May 26, 2010 by

What Makes It "Church"? A Followup Question…


Categories: church, Things that make our brains hurt

Thanks to all of you who put in your two cents’ to the question on my previous post, about what specifically makes church “church” for you. (Let’s see…I think that currently adds up to 14 cents.)

That converstation has prompted me to ask a followup question:

Several of you made references to the church involving the gathering of believers. Where does this idea come from? Not to say we shouldn’t gather, but what exactly prompts us to include the idea of gathering in our definition of “church?”

Again, no right/wrong answers, nor am I leading the witness. I’m not trying to make a point. 🙂 Just wondering what you think.

Musician. Composer. Recovering perfectionist. Minister-in-transition. Lover of puns. Hijacker of rock song references. Questioner of the status quo. I'm not really a rebel. Just a sincere Christ-follower with a thirst for significance that gets me into trouble. My quest has taken me over the fence of institutional Christianity. Here are some of my random thoughts along the way. Read along, join in the conversation. Just be nice.

36 Responses to What Makes It "Church"? A Followup Question…

  1. Al

    Yeah, I kinda started wondering the same thing (of course, I kinda said that in my comments, but…)
    I guess the gathering part is the idea of relationships. You can't be the 'body' without some kind of interconnectedness.
    But, I certainly don't think what we have concocted is either very relational, or particularly biblical. A Sunday morning 'gathering' with the requisite 'worship' and 'sermon' aren't even taught in the Bible.

  2. Sarah

    I like this question. It's a great question. Because I think Rob articulated a very good response to the last question – church is more about lifestyle.

    Relationships are involved in that lifestyle, and so people will 'gather.' But I think that we are still processing (or mentally undoing) the "cultural baggage" of 'church.'

    Because, honestly, I don't see the defining assumption of "church = gathering together" in scripture. The picture I see in scripture (of 'ecclesia') is a subculture of people who live in the Jesus way – and therefore, are relational by nature. But there isn't this emphasis on "we're the church when we gather" or that the act of gathering makes it the "church."

    Obviously, mutual exhortation and encouragement (heck, even teaching and songs) and whatever else might be appropriate for spiritual edification at the moment – all of these are good. But I no longer feel that these are required ingredients for 'church.'

  3. Alan Knox

    "Church" is the English term used to translate the Greek term "ekklesia". "Ekklesia" actually means "assembly". You can't have an assembly without gathering.


  4. rob

    Interesting followup Jeff…

    Seems to me, in today's culture, the word church is most often understood as describing meetings or buildings, i.e, "We're going our church (for a meeting)", or, "We're going to church (to our building; our place of meeting)."…

    …and so the Biblical definition of the church has been clouded. We, the church, are the people of God, we are the body of Christ, and we are that even before we gather…!
    But we forget what we are and fall back on our cultural understanding of what church by and large has come to mean…

    But as God's people, as his body, we are connected, connected by birth(rebirth! by the Spirit) as a people, and connected by that same Spirit to the body of Christ.

    And thus the church is drawn by the Spirit to gather, to connect as the one body of Christ, and if and as we do, we can then experience worship together by the gifting the Spirit through each of his people as he chooses.

    So, the Church(as a people) enters into a gathering, rather than going to "church"(as a meeting place) and there(wherever there is…!) we have a gathering of a people; the church, with Jesus in their midst.

  5. Jeff McQ

    Again, great discussion…and please continue! 🙂 Alan, in particular your comment prompted me to search out what you'd said, and while it does seem that the Greek word ekklesia was used to *imply* a gathering or assembly in its regular usage (and not always referring to Christian assemblies), the actual word means "called out." I guess I'm making the differentiation because while I believe in the assembling of believers, if we are defined as the church ONLY when we are assembled, it suggests we are no longer the church when we leave the gathering. I'm thinking I'm part of this called-out collective at all times, not just when I attend a gathering. Any thoughts?

  6. Alan Knox


    The word ekklesia doesn't mean "called out." Etymologically, the word is made up of words that mean "I call" and "out of". But, etymology does not give us meaning. Just look at the English words "butterfly" or "carnival".

