Conference 2024



It’s All About Relationships

I’ve sat through thousands of meetings as a church leader. 

Since I didn’t keep a tally sheet, I don’t know this for sure, but I’m guessing the two most frequent topics of conversation have been:

  • How do we get more people to attend our church?
  • How do we keep people from leaving our church?

Many of those conversations have revolved around what people want. Applicable Teaching, Dynamic Music, Great Children’s Spaces, Awesome Teen Experiences, Good Coffee . . .

You’re reading a church leader blog, so you know the list. 

And let me say this. There is NOTHING WRONG with any of those things. (Good coffee is better than bad. 🙂)

The main problem is that pursuing all these good things has distracted church leaders from focusing on the one thing the people want and need: loving, supportive, authentic relationships. 

Can I be transparent for a moment?

I started attending church regularly when I was in late middle school/early high school. It was a small, rural church of a couple hundred people. I don’t remember one sermon. The music was okay, but not great. The children’s area had cinder block walls with a musty smell and flannel graphs. And I can only assume the coffee was bad. (I didn’t drink it, but it had all the characteristics of lousy coffee, from what I remember.)

But I found Jesus there and started following him.



I found friends—good friends. Friends I still talk to, friends who still cheer me on as I lead Intentional Churches. 

Some friends were my age, and some were older mentor figures, like my youth pastor, who loved, supported, and guided me. 

And I can unapologetically say that I don’t know where my life would be today if I didn’t find those friends in that church. 

Early in 2023, the Surgeon General released a new Advisory, calling attention to the public health crisis of loneliness, isolation, and lack of connection in our country. The study included these startling statistics:

  • The physical health consequences of poor or insufficient connection include a 29% increased risk of heart disease, a 32% increased risk of stroke, and a 50% increased risk of developing dementia for older adults. 
  • Additionally, lacking social connection increases the risk of premature death by more than 60%.
  • In addition to our physical health, loneliness and isolation contribute substantially to mental health challenges. In adults, the risk of developing depression among people who report feeling lonely often is more than double that of people who rarely or never feel lonely. 
  • Loneliness and social isolation in childhood increase the risk of depression and anxiety both immediately and well into the future. 
  • With more than one in five adults and more than one in three young adults living with a mental illness in the U.S., addressing loneliness and isolation is critical to addressing the mental health crisis in America fully. (Link)

You know as well or better than I do, that the New Testament is filled with the  “one anothers” that are the antidote to this loneliness epidemic.  

So, I pray that we spend our time and energy encouraging, equipping, and extolling people to get into loving, supportive, authentic relationships and that we engineer everything to that end.

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Todd Ward
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