How far is too far? | Commuting to Church

We live in a mobile society. We can get from place to place with relative ease. It’s not like the Oregon Trail (remember this?) where we attempt to ford the river and our oxen dies or we run out of food supply or worse (see: measles, snakebite, dysentery, typhoid, or cholera). Our modern worst enemies are some unexpected traffic or inconvenient road construction (definitely if you live in Minnesota!).

Where distance once played a major factor in church attendance, it just doesn’t anymore. There was a time when people went to a church in their community. Especially where I live in south Minneapolis, many churches have little or no parking lot. Why? People walked to church. That’s not the case anymore. I drive pass more than 50 churches in the six miles between my house and the church that I work at. A friend who drives 15 miles to my church as well once noted, “We tried churches closer to us but just couldn’t find anything, and I felt like we cast a pretty wide net.”

Help for Sunday mornings to focus you on God and his church

Recently, this same conversation was brought up on my Facebook page. It actually came up through a question about churches in the Lisle/Naperville/Aurora area of Illinois. One of the churches mentioned was 33 miles from these towns, an apparently short distance by Chicago standards. The question came up as to what doing church looks like when there’s such a great distance between home and church home.

So, it just got me thinking, how far is too far? As my buddy asked, how do you do life with one another when geographically so spread out from one another?

Your comments are much appreciated. It’s really the responses of readers that can encourage others that are in your same shoes. So, please don’t hold back. Let ‘er rip!

QUESTIONS

  1. How far is too far? Is this even the right question to be asking? What might be a better question(s) to ask?
  2. If you live a fair distance from your church home, how does distance impact your non-Sunday pursuit of living out the Gospel in community with others? What are some of the things you do to overcome the distance thing?
  3. Is there a point where churches should actually be pointing some of these long-distance commuters to community churches closer to home?
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Posted on by Cor in FAITH

15 Responses to How far is too far? | Commuting to Church

  1. Graeme

    “Making an impact in your community”: Even easier to skip when it’s not your community.

  2. Joey

    Hey! I’m Cor’s friend!

    This is a really, really tough one for me. In a perfect world I’d love work and church (and school for my kids when they get there) to happen within a few miles of home, preferably within walking distance.

    But this isn’t a perfect world, so this is how it looks:

    Home to work: 28 miles
    Home to church: 17 miles
    Home to best friends: <1 mile

    In fairness, when we moved here, it looked like this:

    Home to work: 17 miles (12 for my wife)
    Home to church: 3 miles

    As for best friends, we'd been married for a year and hadn't really settled into that yet. That happened when we moved, settled into a small group and got to know other couples really well. But I don't think it's by coincidence that the people we grew closest to were those who were geographically very close as well.

    I've never minded a bit of a commute for work, as I don't view personal relationships there as having as significant a value as in other areas of my life. But personal relationships at church are critical, and I find it incredibly difficult to have close personal relationships with people who are more than a 15-minute drive away.

    There are really only 2 ways to ensure you're geographically close to your church:

    1. Find a church first, then move. This is what we did 4.5 years ago.
    2. When switching churches, either don't go outside of a certain radius (which we tried) or move to be closer to the church you end up at (this is a future possibility, but not very feasible right now).

    While I don't feel like our 18-minute drive is terrible (it's the same drive to church I grew up with in rural Northern Wisconsin), we have to be much more intentional about developing relationships outside of church services.

    In my opinion, you aren't really close to someone unless you'll call them at 5:00 on a Friday evening to see if they want to hang out that night or you propose taking a weekend trip somewhere together. That's a tough place to get to when you only see someone once a week, and it's tough to see someone more than once a week when you're spending $5 in gas and an hour round-trip each time you drive to one another's homes.

    Here are my quick responses to your questions:

    1. "How far is too far?" is not the right question in my opinion. The right question is more along the lines of, "Can I successfully be a part of this community from where I live?"
    2. A few things I do to bridge the 17-mile gap: A.) Summer softball team (which is tough since it's 30 minutes to the field every week), B.) Get involved in various men's events (poker night, men's retreat, bonfires, March Madness get-togethers, etc.), C.) Hang out with people on Sunday afternoon, D.) Find people who aren't intimidated by a 20-minute drive to hang out, E.) Find some place in the middle to meet up with people, F.) Meet people before (or during) events that we're all going to (concerts, state fair, the mall, etc.).
    3. Churches should only try to point people to someplace closer if they feel it would benefit that person. You can't replicate a community of people with whom someone just clicks. Not all churches are created the same and the fact that another church closer to that person is solid doesn't mean it's the right fit for that person. That said, if Hope has a south metro church plant or church partnership (in Bloomington, for instance), I expect that we would at least seriously consider being a part of it.

  3. Roger Messner

    Born & raised 312 area code, Chicago Public High School graduate, Non-Suburban living, 21 year Chicagoan.

