After the minister says amen and the service ends, I usually pick up my purse, shuffle up the aisle to shake an elder’s hand, and then work my way out of the crowded narthex until I can reach the spot where I normally stand and catch up with my friends. A few weeks ago, something different happened. On my way out of the narthex, one of the women in my church struck up a conversation with me. It started with the usual polite small talk in which I answer questions about what I’m doing at college and if I have summer plans, but somewhere along the way—I’m not quite sure when—it became a lot more meaningful. She counseled me on discerning God’s will for the future, gave me the encouraging words I hardly knew I needed, and offered that I could call her anytime I needed to talk.
This is what being active in the church looks like, and this is God’s calling for the church. It may sound simple, but one of the most important parts of being active in the church is in the everyday: in our thoughtful, godly fellowship with our fellow church members after the church service and beyond.
It’s clear from scripture that God calls us to be active members in the church. In Matthew 25:14-30, we read Jesus’ parable of the talents. In this parable, a master gives a certain number of talents to each of his servants. The ones who use those talents to earn more for their master are rewarded, but the one who simply hoards his talent is rebuked for being slothful. We, too, have been given many gifts from the Lord, and every one of us is called to invest however much we have into the church so that it may grow and Christ may say to us “well done thou good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21). We read again of these different gifts in I Corinthians 12, which emphasizes how each member of the body has an important role to play—this implies therefore that we are called to fill that role in the church.
We also see this clear calling to be active in the example of the early New Testament church. The book of Acts gives the beautiful account of the spread of the gospel after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. After Peter’s sermon on Pentecost, we read that three thousand people were baptized and, “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). These new converts didn’t just go home after the sermon to tend their field and think about what they learned on their own; they continued steadfastly in fellowship. They ate meals together and prayed together. We go on to read of that same group selling and sharing their possessions in community (Acts 4:32–37), and they also used their abilities to serve the church. Some men were chosen as deacons (Acts 6:1–7). Others hosted gatherings of believers in their homes (Acts 12:12). Paul also often mentions specific saints for their service in the church at the end of his letters. For example, in Romans he says, “I commend unto you Phebe our sister…that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also” (Romans 16:1–2). Paul calls the church in Rome to be active in assisting members of the church and also points out that Phebe herself was active in helping to care for many Christians. Scripture makes clear that the flourishing, godly congregation is an active one, and that each member is uniquely equipped to contribute to that activity.
But what does this activity look like today in practical terms? When people talk about being active in the church, it’s easy to first think of roles and responsibilities: serving as an office bearer, leading a church committee or bible study, volunteering to make a meal, attending nursery, and so on. These are all excellent ways that we can, and must, be active in the church. However, we might think (maybe subconsciously) that the most active people are the ones who become ministers or teachers or maybe donate the most time and money to church causes. But you don’t have to be a hero with extraordinary gifts or abilities to be an active member of the church, and being an active member certainly can’t be tallied and ranked. For young people especially, it can be easy to excuse ourselves as being not ready for service. If being active is limited to filling these roles, than it must be something we do in the future. But in truth, being active starts by simply being a present and prepared member of the church.
Being present means that we engage in meaningful fellowship after the service. In the book of Hebrews, we read an exhortation to fellowship: “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24–25). God commands us to gather together not just worship but also to encourage, admonish, and lift each other up that we may be stronger in our faith. This means we don’t rush out to our cars at the end of the sermon. This means that we don’t just talk to our friends about the huge homework assignment we have to finish or the latest basketball results. And this means we talk to more people than just our close friends at church. Something tells me that when the early church members in Jerusalem “continued steadfastly in fellowship,” they weren’t just talking about the weather. We are a body of believers, and we have a shared faith with every member of the church that can form the start of a conversation if we can just get the courage to actively pursue it.
Pursuing God-centered conversations with other members may be simple, but it does require preparation through prayer and devotions. How can we direct a conversation towards spiritual things if it’s not an important part of our own personal lives? If we spend the week in God’s word, then church services become the perfect place to share what we learned with our friends or maybe even discuss a question you came across. Further, if we know God’s word, then we are equipped for counsel when someone presents a struggle, and if we are active in prayer, then we can tell someone that we will pray for them about it…and actually do it. One of the most important ways we can be active in the church is through relationships with others, but that starts outside of the church service with a personal relationship with God.
Of course, like any service in the church, God has equipped some to be more able in this area than others, even with practice and preparation. Some of us are shy. Some of us may not be great at making conversation. But this brings us back to my earlier point: activity in the church isn’t rated or ranked. You do not have to be the extrovert that knows everyone and has a list of prayer concerns for every member of the church. But what if you challenged yourself to talk to just one new person? It doesn’t have to be a complete stranger; maybe it’s one of the men your father always talks to or someone a couple years younger than you that joined your young people’s group this year. Ask them how their week went and get past the initial “good how about you.” Next week, follow up with them on something they mentioned the previous week, and the next, talk to them about something that struck you from the sermon that morning. In a large congregation, one or two small interactions can have a big impact in tying all of us closer together.
There’s also a lot to be said for simply making yourself available. The Bible speaks of the importance of mentorship between the older men and women and the younger—another excellent way for us to be active members in fellowship (Titus 2). It can be difficult to know how to put this into practice, but I think that it starts with the meaningful conversations I’ve been emphasizing. Perhaps you feel intimidated by approaching a group of men or women that you don’t know. I imagine that many of them feel the same way about the groups of young people. What if we simply stood in a different part of church for a change without a friend or a phone and genuinely engaged in a conversation if someone approaches us? Once again, this can do wonders for encouraging the active mentorship the Bible commands.
I know from experience that all of this is easier said than done. In fact writing this makes me painfully aware of how little I practice this. I am guilty of standing with the same group of people at church every week and rarely talking about more than our daily lives. But I know that it can be done. I have been struck by a few people in my life, from friends to an office secretary at my college, who talk freely about their faith with others and offer to pray about difficult circumstances. It is this sort of conversation that freely flows from the mundane to the spiritual—depth that truly matters that we need to cultivate as active members of our church.
If we do this well, think of how this could impact our fellowship and growth as a church. The interactions founded on our shared faith will strengthen that foundation, and it seems inevitable that it will spill over into further activity as well. We would be better at praying with and for one another. We would be more active in applying the sermons to our lives. And if we embrace being active in everyday interactions, think of how welcoming our churches could be to visitors. Think of how this can flow into witnessing! In the book of Acts, just after reading of the fellowship of the early church, we read, “…the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47 ). This pattern continues throughout the New Testament as Paul writes of active congregations being a witness to the rest of the world. When the church is active, people notice, and the church grows.
After that conversation with the woman from my church, I felt more encouraged and content than I had in a long time. When I think about that and all the benefits that can come through active fellowship, I feel the joy that the apostles must have felt as the church in Jerusalem began to bloom. And so I’m trying to make small steps. I joined the women’s fellowship group at my church. I lingered in the narthex to talk to my aunt and ended up talking with a few other ladies. I’m walking along a different path after church and trying to say hello to people by name. Maybe next week I’ll approach someone I’ve never talked to before. And if you try to do this too, maybe we’ll find each other and realize how easy it can be to be active in spiritually focused fellowship.
Certainly we must all look for ways to be active using our specific talents to fill positions and roles in the church, but let us not neglect being active in this simple way as well. By being active in fellowship, we can grow stronger in our faith together in the communion of the saints, the way God designed the church to be.