    I don't think I understand your concern. We are God's children wherever we are. When we get together (any two or more), we are ekklesia… church… an assembly of God's children. This is the most common usage of ekklesia in the NT.

    In another sense, we are all assembled together already just as we are also already raised with Christ and seated with him.

    But, it's not being "church" that forms who we are or what we do. Instead, it's being a child of God that forms who we are and what we do.


  7. glenn

    Jeff – Now you are getting at the core of what I think many of us are struggling with. I agree that from a biblical and practical perspective, community or assembling is central to what the church is, as opposed to living in isolation from other Christ followers. But what is gathering or assembling? Is it more than a church service? In a few minutes, I will meet my Christian neighbor for lunch. We will likely talk about spiritual things and life, in general. Is that community? Is it assembling? Is it church? Is what we are doing here, interacting with one another about how to follow Jesus, church? Are we trying to force a historical means of gathering into the present age?

  8. Al

    My understanding of ekklesia is much like yours, Jeff–the idea of people separated from the rest of the crowd. A collection of people more than the time or situation where they might meet together.

    It reminds me of 2 Cor. 6:17, here in KJV: "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean [thing]; and I will receive you." This verse really emphasizes the appropriateness of not just going with the flow, but recognizing and standing up for something considered important–a position taken by many of us when it comes to not attending the meeting formerly known as 'church'.

  9. Jeff McQ

    What? "Butterfly" doesn't mean "flying butter?" Now you're really messing with me, Alan. 🙂

    Seriously, what this discussion is really unveiling is the fact that many of us are trying to grasp a clearer understanding, trying to name and describe this sort of single, universal entity that we as Christ-followers are part of; and terms like "church" and even "ekklesia" are so misunderstood and carry such diverse meanings for us that they almost end up getting in the way. (Never mind that Jesus Himself probably didn't use the word "ekklesia" to describe his called-out ones, because He was speaking Aramaic, not Greek.) Are we the church all the time, or only when assembled? Or, as Alan suggests, are we children of God all the time, who simply form expressions of church when two or more of us are gathered?

    I myself am still grappling with these terms and what they mean–and most of all, what to DO about them. 🙂 But I find I'm learning a great deal from this conversation, more so than I expected. Lots of stuff stirring around upstairs now… 🙂 So thanks! And keep chiming in!

  10. Heartspeak

    I've been right there with you all on separating the idea of church from the Sunday morning preach and sing-a-along.

    But two things have been niggling in my mind. The role of elders and that of spiritual gifts. For spiritual gifts we must be in a larger community than just 2 or 3. Whether we meet all at the same time may not be the issue but we apparently are part of a greater community whereby pastors, teachers, servers, perceivers, etc etc can function and be effective in the equipping of the church.

    Calling for the elders to pray over one who is sick, implies that a larger group both recognizes elders and calls upon them from time to time for their wisdom and leadership.

    Elders have a responsibility, Paul says, for the flock over whom they watch and guard. Personally, I lean toward an understanding that they might be using their pastoral gifting of shepherding.

    So from this, I have to take it further than just two brothers getting together for coffee and conversation but I would absolutely consider that getting together to be part of being the church.

    One of the most fascinating things to me is the apparent concurrent rise of these types of discussion across the land. To me, it is indicative that the Spirit is moving His people to something that will be revolutionizing of the Church. An awakening of the Church from its slumber. This is exciting to me.

    Carry on…

  11. BarryH

    I agree with much of what has been said. I am one of the called out ones who is now no longer gathering on a special day (no Sunday meetings).

    That said, I do struggle with the 'assembling' found in the NT both implicitly and explicitly. Jesus was a Jew. He went to the synagogue regularly, and he never spoke out against this.

    His early followers continued going to the synagogue and the temple. With Paul we see a change, the people of God gathered primarily in homes. These 'house churches' seem more than just people 'living the Jesus way'. There seems to be some regularity and structure to them: 1 Cor 11-14 talks about and describes 'when you gather'.

    1) though I do not see the 'free range believer' as being biblical or even the solution, it is where I currently find myself.

    2) I think that the Sunday morning meeting mimics the function – if not the form – of the synagogue meetings. And,

    3) I do not think that Paul's 'house church gatherings' look anything like modern gatherings in most (all) institutions nor in many (most) modern 'house churches'.