    To clarify: in NO reality was 33 miles ever a relatively short distance to travel. Most of drive distance was measured in time. A 30 minute drive might be the reality of your commute. But, it almost a guarantee that it is only a short distance that you are going to travel.

    For those in the twin cities imagine your daily commute in a snow storm….every day.

    33 miles is pretty unrealistic & unnecessary for community development in an urban context.

    Rural, past suburban rural, a drive of 33 miles could be the average and necessary for having any community.

    • Joey

      Roger, great point on distance vs time. My 17-mile drive to church takes 18-20 minutes since both home and the church are just a mile from the freeway. My drive doesn’t take much longer than it does for some people who live within the city limits of Minneapolis.

  4. David Ruess

    Really interesting question!

    I don’t think there can be a too far – but I think it’s easier if people are physically closer.

    Distance does make a difference for me, even across town. For example if I have to go through 94 rush hour to hang out with a friend I am much less likely to do it; or I’ll just hope that they offer to come to me; or push it back to another time or day. Why? Because rush hour sucks.

    What’s interesting though, is that because they are closer than my friends out of state – I wouldn’t in the example case of rush hour – pick up the phone and have a good hour+ conversation instead.

    I figure if guilds from World of Warcraft can form a thriving community in which they are involved in each others lives – both online and offline, than surely the Church can utilize technology as a benefit as well.

    Booyah, David

  5. Carly

    This one hits very close to home for me and my family. We made a move last fall that placed us at a 30 minute commute (no traffic or road construction) from Hope. Our intention at first was to continue attending Hope for awhile, with a plan to eventually find a church closer to Hope. Hope had ben my home church for over 13 years, and it was the church my husband and I met and married at. To leave where we were comfortable was a scary idea. However, we knew, in the end, that we would ultimately want to attend a church in the community in which we lived. In order to better be able to to minister to our neighbors, proximity to the church really helps if you are going to invite someone to church! Plus, as our child(ren) get older, we want to be close enought that making multiple trips to a church during the week, after work, is convenient enough that we won’t shy away from attending extra things!

    When we move, our son was 4 months old, and we quickly found out that the 30 minute commute did not work well with the schedule we had him on. This force our hand to start looking for another church sooner than we expected. To be honest, the process of finding a new church was daunting, and has been extrememly lonely.

    I would agree with a previous commentor that, you need to be within a reasonable (15 minutes or less) commute of fellowship/friends or it just won’t happened. A lot of our closer friends now live 30-45 minutes away, and in the last 10 months, we haven’t really seen any of them.

    To sum up my anwswers to the questions:
    1. I like the idea of asking “what is the convenience in the location?” As I think this will strongly dictate how involved one might be in the church. I think that the distance/time factor may be different for everyone, especially dependant on stage of life. (i.e. when I was single, driving 30 miles to play basketball on saturday mornings, in addition to sundays for service was do-able. Married with a kid…not so do-able now.)
    2. As previously stated, the distance almost eliminated living out the Gospel in community for us. It pushed us to find something closer, sooner.
    3. It’s hard to affect the community you are living in, if you are not spending time in it! While I don’t think you can force the issue, it might be prudent to at least strike up conversations to evaluate situations on a case-by-case basis. You never know how God might be leading someone.
    And if this is where we put church-plant requests…if Hope wanted to plant in the Eastern suburb, we would seriously consider! :)

  6. Kelsi

    When my husband and I were looking for an apartment, we picked a neighborhood that was conveniently located nearby the places we spend the most time: work and church. We now live about 3 miles from my workplace… and 1 mile from our church!

  7. David L

    In the case of our experience the last two years, the more pertinent question would be “How close is too close?” We lived less than a mile from the church campus, and found it almost impossible to find community with Hope people in the surrounding neighborhood. In fact, we were so desperate for nearby community that we eventually joined a Bethlehem small group, even though we were still attending Sunday services at Hope.

  8. David Leonard

    By the way, I just noticed there’s another “David L” that posts on the blog. I’m the real one, he’s the imposter. At any rate, I’ll start posting as “David Leonard,” to avoid confusion. :-)

  9. Brita

    Along with no longer having neighborhood churches, in Minnesota the idea of a neighborhood schools is gone as well, with open enrollment practices. I taught at a Spanish immersion school and students from up to 20 miles away attend there. It a sign of our times. There is one than one way to be connected to a community besides proximity.

    When my husband and I first moved to the Cities we looked for a good church within about 15 minutes travel. We found Hope and later moved about 30 minutes away from Hope. We still attend because it’s our community. We can still apply the gospel to our jobs, neighborhood, grad. schools, and friends. We don’t have to live close to the building where we communally worship to do so.

  10. Valerie

    So I had this insightful, witty, mind blowing comment all typed up and then my iPad shut down safari. So now you’ll never know the mine blowing awesomeness that was my previous comment. Sorry.

