Great to have your thoughts Curt! I just read a Facebook post this morning that aligns with your thinking.
I think organizations have a hard time accepting the fact that authentic relationships and true community cannot be artificially constructed through church programs, small groups, Sunday productions, educational curriculum, etc.
Natural relationships tend to form around familial and geographical bonds. Task-oriented relationships form around shared goals. Interest-based relationships form around shared hobbies and experiences. Fan-based relationships grow around celebrity personalities. Ideologically-oriented relationships form around shared ideas and beliefs. There are other foci and different churches reflect a different selection of foci to grow community.
But I think Christians have a far deeper basis for relationships and community that is often overlooked and worth pondering at length: the mystical communion of saints in Christ Jesus through the Holy Spirit. 1 John 1 comes to mind:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.
Regardless of modern church membership/attendance or programmatic adherence, each person who has faith in Christ is continually immersed in the authentic fellowship of the Father and the Son and every other believer across time and space through the Holy Spirit.
So instead of presenting itself as the source of life-changing programs or even loving relationships and true community to meet people’s needs–which has resulted in deep hurt and disappointment from failed promises–institutional churches can view their primary vocation as witnessing.
The local church isn’t so much promising to meet your need for community as it is testifying to you that the true friendship and loving community you deeply long for exists in Jesus Christ made possible through his death and Resurrection. It testifies that you belong to this community through faith in Jesus and have immediate and continual access to it through the Holy Spirit.
In this way, the church doesn’t “overpromise and underdeliver”–rather it “underpromises and overdelivers”.
Why? Because as communities of believers are reminded of their union with one another in Christ and their shared inheritance in the Kingdom of God, it produces the fruit of love for one another, which gives people a foretaste of that community they so deeply long for.