    As you can see this is a current struggle I am dealing with. Thanks for the great topic.

  12. rob

    Hey, I just had butter flying around in my kitchen until I intercepted it with my toast…

    RE: "[assembly]…suggests we are no longer the church when we leave the gathering."

    In the assembly or out of it, as the body of Christ we are in the vine. We have been called out of this world and grafted into the vine; gathered if you will, into Jesus. Called out as the people of God and assembled into a body. So, ain't it both ways!?

    (Can't I have it both ways?)

    Living out love within the Body of Christ is, as Sarah said, relational by it's very nature. We have already been relationally gathered, so relational gatherings happen. Being the church isn't like being wired to an on off switch; we are grafted in and (by the Spirit) we are "on". It doesn't switch who we are on or off, but it does change why we get together. And when we do meet (with)others who have the power "on" it sparks good things!

    I think we struggle with this issue 'cause a cultural/ institutionalized way of thinking about what the church is, is consistently being re-enforced around us and is being forced upon us. It is the norm, so, if you are one of the called out ones, i.e., one that is called out of the box(!) and are beginning to see and think outside the box organically (co-opting the term to mean a living Body thing) and biblically, then what can I say… you are not normal! You are becoming a peculiar (as the KJV would say it) people of God.

  13. rob


    I think you are addressing the elephant in the room!

    The very thing we don't address…
    What is so obviously missing in todays church? (O.k., maybe the elephant in the room is missing!) We have a form(of godliness) within today's church but we have not empowered the Holy Spirit; we have not yeilded control of the church to the Spirit. Elders in the early church were overseers of gatherings where the Holy Spirit was in charge of the meeting. Worship was yeilding to Him and participating with Him in the gathering… Does one have a hymn? Let him/her sing… Does one have a word of prophesy? Let him speak… As the Spirit leads. Gatherings were yeilded to the Spirit. He was the one who "ordered" the assembly. The ebb and flow of conversation/ fellowship/ teaching/ song/ etc., were directed by him. Everyone came to participate, not spectate those in charge…

    I could go on… But I'll just ask some (rhetorical!?)questions… because something does seem to be missing! Who is really in charge in most churches today? Who's church is it? Who's the head, men or Him? Has cultural form overcome the biblical form? If so,how then is the church service/gathering of today different from that of the early church? (Does it matter?) Is worship different today from that of the early church? (Does that matter?) Where are the prophets and healers, the pastors and teachers, the servers and perceivers…? (And are they properly functioning in the assembly larger than the 2 or 3?)

    Where is the power that we have denied?

    (And where is that elephant!?)

  14. Jeff McQ

    Interesting turn in the discussion…let me just throw a couple of more wrenches into the machine…. 🙂

    "Elders in the early church were overseers of gatherings where the Holy Spirit was in charge of the meeting." Rob, not saying this isn't true, but can you cite evidence of this in Scripture? My understanding of the early church and the instructions for elders is that they oversee the *community* of believers; I don't recall it saying anything specifically about them being in charge of the gatherings. In fact…it seems like Paul's M.O. was was to preach the gospel, let a community of believers form, then LEAVE without setting in any elders. He would come back and appoint elders later. Who oversaw the gatherings in the meantime? 🙂 The eldership was apparently set in place as a response to a need, when enough believers were gathered that it became necessary to do so.

    Heartspeak, thanks for bringing up these points. The way I currently see it, I agree that the church can be expressed in smaller groups (2 or 3), but I don't think anyone would venture to suggest that is what the church should *always* look like (i.e., no larger gatherings). By the same token, I simply question whether the traditional way in which we have gathered for centuries (i.e., structured service in a dedicated space) is the *only* way the church can express itself.

    BarryH, you said: "though I do not see the 'free range believer' as being biblical or even the solution, it is where I currently find myself." That, to me, underscores one of the most important elements to bring to this conversation, and that is the matter of timing and transition. I believe the Body of Christ is in a major shift right now, and many believers who find themselves in "free range" mode are part of that. It doesn't mean that's always what it will look like for us, just that we're in between right now. It may be that we just need to give ourselves time and patience, because God is working on a bigger picture that none of us see clearly quite yet.

