What do you think about church? Do you “attend?” Are you a “member?” Do you avoid it like the plague? Or you wouldn’t miss it for the world?
In recent surveys, fewer Americans are regularly involved in a local church. And for those who do attend more regularly, the trend is for bigger (read mega) churches. In fact, even though more than 90 percent of all churches have fewer than 100 people in attendance, more than 60 percent of all church attendance is in mega-churches!
I have seen a lot of books and articles lately that talk about how people of faith are really serious about being “spiritual” but have found church to be unhelpful and sometimes even damaging to their faith. I’ve tried to understand what their basis for these conclusions might be, and it varies a good bit, but one thing seems to come up in all the conversations: “It doesn’t speak to me as much as ______ (fill in the blank with some private and personal form of “spiritual activity,” like being one with nature, or worshiping one to one with God).
At the same time most of them lament the lack of “real relationship” inside the church, as if people there are just coincidentally in the same place at the same time, and they look for other circles to form or experience relationships. Church doesn’t “meet my needs” is a phrase that has become pretty common.
Perhaps, because I have been part of both large and small churches, both as a “member” and as a pastor, I find it disconcerting that so many people seem to have written off the church. It makes me wonder just what they think the church is.
When I think of the church, I think of the “body” image that the Apostle Paul used frequently. Paul describes the church as the body of Christ, where Jesus is the head and each one of us is a part of that body. The Apostle Peter has a similar view, seeing each believer as part of the “household of God.” Luke records in the Book of Acts times when people come to faith in Christ and are described as being added to the body. What I don’t find is any mention of “becoming a member of the church” as if it were a club or civic organization you had to volunteer for.
What I see happening in Scripture shows us coming to faith, believing in Jesus Christ and being joined to the body of Christ (the church) by God’s own spirit working in our salvation. The Apostle Paul wrote that “by one Spirit we were baptized into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13) and Paul praises the wonder of a body so able to bring people of every language, every culture, every nation together united in Christ. And it is in that environment, the gathering of believers who share the name of Christ, who have been given that same spirit, who have received that same grace that Scripture describes the saving work of God as taking place. It is in that environment, the community of people who share faith in Christ, that lives are challenged to put away the wrong attitudes, to stop the toxic behaviors, to abandon the foolish pride that leads us into trouble and to live a new life, a different life, a life that honors God and shares God’s passion for healing this broken world. It makes me wonder why so many find it dispensable.
I don’t know if anyone reading this column is a church-goer, a hide-in-the-back spectator or a wouldn’t-be-caught-dead-in-church person, but I know God that put us together in his “family” on purpose so that we could experience here and now his love and grace and learn to give that love and grace to each other. So that, as we show grace in the church, other people can see that happening and come to know God’s love and grace is also there for them.
See you in church?
Bruce Thweatt serves Enumclaw Community Church and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.