Recently, I was driving home and noticed numerous banners advertising a church. It read, “Church. For people who don’t fit ‘church’.” This particular church is appeasing a Christian demand to consume a weekly service. Their message is basically, “we have a better church service than the one you used to go to.” Earlier in the week I received unsolicited mail from a new church plant trying to anonymously introduce themselves to the neighborhood. The postcard was inviting people to main event, a snazzy new church service Sunday morning.
When we use the term, “the church”, do we mean the people or the building? I know how many would answer this question, but do we actually believe it?
Think about this. When new churches start what comes first: the church steeple or the people?
There was a time when, “build it and they will come,” actually worked. The formula was: build/buy a building first, pay professional clergy to run it second, and attract people to fill it third. Today, build it and they will come is no longer a viable strategy in the post-Christendom context. Yet we haven’t strayed too far from the original question, rather, we’ve changed it subtly to: what comes first, the church
building service or the people?
The attractional focus isn’t the building but the church service. Most run on the formula of, “have a service, and they will come.” This is the wrong focus.
Unless the purpose of the service is to attract other Christians from other churches, our paradigm of ‘church’ needs a fundamental shift. Here are two ideas that may help in that shift.
First, our language needs a shift. When we refer to ‘church’ we usually mean the structure. We need to add a subtle yet important noun: “building”. (Read my post ‘Going to Church Building’ here.)
Second, we have to acknowledge our unhealthy fixation on the church service. We produce weekly programs and use it as the vehicle to run the core items of: worship, teaching, preaching, and even discipleship. We put all our money and energy into the steeple/service, then work our way back to the people.
This is backwards.
It may not seem backwards especially when new church plants (really transplants) launch a cool new service with 400 people. In reality, if you have flash and dash you’ll last a few years by transferring other Christians from those smaller boring churches. This is growth by addition at best.
If the Jesus movement is to be just that–a movement–we need something better. If we’ve been consumed by outstanding grace we should then be consumed by a drive to share our gratitude not only to those confined in the church building, but beyond as well.
How can we do it?
If you believe the church is the people and not the building let’s give the people power. Let’s release grace filled empowered ambassadors to be participants in the neighborhood jealously previewing incarnate moments.
If we are serious about the Gospel we have no choice but to declare a message that pits mass consumerism vs radical hospitality. This is a deep challenge for the come and ‘get’ models of church services we offer. We need to switch our posture to ‘give’ over ‘come get’. Our gatherings need to be less event centered, but rather a celebration of the lordship of Jesus Christ lived out and thru the people.
Pragmatically that means less music, shorter preaching, maybe even fewer services. It can be done, but you’ll probably lose a bunch of people to the lights and smiles of the groomed service a short drive away.
But would it be worth it? Disciple the church to embrace radical hospitality in the neighborhood, or produce comfortable consumers of weekly spirituality? Something to think about.