  15. James

    My fear in all this is when we begin to define what something *ought* to be, we begin to worship the thing and not the Person. Can't we just agree that being in relationship with God and others is key without defining exactly how that should look? Didn't all the problems in the New Testament start when people tried to make church into a thing with rules? Jeff, when we first met, that was church; more real than any "church" I had experienced in a very,very long time. We didn't set out to to define it, it just happened. We met & God was there.

  16. Alan Knox


    I think you've hit on something key. "Elders" is a familial term, not an assembly term. And, I think you are correct… the elders are never told to be in charge of an assembly or gathering of believers. What would happen if we looked at "elders" as older brothers in the family?


  17. rob

    Have you ever wondered what it would be like to time travel and land in the middle of an early church meeting? To experience first hand how it was done. We could then say, "Hey, been there, done that…" We would understand how to pass it on. But instead here we are, centuries after the fact, with layer upon layer of form and tradition blurring the vision of what might have been and what maybe ought to be.

    Those of the Protestant persuasion may say, well that's what the Reformation was all about, a correction of those troublesome traditions which built up over the years: we got our corrective lenses, and we now see. But most of the traditions of Catholicism were adopted by the Protestants. For example: Catholics had their priest/overseers, Protestants have their pastor/overseers, both taking pre-eminance in the gatherings of their flocks. Both traditions for the most part still have a clergy laity separation. Both are still doing the Sermon before audiences of spectators. Both are elevated and "annointed"(by degrees and certifications, not nessesarily by the Spirit)…

    So here we still are.

    The truth is this, I think: The Reformation has only just begun!

    RE: "I don't recall it saying anything specifically about them being in charge of the gatherings."

    I was trying Jeff, to communicate exactly that: Overseers would not be in charge of the gatherings, the Holy Spirit would. Elders then would not be "over" they would be among. They would be facilitators who would facilitate, not overseers who would dominate… They would be participating within their giftings along with everyone else as they also in turn were gifted. They then would not control the gatherings nor try to dominate it. That place belongs to the Spirit. As part of their gifting they would be there to shepard and guide and to teach…

    …"It's a Spirit thing…it's a little hard to explain…" (Thanks Newsboys (for the song.))

    But what do I know!?

    Our problem here I think is all of us have only experienced a taste of, a glimpse of, the reality of an early church meeting. We haven't been there, we haven't done that…


  18. Al

    Great discussion!
    But I don't think we necessarily need or want to 'get back' to how it may have been for the early church. Their expression would have been culturally relevant for them, but probably quite irrelevant for us.

    Our struggle is separating the timeless from the dated, and figuring out what is still valid for us –and this continually changes. Anytime the church 'catches up' to culture, it tends to set that style in concrete, while the rest of the world moves on.

  19. Jeff McQ

    "Anytime the church 'catches up' to culture, it tends to set that style in concrete, while the rest of the world moves on."

    What an insightful statement, Al.

  20. rob


    I've heard it suggested (as you have) or argued (by others), that what happened in the early church gatherings was a cultural option. We do realize that what was happening, turned their world upside down…

    So now we look back on 2000 years of style set in concrete and we wonder why, as we participate in a continuance of that style, that we have this unsettling disquiet in our spirit, this sense that something is amiss, that the church as we know it, the church that we have participated in, seems quite disfunctional… and we realize it's not turning our world upside down.

    I would suggest it could because we have traded the timeless for something that is long outdated…


    I do understand your fear… The part of me that wants to DO something/start something/figure out something (for God) is tempered by the part in me that realizes unless the Lord Jesus builds it by the Spirit it is all vanity… so I continue to wait(didn't Jeff say something about timing and transistion!?)

