Why Big Conferences and Mega Churches Are Not Enough

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world;
indeed its’ the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

If there is one thing we are figuring out in the past ten years, it’s that systems and bullet point aren’t enough. We’ve been doctrined to death. We have access to more Bible studies, commentaries and guides than Justin Bieber has Twitter followers.

But we’re still hungry and unfulfilled.

So we go to conferences. We travel meeting to meeting, getting there early to snatch a good seat. We stand outside the door smiling at the other ladies in line all the while implementing: “Operation Get Down Front” that was hatched in the minivan on the way to the coliseum. We spread out, putting two women at each door because Jesus always sends us out in twos. We make sweet small talk with the ladies around us asking where they traveled from and how many kids they have, all the while pretending that we’re not in a cutthroat race against these capri wearing, Bible toting, scripture quoting, sleep deprived women. The doors open and it is game time. We keep our plastic smiles painted on as we swiftly walk, careful not to actually break into a jog, to the seats we want, swerving around the pokey women who obviously have no idea how this works. Finally, we settle on a spot, one woman on one side and another on the other and we throw coats purses and Bible onto all the seats in the middle.
Whew, we made it, time to fall in love with Jesus!

Is that still working for you? Me neither.
Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy some conferences, and I will probably still attend a few, but I want more, I believe you do too. Crowds of Christians are stepping away from traditional churches/venues to find something more. Sadly I don’t think that stepping away really solves the heart of what we’re missing. I think we just need to get across the table and start connecting instead of lining up in rows next to each other listening to a speaker only to feel shame six months later when the life changing conference didn’t really change us. I’m not blaming the conference, I blame us. We want the easy fix. We want ten steps to freedom.

If we forget everything we know about church and church life, pretend we have never experienced any of it, then pick up a Bible and start reading the Gospels and book of Acts, and were asked to describe what the Christianity should look like, would you describe your life right now?

I think most of us would have to admit that we’re missing something.

Connections are what make life worth living. God is all about connections. Sometimes we get messed up in our thinking and we look at the Bible and see a set of rules, but it is a book about connection.

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Matt 22:37-39

Connecting with God and connecting with others.

Connection requires taking the risk to care about someone outside your own skin.
It’s the willingness to lower the gate on our heart and experience new possibilities. New places for us to unfold and come alive with a realization that we’re not the only one weary of these roads we travel. There are women just like you, overwhelmed with marriage, motherhood or maybe just getting themselves out of bed in the morning.

John Cacioppo considered by many as one of the fathers of social neuroscience says:

“Our survival depends on collective abilities not our individual might. Our very health and well being depend on our ability to form and maintain satisfying social connections with one another.”

Studies show that those who are connected with family and friends are happier and healthier people. The emotional brain feels safer when we belong and have a connection with others; our brain has a basic need for security and protection. We are social beings. We feel better when we have friends and do things that we enjoy together. The way people respond to us is often a cue for telling ourselves “How lovable and acceptable I am.”

God created us for connection; our bodies and brains are hardwired for it. The brain is a social brain. We have neurons constantly firing; processing new experiences, creating pathways in our brain that information and emotion can travel.

Rascal Flatts were (was?) right , life IS a highway!

But if the neurons are not being used, if they’re not firing, they die off, by the millions. When they die off, connections in our brain are seemingly left at the edge of a cliff without a bridge. Eventually these neurons prune, shrivel and die just like we do if we are isolated and disconnected. Our experiences and relationship are powerful interventions that keep us alive and thriving.

When we feel safe in relationship, we engage, we interact and we bond or attach. This process releases oxytocin in us and that calms the fear center in our brain. It causes us to relax and rest in the comfort of relationships.

When we are wounded in relationships, we can quickly become apathetic towards the idea of connecting with people. When we become apathetic, our brains essentially go “offline,” it’s similar to the act of playing dead so the lion won’t eat us feeling.
It’s paralyzing to our relationships and ultimately our lives.

Social isolation, has been linked to an increased risk of infectious, cardiovascular, and many diseases.

When we can’t or won’t socially engage through friendships involving eye contact, meaningful conversation or emotionally connecting, our brain goes off line and the fear part of our brain takes over. It leads to stress and anxiety and produces an increased amount of cortisol in our body.

Cortisol is secreted by the adrenal glands and has been termed “the stress hormone” because it’s secreted in higher levels during the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response to stress, and is responsible for several stress-related changes in the body. Small amounts of cortisol are good for us. It’ gives us a quick burst of energy for survival, it helps us run from lions and lift cars off our children, it heightens memory functions and lowers sensitivity to pain. Cortisol is an important and helpful part of the body’s response to stress, it’s important for the body’s relaxation response to be activated so the body’s functions can return to normal following a stressful event.

Did you know that higher and more prolonged levels of cortisol in the bloodstream (like those associated with chronic stress and isolation) have been shown to have negative effects, such as: impaired cognitive performance, suppressed thyroid function, blood sugar imbalances, decreased bone density and muscle tissue, higher blood pressure and lowered immunity and inflammatory responses in the body, slowed wound healing, and other health consequences.  Over time, this seriously accelerates an age-related decline in health and well-being.

Most important, it also leads to increased abdominal fat.

Hello?! Healthy connections, are the key to losing our muffin tops!

God created us to live healthy and part of that is through meaningful connections. To keep cortisol low and oxytocin high we need to be connected to others. Family is one of the most important earthly connections we need but it’s not the only one. We also need friends. We need to connect with other women, especially those on similar journeys.

This, THIS is why I am so passionate about women connecting, encouraging and inspiring one another.

We’ve had a lot of interest in women starting Praise and Coffee groups in their community. It seems that once they realize that they just need to invite a couple friends out to a coffee shop or over to their kitchen table, they relax and jump in.
No centerpieces, door prizes or tackling women for a good seat, just real women, sharing life and stories around a table.

We believe wholeheartedly what the Bible says in Matt 18:20, that when 2 or 3 gather in His name, He comes.
No, you don’t need to call it Praise and Coffee, who cares what you call it, just do it!

But if you are interested in learning more about Praise and Coffee groups, we are holding a live chat in our online group for Praise and Coffee leaders. There is no cost, or sign up.
Click here to join us Tuesday, November 12, 2013 at 9:00 PM EST for one hour or so. Ronel Sidney and I will be giving you ideas and answering questions. By joining us that night you are not committing to anything, we DO NOT want you to feel pressured to do one more thing unless God is leading you that way.

You are loved.

More: Loneliness is Not About Being Alone

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Comments

  1. Wow!!! This said what I’ve been thinking & longing for, for years!!! Thank you!!!

  2. Deb Holway says:

    What a wonderful article!! Love this as if it were from my own heart. I go to several conferences and in fact am planning on going to one coming in February. Soooo TRUE that relationships/connections with other Women is the best!!

    Thanks for the blessing……

  3. Perfectly said, Sue! This is God’s design for us, not an invention of Hallmark or Facebook.

  4. Natalie Linfante says:

    What a great read! It is so true in today’s world we tend to stay busy, go to conferences, and not take the time to love one another. We need each other as women to experience these strong connections in Christ to encourage and uplift. Many people today focus on self, and I believe that is why big conferences are so popular. When is the last time you invited someone over or out to grab some coffee? What about the woman who has no family or friends? Or the single mom who is searching something and cannot find? How did we as Christians get so off track? It’s our job to connect and to share the love of Christ! Amen sister!

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