    But seriously, I think first up for me is sound biblical teaching with a group of people you can relate to. Then next up is proximity. I joined Hope in college back when it was across from the Superblock and I was living in Frontier…that was obviously proximity. After I got married and moved to Bloomington, we still attended and were involved. Because we related to the congregation and by that point I had been attending for probably about 6 years, and we were married there. We moved to Phoenix and that commute was obviously a little too far.
    We found a church nearby, but when we moved we switched churches. Even though the commute was only about 20 minutes, the congregation had shifted so that there were no couples or people under the age of 40. There was no child care for our kids, or other kids for ours to play and learn and grow with. So add that to the distance and we left,
    We also felt firmly that if there was a church closely in our community that preached the gospel and was ministering to our community, we should be a part of it. We found one half a mile from our house and God has blessed our time there. We have made a lot of good friends, and our kids have as well.
    So basically, the basic teaching of the church is important. If you can’t find a good sound church in your area, commuting may be something you choose to do. But after that, having a church in your community is awesome. We have managed to get so many friends and neighbors involved in church merely due to the convenience of how close all our outreach events are. Plus, driving a minute to church is a great feeling, ;)

    PS. I just noticed the last question. I don’t think the church needs to redirect people closer to home. Unless they feel the distance is affecting a person’s spiritual walk. If they are traveling far, but involved and learning and growing and serving God,..I see no reason to send them elsewhere,

  11. Matt

    I’m torn.

    There is a paradox of choice effect. You can’t really fault someone for wanting to drive to a church that works for them better.

    But, if nobody had the option, I think we’d make the churches closer to us better.

    It wouldn’t work for me to own close to Hope. I currently drive. I’ve been thinking about trying out a plant south of the river. But, I have community at Hope.

    But, I also know that you’re somehow a little separate from the rest of the church when you’re geographically separated. I grew-up going to church one town away from my school district. I went to church and school with tow different sets of kids.

    Now, as an adult, The life goals, mind-set and situation of someone that buys in South Minneapolis is different than someone that buys second ring suburb.

    I am still amazed at how major cities segregate themselves. Is it good to be the minority in your church?

    • Joey

      Wait, Matt, you’re saying someone else lives south of the river?! I’ve only met a few people who do.

      I think your comment about life goals, mind set, and situation of those who live in the South Minneapolis being different from someone in a second ring suburb is interesting. I don’t really find this to be the case. For example, we live in a suburb because it was far cheaper than living in the city. I’m not a handyman and didn’t want a fixer-upper, which is what I would’ve gotten for the price I paid for my suburban townhome.

      But my wife and I (and now 3 kids) have always had just one car, have always taken mass transit (we’ve always lived within walking distance of mass transit), and have no real desire for a house that’s bigger than our 3-bedroom townhouse. Most people I know in the suburbs have a mindset that tends towards bigger homes, more cars, etc. There’s nothing wrong with these things in and of themselves (they can host parties far more easily than we can!) but we definitely have different priorities in our lives. I find that our priorities tend to line up more with people in the city, where homes are smaller and people tend to get out to events and parks more. That lifestyle lines up much closer with what we practice.

      So, perhaps broadly speaking it’s true that life goals and mindsets are different between the city and the suburb. But for us, we tend to feel more at home with what probably looks like more of a city lifestyle. Maybe that’s part of why we left our former suburban church…

    • Matt

      Yeah, I live in Eagan.

      I too got a townhome that I could comfortably afford.

      I know several Hopesters who bought fixer-uppers with character. My townhome is 17 years old and has zero character. It was cheap to buy, and cheap to maintain. I placed an emphasis on practicality. I would have liked to do fixer-upper work, if I could be guaranteed what it would cost and pencil it into the budget and buying decision. I don’t really have a support network financially, and am truely on my own as it has ben for the last decade. I grew-up in a house that is over 100 years old. I know how you can have those surprise $3000 repairs.

      Most people I know in South grew-up in the suburbs, and want something different.

      But, I have a lot of talks with urban falks about career and it seems to revolve around what is your passion. My thoughts revolve around what needs to be done, what I can get hired for, and what pays well. My current modus operendi is to do what I need to do, so that someday I can do what I want to.

  12. Denise

    This question has been on my mind for quite some time which is why I googled the question to see what the opinion of others are. My commute to my church is a 1 hour drive with no traffic or construction. I am also a commuter for my job which takes 1 1/2 hrs one way. So I feel like I am commuting all the time. What I’ve noticed is because I commute so much during the week, by the time Sunday comes I really don’t want to drive an hour to get to church. It is beginning to stress me out. We also have midweek services on Wednesday night but oftentimes I am not there because I’m too tired to drive after working and commuting back home. So I’m not sure how far is too far, I guess I agree with the other comment that it depends on what station of life you are in. When I was younger I would do it with no problem but now that I’m getting older I don’t find it as easy anymore. I would looove to find a church in my area where I can grow and be used by God but I haven’t found that which is why I’m an hour away. Maybe I will look again…

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