    I do concur that problems start when people make the rules and then pour concrete around them… but that ought not be: When we become the slaves of the rules we lose the liberty of the Lord: for "…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." 2 Cor. 3:17. Being Spirit led then, is the antidote for the rules of men, within the church(gathering), and without…

  21. James

    Thanks for your words. I agree completely that the being led by Spirit is the only way to go. I was referring more to my fear over even having a discussion like this in the first place. Often that is the first bag of concrete, if you will. In addition, even when something is Spirit-led, it is our tendency to eventually want to build an altar around that as well. I know those are broad generalizations, but it's just what I've seen in the past. As a caveat, I will add that I have only recently come out of an institutional form of church, so this is still a brave new world for me. I'm only far enough removed from the bubble to comment on what *isn't* working for me, not necessarily what *could* work. I can say that God has been very gracious during this process and I am excited to see what church looks like for me in a year or ten.

  22. Kansas Bob

    I resonate with what Alan Know has commented. I think that the church, like the body of Christ, has many parts. We need each other.. we need others and others need us.. we are the arms and legs of Christ.

  23. rob


    RE: On …"having a discussion like this in the first place. Often that is the first bag of concrete, if you will.

    I had to smile… picturing us standing there by that bag of ready mix concrete, waiting and ready ('cause it's easy) to… …"JUST ADD WATER!"

    Also… that there is "everyman" Peter after being with Jesus on the Mount… "let's build alters"!!!
    How true it is of us…

    I just counted the years… out of the bubble for 18. Doesn't seem possible that it's been that long… (So it is possible to survive and more!)

    While the journey has not been easy it has been good. I'm beginning to learn how to walk, better… as Jesus did. And I don't fret about being outside the institution anymore (As a PK born and raised in it I've had a lot of baggage to "check in"…!) It has now become a good thing to see it from the outside. I continue to watch with interest and wait…

    Jesus said it best, "I(Jesus, not you, or me, or we…) will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail…"

    That helps me relax (and hopefully let the Spirit flow…) I do still have this(unending) hope that I will see the "building" this side of heaven… I have this insatiable curiosity about how He's going to accomplish it…

    (Now if I can just stay out of the way…!)

  24. James

    Your words are a real encouragement. We have actually been thriving and connecting with other believers on similar journeys, although it has still been tough at times. Many good books have also helped us along the way. I look forward to continuing the conversation in future posts. And in a spirit of shameless self-aggrandizement, feel free to check out my blog. It's still very young with only a few posts, but filled with some things God has been working in me.

  25. rob

    If a key ingredient of what makes it church is the relational aspect, then where our journey starts is in our relationship with/in God's Son (and through him with our Father).

    What makes it church, it seems to me, has to start right there with really knowing and seeing Jesus as all, and for all he is…

    then it ripples on out in shared relationships with others who are on the same journey with us. That walk together can get fun… and challenging.

    The challenge comes when we are confronted with the how… As in, "How I help you build it Jesus?!" Or, "Come over here and help us build it for Jesus…!"

    Interpretation: "I/We've got some bags of concrete Jesus…!"

    If that is so, is this what he would be saying?

    "First, lay down your bags, and go, and build relationships with Me!?!" 😉

  26. James

    I have been listening to The God Journey podcast and have read "He Loves Me!" and "The Naked Church" by Wayne Jacobsen as well as "The Shack" by William P Young. I have just started "The Misunderstood God" by Darin Hufford. Like all good books, these stir one to think more deeply about one's self rather than simply giving pithy answers or seven steps. I don't agree with every conclusion in every book, but they are all helping me to unlearn what I have learned, if you will, while drawing me into a deeper, more trusting relationship with Father in which I bein let go of things I have held onto so tightly over the years.

  27. rob

    I read Wayne's "So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore" quite some time ago (we had quit going and were learning better how to be the church) and enjoyed some good communication with him via email back then… Have read alot of his writings and have listened a bit to his Pod Casts…
    Frank Viola has been another good resource… I want to get Reimaging Church, his sequel to Pagan Christianity.

  28. rob

    More thoughts on "What makes it church"…

    Me thinks the focus has gotta be on the people gathering rather than the "style" of "model" of gathering.

    I'm picturing a long legged model strutting down the runway(bear with me here…!) modeling the latest style in clothes. All eyes are on her… "Gotta have what she's wearing" is implanted in everyones mind 'cause she struts her stuff sooo attractivly well!

