What do you think of when you hear someone talk about church? I'm sure there are those reading this that will say a local church is a local body of believers and part of the larger church which is the bride of Christ. This is true, but is it really what you think of when someone else is talking about church? I mean, really?!?!
I always hear people talking about going to church, as in the building. There are activities at church, services at church, weddings at church, and worship at church. For all those people talking about church, there seems to be a whole lot more talk about a building than a living organism.
When I was growing up, I was pretty much taught the same way. "Church is people, not a building," was heard from the pulpit, and then a new building fund would be launched to build, well, a church (building). So, like many people I went to church (building) with, I called all my fellow-believers my brothers and sisters in Christ and claimed them all as part of a larger family. Only problem was that I usually only saw this family on Sunday, they always dressed in their nicest clothes, and we went through this kind of ritualistic greeting time before the service, a shaking hands ritual called "time of fellowship" at some point during the service, and after the service my church family would usually politely say goodbye as they headed for the nearest exit.
Outside of this building called church, it seemed what was supposed to be my church family blended away seamlessly into the world, and became so diluted you never heard or saw from them again until the next service. Oh, each service they were plenty happy to see you, smile, shake your hand, engage you during the official time of fellowship, and then politely say goodbye. Each service, three times a week, this could be repeated in case you did not get a good enough dose of church at any of the other services. There are also lots of unspoken rules I'm not even about to get into. Suffice it to say, a lot of people are putting a lot of stake into those rules. If you think differently, by the way, you'd better not mention it because otherwise you're just causing trouble trying to change things.
While I know some reading this will say "Not at MY church!" the truth is, I believe this church experience is exactly like this for most people who walk in from the world outside church doors. All of last year my family visited around to many churches in my area. The pattern seemed to repeat itself everywhere. People gathering in a building smiling and greeting each other, singing songs, time of fellowship, service, polite goodbyes, and then (poof) everyone left. For each successive service, simply rewind and repeat. For all the differences churches like to promote about themselves, they are quite surprisingly very much the same as all the churches they say they are different from. Anyone who could stick around long enough to figure out this pattern could become an excellent church member in good standing in no time at all!
There was one exception, and it redefined what church meant to me.
When we first started going to this church, we were asked to simply give them a chance to get to know us, for us to get to know them, and to make an effort to attend for six Sundays to help accomplish this. We agreed.
In those six weeks, we did get to know some people there, and some of them came to know us. While we were not ready to commit to anything right away, something felt distinctly different. I felt like these people really cared. Fast forward to the beginning of this year, and as my wife and I talked about all the different churches we had visited, that one church kept coming into my mind. I wanted to go back to see how they were doing, like checking up on an old friend I had not seen for some time. We did. Then we went back again a couple of weeks later. After a few more weeks, I felt I simply could not go anywhere else and feel like I was going to a building where people met. I had found a real church, and this Sunday, my family became members of a body of believers known as Redeemer Church in Oxford, AL.
This was no small decision on my part. I had determined to either find a real church, or not go to any church and simply start one myself. I had become so frustrated with what church had become, I could not tolerate it any longer when I knew what it could be. What it is supposed to be. What God created it to be.
I am glad my family has a church home now. We will meet in a building, but it is very obvious to anyone who visits here that Redeemer Church is not a building, nor will it ever be. The focus of Redeemer Church is, and I believe it will always be, on the glory of God and the joy of all people - not just the ones who walk through its doors, but those far beyond the walls of whatever building they will meet in.
They do not say they care about people. They simply care about people, and their actions speak louder than words.
So, really think about that question I started with. What do you think of when people around you start talking about church? If you get a picture of a building in your mind, maybe you need to start looking for a real church.