aren’t always telling me what I want to hear, but I need that too. In a major way. For some reason, partly because I’m a “shepherd” at heart, I have always been a mentor and rarely a mentee. I currently mentor two young moms in their mid/late 20’s at our church (and another young women I’ve mentored since she was 11, she’s 25 now), and I love them dearly. I continue to seek out relationships with older women and am trying to get over “my stuff” that makes learning from them difficult. Partly pride, partly a history of leading older ones…anyway, I am learning that all have something to offer, and I don’t have to “subscribe” to all of it, in order to be open to growth and benefit from relationship with them. Love you, Alia. (Every time I see that button on the side of your blog, I get a little twitterpated. I’m going, too!)

    • Alia Joy says

      Ashley, Oh yes, I know that too. I am the same way and I have always struggled with finding someone with whom I admire enough to want to mentor me. Is that pride? Probably. I’ve found a lot of older women were just…older. Not necessarily wiser or godlier. I guess that makes it difficult too. I usually find my most amazing mentors to be writers, many of whom are long since dead. But I guess that’s easier because you don’t have to get along with an author or rub up against the pages that conflict with you in the same way as a person with whom you meet. All stuff I haven’t gotten sorted but know I need….

  3. says

    You speak with such wisdom Alia – as early as 3 years ago I would have told you that my church is nothing more than a place to hang my hat on a Sunday morning… after attending a church for 16 years our new church place was a great hiding place. God has moved these past few months as he has dared me to enter into deep relationship with my fellow congregants and blur the lines of distinction between our lives and to practice deep hospitality. I love my chruch – we’re quirky, somewhat dysfunctional and incredibly diverse. I love that I get to be real and so does everyone else and I am slowly building deep and lasting connections with people who are younger and older than me… Thanks for being so transparent Alia… I love this.

    • Alia Joy says

      I am so glad you have found a place in a local body even with all of it’s quirks and mess. I pray you continue to grow in those relationships and that God does a deep work in and through that church.

  4. Trish Livings says

    Wow, God led me to read this. I have been struggling for weeks. I have attended church for two years, and I have found God’s grace through the message the pastor delivered there. I have continued to go on Because “the message” lures me in. My soul yearns for it, and it fills the cracks until the next week. However, more cracks form, as I realize the message is medicine for my heart. The people there cause little splinters in the cracks. I feel like an outsider there. There is no one who has reached out to me. I sit alone. I feel, when I am there, when the message is not working on my heart, that I am an outcast, the girl with no friends. Sad. Why do the “church members” not see that they too should minister to cracks in someone’s heart through kindness or a smile. Why do I let it hurt? And why do I go back? I go because I don’t go for the “social acceptance”. I am strong, and I go because I know my soul needs the message. What about those who haven’t found that grace and mercy. I am pretty sure I am in the wrong place.

  5. Jody Collins says

    Alia, for someone your age–forgive me–30-ish, you are amazingly wise. I have been pondering these church questions myself the last year and felt a tug to be elsewhere than my comfortable church. There is much food for thought here–keep up!

  6. says

    Love your thoughts here Alia. I’m going to link it over on our book club page. I was just asked to lead a bible study by a group of women 20 to 30 years older than I am. It’s a bit surreal. I think I may learn more from them than they learn from me. And I’m mentoring a teen girl too. I feel like I’m mentored informally by other pastors wives who love me and let me know they care.

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