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Over-Saturated Church

This past Sunday, we began a new teaching series called, “It’s Your Move.” Over 4-weeks I’ll be presenting our church’s strategy for ministry in Temple, TX. It’s a simple church strategy. Thinking through the implications reminded me of this which I posted some time ago.


I never thought about grass getting too much water.

There’s a place on our church’s playground that’s dead grass. As far as I know, it’s always been dead. It’s a small rectangle, a different blend of grass from the rest of the playground. It’s at the corner of the playground where two sidewalks connect.

I’ve always been puzzled by the mud and dirt that settled there when the rest of the play yard has always been so lush. I think I may have figured out the mystery.  As I walked a first-time visitor through our campus back to his car on Sunday, he almost stepped into that muddy corner. Flippantly, I said, “We’ve never been able to get grass to grow there.”

In an instant, he said, “Sure. It gets too much water.”

He went on to explain to me that it was evident that water from our sprinklers pooled in that corner and it was over-saturated. Grass won’t ever grow there.

Wow! The things an outsider can notice about your church.

Since Sunday my heart has had some clarity about factors contributing to the numerical decline of my faith family of origin – Churches of Christ. I posted some initial thoughts last week. While I still think those reasons are true, the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve come to believe that we’re drying up because of too much water.

Here’s what I mean:

I grew up going to church at least three times a week – Sunday morning, Sunday night (the JV service), and Wednesday night. If the building was open, we were there. Some of you grew up the same way. It was a lot of watering (what some people refer to as “being fed.”)

This meant between school, work, and life in general, all our time was soaked up by the biscuit of church attendance. We studied the scriptures, heard sermons, memorized Bible verses, and had pot-lucks. Boy, did we have pot-lucks.

But all this church-going had at least two negative effects.

The first is that all a “good” Christian’s discretionary time gets burned up with church stuff. On its face, that sounds like a good thing. But if all our time goes to hanging out with other Christians, when will we invest in non-believers? This past year we asked our small groups to invite non-Christians to “Matthew Parties,” gatherings that create opportunity for believers to engage nonbelievers in casual social settings. One of our small group leaders relayed to me the truth he discovered in his group:  they didn’t know any non-Christians.

The second – and perhaps more insidious – effect is that too much water drowns out our straining for light. Grass grows from the combination of both water and light. In the church, we overplay the need for people to be at church or in church or around church. Let’s call that water. But we pay almost no attention to create space for the other elements that help us grow – spiritual disciplines, accountability, etc…. Let’s call that light.  Many churches I know water exclusively (worship, preaching and teaching) and provide no light.

I may be off here, but it might be that some of us aren’t growing because we’ve got too much of one thing.

What do you think? What’s your experience been? Have you or people you know gotten too much water and not enough light? Is this post just too esoteric?

  • Doug Page

    Sean. Great post. I read your blog more than I comment but here’s an attempt to interact some with what you’re saying.

    If I’m reading your post correctly, the group of people you are primarily speaking about are those who are regularly “in attendance”. This group (of which I am all too often a part) fails to have genuine relationships with nonbelievers because their time is full of church stuff.
    With this group – I agree 100% that we have probably oversaturated and may need to encourage people to add some “light” in their diets. (get to know their neighbors or their own children for that matter might be a couple of places to start)

    The group that seems to be missing in your assessment is that group of people that every church has – the Sunday morning only group. I wonder if we would say the same thing about this group being oversaturated? In my experience this group struggles more to see the truly life giving value of being a part of regular, consistent relationships with other believers. Or maybe they see the value but just haven’t made it the priority that trumps the other stuff in their schedules.

    While I agree with the impulse to resist emphasizing that people should be at every thing the church offers I often wonder what the balance is for providing enough opportunities for people to build relationships.

    I also know that I am a product of the same upbringing that you describe and that my experience with church is forever shaped by that upbringing. I guess that might make it a bit esoteric – but it still is a worthwhile conversation.

    • Doug,

      I’m not sure how I would describe the Sunday only people. I don’t mind if people are Sunday only people – in principle, that is. Some of those folks are the best Christians I know. They are Sunday only because they are doing real stuff with real people in the real world. Of course, some of Sunday only folks are simple uninvested. With them, there’s just not a whole lot you can do.

      Increasingly, I’m envisioning small groups as the primarily way to be involved in the church. This, I think, can cure a world of ills. But that’s another post.

      • Cynthia R Coyle

        Not certain about the small group scene. Why? because I’ve watched other churches where I’ve attended and watched the small groups turn into cliques and divide the ‘church’. Anyone else have similar experience?

        • Cynthia,

          Make sure you’re here this week for the sermon. I’m going to be talking about small groups. I hope you like what you hear.

  • I think over-saturation can lead to problems. However, I think there is a toddler peeing on the playground killing the grass. The analogy works either way. People who saturate their lives with church leaving no relational space for others will experience the same affects as those who saturate their lives with urine.

  • Yes, Brandon. I’m sure people saturated with urine have a more difficult time forming relationships. 🙂

  • I, like Brandon, have nothing to add except to say I have just started reading your blog. I love it. Great words.

    • Welcome to the community. Glad to have you along for the ride.

  • Every church has people who are unwilling, unready, or unequipped to invest more of themselves into the life of the church. The problem, as I understand what you are saying, is that the church misuses the people who are willing to fully invest in the life of the church. Over-watering is a good analogy. To build on it, we should also make sure that the water that is needed isn’t doing as much harm as good because of the additives in it. I have to be careful when we water our garden not to get the water on the leaves of our plants because the chlorine and the Texas heat burn the leaves. Not only do we need some light (some different emphases), we need to filter out some of what may be in the water (a point that dovetails with what you were saying in your previous CofC-in-decline post).

  • Amy Palmer

    I also enjoy your posts.
    Another perspective. I did not grow up in the church setting you described until I was in my mid 20’s and had a young family. At that time I needed the over watering. There was a lot for me to learn from those who gathered often. It gave me a sense of family that I didn’t have before, I guess I was a sort of sponge then. So, maybe, it depends on where we are in our growth. Perhaps sponges need some time to soak up some water, but agree, at some point we need to take our faith to the streets in creative ways if we want to avoid getting moldy.

  • Kirk

    Great post. I don’t have much to comment upon in this one, but I felt I needed to respond, so here goes nothing:

    The idea that spending tons of time in the church isn’t necessarily a good thing, is insidiously true. I agree completely. It can help at times. Especially during struggling time I think. Perhaps it’s just because of my perspective from being in the Yourh Group, But I think we can even take it a step further where we are at the church/with the church so much that we even forget the whole reason why we are there.
    Anyway that’s my two cents.

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