What if our homes became the place God’s people gathered to worship and our churches became homeless shelters? What if hungry people came to church on Sunday for supper and single parents came on workdays for free childcare. What if the coffee shop became a job training center, the bookstore a library, and we moved Thursday Bible study to the basement of our homes? The sacraments could be shared in our driveways, and VBS could take place in our backyards. The church building could become an inn where good samaritans parked their donkeys and beaten travelers found care, and rest. Discipleship could take place at our dinner tables and baptisms in the community pool.
I’m not sure how the practice of constructing church buildings for gatherings came to be – until recently I never considered it strange. Did the house church model we see in Acts get too big? Why didn’t they just plant more house churches instead of getting a bigger place to meet? I’m not saying church buildings are a bad thing. They provide jobs, like mine! And a lot of good is done in them – including sheltering the homeless and providing food for the hungry.
But I drive around my city and I see all of the sprawling cathedrals and I wonder what sort of message it sends to people who aren’t in them? I don’t understand why we go on mission trips to foreign countries but we ask people in our own country to come to us on Sunday. We ask people who aren’t sure about God to give up brunch, come to a building and sing about blood. It’s weird! Then we ask them to come back on Thursday for Bible study so we can explain ourselves. And on Monday for the Newcomers Class. And could you serve this Sunday in the kids’ ministry?
The Church is contributing to the busyness of the world with a plethora of activities that take people out of their mission field and into a building that sometimes seems more like a club than a movement. Churches are filled with people who want to bring hope to the world, but we are investing our time in the church instead of in our own neighborhoods. Church staff and ministry leaders are doing good things inside the walls, but sometimes it feels like we are trying to create a place for savvy shoppers who are looking for speakers they can relate to, worship that moves them and excellent programming for their kids.
Did I say that out loud?
I think people have come to believe that church is a where and not a who. People choose churches based on preferences and denominations, they commit to a tradition or an experience, not to a body. And when that experience gets messy or the body gets broken or the tradition changes, there are plenty of cities on hills to choose from. I’m including myself in this group – I have left churches because I didn’t feel I was ‘being fed’ or because they didn’t have what I wanted for my kids. I’m not throwing The Church under the bus, but I wonder if there is another way, a better way – a way to reimagine church?
What if The Church taught people how to make hollandaise and invite their neighbors to brunch on Sunday – equipped people to have Monday morning worship in their living rooms or better yet the front lawn! What if we stopped having bible studies and events in the church and instead released people to bring the love of Jesus to others in the rhythm of their everyday life.
What if The Church invested its resources into communities instead of buildings, and commissioned the congregation to love those next door? What if churches in the city worked together on mobilizing a movement of people on mission in their neighborhoods and workplaces, teaching them how to share the Good News and live like the Gospel means something more than admission to heaven or weekend participation in a club.
It’s quite possible I am wrong, that I have a blind spot or I’m not thinking rationally or biblically. I invite you to push back and tell me where I’m off point. If you are a Christian reading this, I’d love to know how much of your week is spent with your neighbors or others who don’t have any interest in Jesus, and how much of your time is spent in a church building studying the Bible, hanging with people who know Jesus, or serving Christians so they can be better Christians.
Also, would you want to use your table and couch to reach your neighbors instead of inviting them to church? Or are you content with the way things are? Do you feel equipped to wrestle with hard questions that you might get from people with a different worldview? Would you know how to disciple and be a disciple in the context of real life in real time – when you come home from a bad day at work and want to reach for the vodka, when your kids tell you they hate you and you’re thinking, well the feeling is mutual, when your neighbor gets cancer, or laid off, and needs desperately for God to come through for them.
Do you want to become The Church instead of just go to one?
If you are still with me, thanks for hanging for all 935 words. I don’t come to this page lightly, ever. I’m praying that all who read this know my heart is bent towards encouragement, not discouragement. I welcome your feedback.