    But all we are seeing is a model…

    By looking at models a case could be made against the home based church model as being disfunctional and the wrong model to follow… On the other hand, we have Viola making a case in "Pagan Christianity" against the Institutional Church model as being (mostly)pagan. Just take a look at the home based Corinthian church! The disfunctional list Paul gives us is persuasively long! Just take a look at the (pagan!)institutional church model?! (Viola's foot notes are long on that one…)

    So is the problem the home based church model? Or is it the institutional church model?!

    Or… is it the people?

    Back to our model; the long legged one…

    Now suppose after her runway strut we are seeing her back stage… The strut is gone and there she sits, her beauty blurried by a room full of beauties…

    What is she now, really? She is still beautiful and enticing. But now she is just another model in the crowd. She could be nice… wonderful even as a person… or… she could be the kind of a girl that rhymns with a witch…

    The point here is, if we are trying to find church in the models we have of it, if we are trying to find "what makes it church" there, we are looking in the wrong place. The church is the people. The good, the bad, and the ugly… And the fact is, God works through people anyway, in all kinds of flawed models, still working the miracle in flawed people, cleansing and sanctifying… and building his church. He does what he will do in spite of flawed models.

    That is not meant to endorse flawed models, that is an endorsment though–actually a validation–of God's grace; God's grace being poured out by his Spirit through his people, even now in all sorts of models…

  29. James


    Like the analogy. (Rob and I seem to have hijacked this thread…sorry, Jeff.)

    It is very easy for us to get focused on a thing versus the Impetus behind the thing. We want to set up camp when we see a "movement" versus daily listening to the One doing the moving.

    I'm a victim of this mentality myself. When our family left the institution a few months ago, my first instinct was to seek a replacement in a home church. We found one that was just forming, but fortunately everyone realized quickly that we were trying to build another thing and we have since throttled back, focusing more on just getting together informally to build friendships and share what Christ is teaching each of us.

    I'm the type who could very easily jump right back into the machine and not skip a beat, but for me that never produced a vibrant relationship with Father, so why would I do it? On the same token, there are many who thrive in that environment, so I'm never going to tell someone they should leave the institution. The big question we all need to ask ourselves is whether or not our particular form of "church" is leading us to lean more heavily on its Builder and walk in fellowship with Him. That will take different forms for each of us, which I believe was Jeff's original question!

  30. rob

    Yeah James… aside from two highjackers it's really quiet out there…! 🙂

    RE: "The big question we all need to ask ourselves is whether or not our particular form of "church" is leading us to lean more heavily on its Builder and walk in fellowship with Him. That will take different forms…"

    I think the best forms would be "doing church" (uh…what does that mean?) in ways that always keep Jesus central and that better and best facilitate the work, the leading, and the ministry of the Spirit and teacher in our lives. And it's not about the models it's about being yeilded Jesus people.
    I've found it refreshing building relationships outside the "models" and learning about doing church relationally, learning together how to share the Bread of life! Trying to learn how to walk as Jesus encouraged each of us to walk: by the Spirit, doing and saying nothing (Did he really mean all the things he said and did!?) except that which the Father told him to say and do…

    What a challenge!

    While I still am involved in "forms" that would be called para-church ministries (I would though–just to get, or keep(!) myself in hot water– call pretty much all the forms, the models, out there, "para"…;-), i.e., Christian organizations/denominations who are being "the church And!"; that is being the church as another (organizational, institutional or organic even!?) "beautiful/desirable model": the "And" to help make it run. They then become another para- church coming along side (as in paraclete) to help…Was that with or without those bags of concrete(?) to "help" Jesus build His church.

    Hey, would somebody out there just tell me, what really is the church!? It becomes confusing… (…when we don't see the real church as being the called out people, that Jesus is the head of rather than one of the many models.)

    But then again, what do I know? I'm still trying to figure this out… 🙂

  31. Mark Walkowiak

    Mark said…
    The gathering of the body is important to do God's will. The gifts of the Spirit are to be used to build up the church family and for that to be accomplished there must be engagement. God shows us in his word how and how not to gather. Romans 12:1-13, 1Cor.11-14

  32. almost anonymous

    Going to church: In the American evangelical church this is a cultural experience. It used to be the dominant cultural norm, but in major parts of the country it is coming to be viewed as a quaint anachronism from a bygone era.

