What if Church was different?
What if the building, process, forms, rituals, and even the people, were different?
I believe the current church model in the United States is fundamentally broken. And I’m not the only one, as somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 churches close their doors each year in the United States.
Thats about 22 per day.
Perhaps this article by Huffington post sums it up best: Nobody wants to go to church anymore.
And yet, most mainline christians do little to come up with new ideas to try and change the situation. Whatever that hip new church is called, they still meet for an hour long lecture on Sunday, and funnel people into home groups during the week. Often attendance is taken from existing churches, and the overall percentage of christians continues to decline.
Why is it broken?
Indeed the church is broken in numerous complex ways which no blog post will articulate or solve. What I want to focus on, is the structure of the church, the strategy by which we organize ourselves for corporate worship, and how it is failing God’s mission to attract people to Himself.
I believe the church has lost relevance in most people’s lives. It no longer influences or even has respect in the general culture. It no longer sparks debate or instills encouragement, it is simply forgotten as backwards and irrelevant. Common criticisms against the church are that it has failed to foster sincere communities, is often ignorant of social issues, is hypocritical and judgmental, misuses money, degrades women, and covers up grievous evils such as sexual abuse.
How do we fix it?
I believe the model of church has to change from a learning institution built to convey knowledge about God to a community institution built to introduce people to God.
What does that look like?
It could take many forms, here is one possible proposal.
A community center in an urban environment, similar to a flagship Apple Store like the one in San Francisco.
The building ideally has 4 main spaces to enable 4 key experiences. These can be reconfigured as needed during the week and weekend.
- A co working space or community / art space
- Wine / coffee bar
- Lecture hall
- Prayer room
- Meet God in work and hobbies
- Meet God through meaningful conversation with strangers and friends
- Meet God through listening to different provocative talks
- Meet God in private silence and meditation
The hope is these experiences will also encourage people to get connected with home groups and dive into deeper topics in more personal settings and develop better friendships. Home groups are arguably the most successful thing about the existing church model, and echo the model seen in Acts, so let’s work with that.
There will be volunteer staff which are certified spiritual guides, who are trained to talk and pray with new visitors. As one gets involved in the church, you can sign up to contribute to these roles.
The talks will cover a variety of topics from different view points. These speakers will be on a rolling basis, and sometimes videos of past talks will be played. Christian and non-Christian speakers will be allowed, and it will be clear to the listeners what the speaker believes at the outset. In this way, hopefully people will be exposed to new ways of thinking and challenge their own preconceptions.
It is meant for a place for civil dialogue, its fine to disagree but you must respect each other. Ideally as Jesus is the way and the truth, his message should stand apart by its own merit. By being open to other ideas and encouraging dialogue, I think this actually shows a stronger faith in Jesus.
You might walk in, grab a cup of coffee and sit at a community table. There will be conversation starters scattered on the table, and staff who are willing to pray with you or talk about basically anything you want. You might meet someone and talk about their faith and their beliefs. Later, as wine is being served, you see the announcement that a discussion on Christianity and gender roles is coming up in 30 minutes. You could head upstairs to check it out or decide to leave. As you talk with some the other people there, you see that some of them attend a house group nearby. They invite you and point you to an app which has more details about the group. You add it to your calendar, and maybe you will check it out next week.
Why do it this way?
These ideas to shape church around meeting God rather than learning about God are taken directly from key passages in the Bible. They give us 5 guiding pillars for God’s people the Church.
Relationships Come First
34. A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
35. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
Eternal Life Starts Today
3. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
Discipleship is for Everyone
8. Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
All of Life is Worship
25. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
We Must Act
8. He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
These are my why. These are the passages that keep me up at night. These are what the church must be about. These are what drove me to ask, “Does the current model of a Sunday service emphasize and foster the growth of those 5 pillars?” And if not, “Could another model do it better?”
We affirm the thoughts of Philip Yancey and want to emphasize we are pilgrims, activists, and artists.
We affirm Francis Chan and the core values of We Are Church.
- Loving Community, like a family genuinely and intimately cares for each other
- Share the message of the gospel, on a mission to tell others about this amazing message
- Gathered, focusing on Jesus and communion, praying fellowshipping, learning the bible
- Equipping and training. leaders that instructed others on ministry, serving the lord and others
The question, is how? How do we move toward these ideals and away from the irrelevant church of today?
The solution, I believe, is what I suggest here. We must move away from a lecture on Sundays in the suburbs to a thriving open community in urban centers where people can meet God instead of learn about him.
A New Thing
Structurally and financially, the church must change as well. As a monolithic non-profit organization, the lines are blurry and confusing what is a job and what is ministry. Are not all called to ministry? Are not all called to disciple? What is a pastor anyway? A spiritual title? A job title? These traditions must be broken down to their scriptural roots and reimagined for today.
The Current Model
The current church model has 3 key problems.
- Negative Cashflow
- Inward Focused
A church today is a spiritual physical hybrid community of mixed volunteers and paid employees. Roles are not clearly defined, and so responsibility is not properly distributed.
Furthermore, they are drains to the economy. They do not product financial benefits to their communities, instead they leach the financial assets of their members. How does this communicate the awesome power and complete sufficiency of an eternal God?
Churches are not incentivized to be aware of the other organizations around them. The model is to bring people in to church events, rather than go out to serve other institutions.
A Proposed Model
- Positive Cashflow
- Outward Focused
A modular church, that is an entity with clear responsibilities will be much more adaptable. For this to work, it must be primarily run by bi-vocational servants. For that to work, it needs to be lean. Super lean. Those with paid positions must be made aware it is a job, not ministry. Everyone does ministry.
The church should make money. It should funnel that money into efforts to help the community. It should produce goods or services which compete with the marketplace so that they can be sold at competitive rates. There must be clear delineation between the market and a place of worship, but the church should be a bastion of help for those who need financial aide rather than a desperate entity dependent on others. Members should tithe not to a desperate church, but to specific causes either within or outside the church which have clear goals and outcomes that help communities and those in need.
By changing the structure and where and how people spend their time, the church can truly focus on others. It can partner with the city, with non-profits, with other legacy churches, and do God’s work.
The Church in America needs a complete rebuild. This is one proposal. What’s yours?