The TV show Cheers was one of my favorites growing up and into college. I am even willing to admit, rather sheepishly, that the character “Norm” was someone I admired and wished I could be. Daydreams came easily as I pictured myself walking into a bar to the unison sound of “Keeeev” as I would strut to my normal spot at the end of the bar and immediately receive a pint of my favorite brew.
This show seemed to captivate audiences. Why? I think it presented a picture of what community and friendship can look like, or what we often wished it looked like. A neighborhood bar where “everybody knows you name”, where you can be accepted, regardless of your background or perceived social status. Isolation did not exist in the world of Cheers. Cheers was a home to laughter with friends, to tears with confidants, and a place to belong. I think back even further into my childhood and recall another TV icon, Fred Rogers, and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. It was a “wonderful day in the neighborhood” and although we might smirk about his cardigan sweaters and slippers, we also find ourselves occasionally longing for that “wonderful neighborhood” to find its way to our street or our home.
I came across the following in an editorial in Christianity Today (11/2006) which paints a picture of a country in which the wonderful neighbors and friends at the local bar or bowling alley, seem to be disappearing, it paints a picture of people living in isolation. Earlier this year, the American Sociological Review published a disturbing study, "Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks over Two Decades." Researchers Miller McPherson, Lynn Smith-Lovin, and Matthew E. Brashears reported a "remarkable drop" in the size of people's core network of confidants — those with whom they could talk about important matters. As of 2004, the average American had just two close friends, compared with three in 1985. Those reporting no confidants at all jumped from 10 percent to 25 percent. Even the share of Americans reporting a healthy circle of four or five friends had plunged from 33 percent to just over 15 percent. Increasingly, those whom we consider close friends — if we have any — are household members, not people who "bind us to community and neighborhood." Our wider social connections seem to be shriveling like a turkey left too long in the oven.
When I read something like this my heart breaks!!! Part of being a church on Mission is creating a place “where everybody knows your name,” a real community that cares for each other. A neighborhood place where laughter finds company and tears are not shed alone, a community where kinship with friends and strangers can take root and flourish. I wonder sometimes if Christians have been so distracted by the temptation to create an exciting atmosphere — a niche market which combines the best of Dr. Phil, Billboard’s top 40, and a little of Jesus — that we have missed the mark of Christian living; loving your neighbor and practicing hospitality. A willingness to get to know someone and an transparency to be known. Can we be willing to be both a host for a stranger and guest in the home of a new acquaintance? Could our churches can be that place where people could go to belong? Where you could feel everyone knew your name and smiles were what greeted you as you entered. This does and can happen in a church, not just the neighborhood bar.