The recent church plant I co-planted called Cypher Church, is nearing the one-year anniversary mark. Long story short, the ride thus far has been incredible. We’re talking early church kind of incredible!

Our first service last February was an Spirit encounter that I’ll never forget. People were being healed, coming to faith, and going to jail (I’m not kidding).

After 10 months we’ve noticed a number of curious features. I’ll put them all together one day for a book or something, but I thought I’d share one. It has to do with our events. Well, we call them events, Christians call them services. They happen monthly, which is infrequent to Christians, and as such they have a tough time actually calling Cypher Church a ‘real’ church. It’s a curious phenomenon worth unpacking because it’s a testament to our current culture, and how the church has raised generations of believers.

We meet for service once a month because it’s the rhythm that suits us. Frankly, we don’t have the resources to do it more often. This is a different than almost all other church plants.

The methodology of Western church planting centers around the Sunday worship service. Get the show right and you have a chance to succeed. Although we pay lip service to features like discipleship, we really care about one thing–effective service. That means the majority of focus and resources goes to great music, great preaching, and great programs. One recent church plant in my city said, “if we can’t do a service with excellence, it’s not worth doing at all.” Talk about consumer Christianity to the max.

There’s nothing wrong with a church plant that devotes the majority of its resources to the service. I have problem when almost ALL church plants function this way. In fact, most churches period function this way. This reality has created a curious problem at Cypher Church.

Without a weekly service it’s harder to convince existing Christians that Cypher Church is a legitimate church. (These people are mostly the “dones”, so people who’ve grown up in the church, but left in their adulthood.) They have rejected contemporary church, love what they see and experience in our community, but fall short of calling it a “real” church.

Why?

I think it’s because Christians (existing or the “dones”), have been formed to connect “good” Christianity with frequent service attendance. It’s implied faith is only validated when a certain number of actions are met such as going to church, a small group, etc., every week. Routine counts, not spiritual depth.

Let me rephrase this critical point. The Christians with no current church home (because they can’t fit into the institution) still don’t think we are a real church because they’ve been schooled to believe a real church must meet every week for service. Missing the weekly event means you aren’t doing enough. To put it in another way, there’s a sense of guilt Christians have if they don’t attend a weekly service. It’s somehow bad faith.

Here’s the stunning juxtaposition. Non Christians in our community, the religious nones, have NO problem calling Cypher Church their church. They don’t have the skeletons of guilt in their memory. To them, they see and feel the experience at our events, connect to our community, and believe it counts. People who have never had a church, or have rejected the church, don’t hesitate to call Cypher Church their own.

This is crazy. It’s a profound cultural revelation. It shows that to Christians, the institutional church is known for its institutional rites and rules, and the identity of the people embodying the character of Jesus. Non Christians lack the institutional baggage and only see the Jesus piece.

How is your relationships with the institutional church? How much baggage are you carrying? And are you imposing that on those who don’t fit in Christian culture?