    In American evangelicalism, the emphasis is on the experience of the worshipper. A "good worship service" therefore is one where the individual leaves feeling that he/she has "worshipped". This can mean many different things depending on the particular Christian subculture. It is common for this experience to be facilitated by "worship teams" or "worship leaders" whose function is to arouse a certain level of religious emotion in the "audience". A scintillating sermon is an important part of this experience, even if it is forgotten within two hours of leaving the building.

    If the Church = the Body of Christ, then every believer is part of the Church whether or not she/he is gathered in a large community, a small group, or alone.

    The term "church" is a word describing a social construct which varies greatly depending on the culture or subculture of the congregants. (Unfortunately, it is not a counter-culture as it was at the beginning.) In America, most churches and all congregants could disappear tomorrow and the greater community would barely notice and would certainly be no worse off. American evangelical and fundamentalist churches are generally an irrelevant social phenomenon, with value equal to a bowling team. Their meeting places and practices may differ but the greater community is generally unchanged as a result of their existence.

    I prefer the question, "What makes a gathering of believers a community?" For that to happen, each member must wrestle individually with the question, "What makes faith tangible and meaningful?"

  33. rob

    RE: Almost Anon… (Martin L?!;-) "…meeting places and practices may differ but the greater community is generally unchanged as a result of their existence."

    That, on the face of it, is a startling statement; that, what is called the church in any given locality has virtually no impact upon the greater community, is a sad commentary upon the church…

    …recently a friend and I were discussing an observation he made here in our local community about his church(One he is actively involved in as an "Elder", teacher, etc…). Nothing scientific, no data backing and documentation, just an ongoing observation about the impact of one of the two largest "evangelical" churches in our community; "his" church: Looking back across the last 10 years, he struggle with some questions: What impact have we as a church had on our community, how have we changed it for the Kingdom? With the money spent over that time in the millions, what kind of "bang are we getting for our buck" so to speak? If our mission, our call is to preach the gospel, and disciple new believers, how are we doing?

    His conclusion was: little or no impact upon the community. While the church was large, with stable attendance and overflowing finances, new converts were few and far between; discipling was greatly lacking, as most new attendees were those moving from other churches(mostly from the other biggest one, for whatever the reasons–they traded back and forth…) or were churched people who had moved into the area and were looking for a church to attend.
    Millions of dollars spent, little to no impact: a growing community, with a shrinking percentage of Christians… Lots of effort, few(tangable,)results for the Kingdom. His frustration and disillusionment was clearly evident.

    What is missing in this "form of godliness" that we as the "church" seem to have?

  34. James

    Just a thought–and not to beat a dead horse–but do you think it could be because we are inviting them to join a thing rather than introducing them to a Person (despite the fact that we don't realize it)? For all the "it's not about religion, it's about relationship" cliches I have heard (and thrown around myself) over the years, I still think we have made church more about following a list of rules and behaving a certain way (i.e. religion) than about an intimate friendship with the Living God. People can see the emptiness from a mile away and want no part of it. The programs and structure–while well-intended–have become a substitute for (and thus a hindrance to) connecting personally with God, in turn limiting our ability to share Christ with people because we hardly know Him ourselves! At least that's what the last 25 years of my existence within the institution has taught me.

  35. rob


    RE: "…we are inviting them to join a thing rather than introducing them to a Person…"

    Call it "church and…", or, "Jesus and…" when it becomes more about making the "thing" run, rather than about knowing the One (who makes it run). But it overtakes us sooo subtly.

    We enter the kingdom by being joined to Christ as his bride and at that very instant become joined to and part of his Church, but then we're gradually introduced to another "necessary" joining; joining the church thing, as you say… Being His bride is not enough, knowing him is not enough, "fellowshipping" Him is not enough .

    It's Jesus and… as the Head somehow becomes the sideshow.

    We best introduce others to Jesus as the fellowship we are having with Him is shared with them. Life begats Life as we feed on the Bread of Life and share him with others.

    RE: "…limiting our ability to share Christ with people because we hardly know Him ourselves!"

    A telling line; "thing" subtitutes for the Real Thing limiting our ability to share Christ with people.

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