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Moving From Buildings to Dinner Dates

There was a time when you could build a church building, throw out a few flyers, and swing open your doors to waiting patrons congregants and poof–you had a church.

This ‘cathedral’ model of church also implicitly and explicitly carries a certain baggage that I don’t find very congruent to how churches operated in the first two centuries.

For example, you sit and face the front and quietly listen to what’s being propagated to you, thus there is limited participation. It also establishes an ‘us them’ mentality: you are the congregation, you are over in the pews; we are the clergy, we stand by the altar. Your job is to stay and pay, our job is to pray and preach.

Some people tried to change what the building looked liked (less glam, more chairs), but they didn’t change what the fundamental use of the building was (is).

Calgary Church doesn’t have the following: 2 songs, announcements, 5 songs, dismissal of kids, 45 minute sermon, benediction with a song, go home.

But because we don’t have those things doesn’t make us less of a church! Why?

Because quite simply church is not about what you do but what you represent and how you (the community) conduct yourselves. (There is obviously necessary components but songs and announcements aren’t included.)

As a churchgoer, regardless of whether you think you’ve done away with lifeless church traditions in favour of electric guitars, the crux of the message remains the same: get people in the door. Just getting you in the door is the victory, one of the first and simultaneously last steps to ones exposure to Christianity.

This idea would work if a) people didn’t find what went on inside really boring and/or irrelevant, and more importantly b) what went made sense to people who have no religious experience (now a growing minority).

It shouldn’t be a surprise that merely inviting people to a building doesn’t magically change them. Yet, that remains the primary response for churchgoers when exposing people to our faith: get them inside the building for a service or ‘outreach event’.

Conversely, I know of many Christians who judge other Christians who stop coming through the door thinking less of them because they didn’t make the ‘sacrifices’ to be at church every Sunday morning.

Is that all there is to it? Since when does showing up Sunday mean we’re stronger Christians? Isn’t there more to our faith than attendance? There is, and we need to capture it.

The BUILDING has been elevated as the place where transformation takes place, where you can magically be touched by grace, where God bungee jumps down every Sunday between 10:35 and 11:45. Just ask churchgoers where they’re going and what they do Sundays…. “I go to church,” they respond.

Churches try their darnedest to get people in. Chocolate bar giveaways, prizes for the person who get the most people in (sounds cultish), or a sermon series on *insert popular cultural event here*.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point: church is not the building, it’s not the box, it’s not the cathedral, it’s not the place you attend to collect more brownie points for heaven. Church, simply put, is rooted in the gathering of the people.

This is not simply gathering among other people. Most churches, you can go, sit, never talk to anybody else, and go home unscathed. Just like real life I guess. But real life is changing and people are beginning to identify that their fences are too tall and their houses to empty. So the response? We starting to lower our fences to see our neighbors, we’re invited more strangers into our home, and we’ve found more friends and created more relationships.

Certainly appealing to many–>creating relationships over playing videos games, Facebooking, or watching TV night in and night out.

Now imagine for a moment that the CHURCH was actually rooted in what you did at your block BBQ or dinner party? Imagine for a minute it wasn’t about how many times you could go to Sunday church or how many new people you could convince to attend with you on any given Sunday, but it was about how many new connections you could make by regularly attending the local watering hole and how many wrongs you could turn right in your community.

Remember when I mentioned how the world around us is changing and we no longer live with the assumption that people have any recollection or memory of anything Christian? Well what do you suppose the solution?

Brow beat them into rational submission by taking them to church week in and week out? The people I know wouldn’t stand for that approach.

Why not try exposing them to the gospel message of redemption through a real, long term, and reciprocal relationship? One seeks to count people as another number in the pew, the other seeks to name people as a friend. Let God do the converting, he’s good at it. We should go about our business representing God’s perspective on how we should conduct ourselves (joining in what’s called the Kingdom of God).

Does your church elevate the need to exist in the places you already exist? If not then why not?

Perhaps it goes back to the BUILDING. We’ve put so much stock into the building that to see it empty would be a failure. We put so much energy, so much money, that our existence depends on using the thing we’ve created to house our god.

The solution? We know the gospel is unchanged, and that the gospel message of redemption is not constrained within the interpretation of the block building or even the leaders within it. I think the solution here hinges on releasing people to exist for the sake of mission in the places they are connected.

we have to loose the mentality that ‘church’ is when you get together Sunday morning. If church is about the people, then the church is gathered everywhere those people are. I not for a minute suggesting that we should not gather, we should, and if it’s Sunday morning then so be it. But you can’t be described and identified as that box Sunday morning. And under no circumstance should those we know be exposed as their first experience that gathering.

Stop dragging people to the box. Stop dragging people to the cathedral.

Start inviting people over for dinner. Start meeting people over drinks.

Find a church that will support you in these initiatives. Join God in his plan to redeem our city.