“Alternative forms of fellowship (including house churches/simple churches and postmodern churches) that are currently home for 5 percent of American Christians will grow to make up 30 to 35 percent.”
George Barna, foremost church research and statistics expert
This prediction highlights one of the big movements occuring in the Church today. There is a shift towards a less institutional view of what church is and into one that is a little more… organic. And, I must say, I like it.
For me, my joys in seeing this comes from seeing the need for the term “church”, as we know it from a 21st century Western context, to be redefined into a more biblical and missional sense. No, this is not an appeal to make church “cool”; I don’t care for that. This is an appeal for church to move back to its biblical foundations, to be empowered by the Holy Spirit, and for the gospel to move forward.
Let’s face it: church, for most Americans, is complex. Very complex.
When we think church, we think buildings, we think programs, we think worship equipment, we think clergymen, we think deacons, we think denominations, we think summer camps, youth programs, and on and on. Those all require lots of money, maintenance, research, and effort. All this to show that church, as it has been developed, has become a institutional juggernaut.
I just want to flat out say that church, in its original intention, has absolutely nothing to do with those things listed above. Yeah, think again. I’m sure you have heard this phrase before, but after reading and studying through the book of Acts, this cannot cannot cannot cannot be stressed enough:
Church is not a building; church is people.
The church is quite simply a group of people who believe, love, and obey Jesus Christ together. Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them” (Matt 18:20). He didn’t say, “When you have a building”, or “When you have programs”, or “When you have tax exemption status” or even “When you have a name”. He’s pretty plain- when there are people under my name, as little as two or three, then you have church.
The Church is a family, more specifically, the family of God.
That’s exactly how the early church saw it and how they functioned. The church didn’t have a building (church buildings didn’t even come to existence until the fourth century when Christianity was legalized); the “church” met from house to house, from family to family, breaking bread together, loving Jesus together, and obeying Jesus together. They were able to do that because church wasn’t an institution; church was a group of people, and that group of people could move around wherever they wanted whenever they wanted.
And a great deal of the success of the church in bringing the gospel to the ends of the earth, at least from an infrastructural standpoint, was the fact that it saw itself this way, and that it wasn’t hindered by church buildings stuck in stationary places. The church moved, it multiplied, it grew, it was, as I suggested earlier, organic. Well, that’s because organic things are generally alive. Buildings are not alive, but people are!
The goal of this post is really for us get our head of the gutter of a contemporary understanding and assumption of what a church is and isn’t. In later posts to come, I’ll be suggesting some considerations about what basic church should look like and how even the newest Christians can start churches. (Yes, without a pastor! Yes, without loads of money! Yes, you will still need your Bible!)
So I hope that as you took a look at your current “church”, this aided to our sights about seeing through the institutional walls that so easily divide and distract us, and get to the heart of what really matters in church- God’s people.