It’s simple . . . it’s not.
The Church, the bride of Christ, is not dying, nor can she.
There are many dead and dying “church organizations” in the world, but THE CHURCH, is indestructible, eternal, under the sovereign hand and protection of Christ, and will endure.
How easy is it to “plant” a church organization?
Things you need to exist as an organization:
- 501 (c) 3 status
- Pastor (CEO)
- Secretary Treasurer/Clerk (CFO/COO)
- Worship Service
- Bank account
- Givers to fill the bank account
- Building that is built/purchased in the name of the organization
- Board of Directors/Leadership/Elders/Deacons
- Focus on evangelism
- Door to door surveys
- Other various “missions” programs
- Small Group Bible Studies / Sunday School
Things you need to exist as the Church:
- The Holy Spirit
This may seem overly critical and simplified, after all planting a church organization takes a lot of long hard work. But the question is; should it? Think about it, if the Church is a work of God, should it take effort on our part? Yes. Should it kill us? No. Could it cause us to be killed by unbelievers around us? Maybe. What is the work? Proclaiming the gospel of life and watching the LORD save and bring spiritually dead people to life. Being rejected and seeing many more spiritually dead people remain spiritually dead. But as we see people come to faith in Christ, as we see people grasp the grace of Christ, we will see the Church grow.
How does it grow if there’s no 501(c)3 church organization with a building and structure? Let’s look at scripture. Where did they meet? There are FAR too many scriptures to quote (and even if I tried, I would be guilty of proof-texting) that speak to this, so read the New Testament . . . yes all of it. If you want a really great historical/chronological read view of the New Testament Early Church as who she truly was, check out the book that leads you through a beautiful view of the history and life of the New Testament Church in The Untold Story of the New Testament. What follows is my interpretation of scripture and Church history based on biblical, historical, scholarship, and archeological studies.
The Church, the group of people who were given salvation through the indwelling Holy Spirit, began meeting house to house and also met together in large groups in the temple courts (specifically Solomon’s portico) to listen to the teaching of the apostles (the “sent ones”) until they were banned from all Jewish gathering places such as synagogues and the temple itself (which Jesus said would happen). The majority of Church gatherings/meetings met in homes as the foundation of their time together.
Around the middle-latter part of the 3rd century there were some people who expanded their homes to build enlarged living/dining/meeting room spaces for larger groups of people (see dura europos). Church buildings didn’t arise until the rise of Catholicism in the 4th century with Emperor Constantine. *For more on this see Frank Viola’s book Pagan Christianity. The majority of the Church met in homes in groups of about 20-30, or depending on how many people they could comfortably fit in each home. They didn’t call themselves a “small group” of a larger “church organization;” they simply called themselves “the Church that is in ______________ ,” a community that manifests the presence of Jesus Christ through the indwelling Holy Spirit in a specific geographical location, and every home that had a group meeting in their home called themselves a part of “the Church.”
They met together, but didn’t just meet with one another; they believed they were meeting/gathering with, manifesting, and experiencing the very presence of the living Christ through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit that dwelled within each of them. They would hear from Jesus because they didn’t believe they were a bunch of individuals who gathered to read the Bible and discuss “what this passage means to me,” but would read scripture and ask, what is Jesus speaking, or let us express this to Jesus who is present with us.
This isn’t reserved only for the early Church, but occurs even still today! In Frank Viola’s Reimagining Church we see things that happened scripture occurring today in many home Church gatherings that have stepped out in faith to live the scripture, live how the early Church lived, and not only that, but to believe like the early Church believed. They believed they were saved by grace through faith, not bound by the law, nor licensed to sin, but freed from both the law and sin and made alive through grace. They believed they were indwelled with the very presence of the Almighty LORD God and ruler, creator, and sustainer of this world and of the universe. They believed they were holy and that whenever and wherever they met/gathered became a holy place because it was being filled with God’s holy people, the Church. They did NOT believe that the Church was a building, an organization, a pastor, or even just a group of people who met for a meal, an event, a “service,” or a group therapy (as many believe today). They believed that wherever God’s people met, who were indwelled with the Holy Spirit in order to manifest and experience the presence of Christ together, that was the Church.
So what about our dead and declining churches today?
We’re seeing dying and declining church organizations. Why? Because many are simply long existing social clubs that have used the Bible to preach morality, works, and “salvation” in an effort to continue existing. They seek after new marketing strategies, adding young people to the mix to continue bringing in people, money, and time.
I’m reminded of the movie In Time. In this movie, society has figured out a way to genetically modify people in order for their bodies to stop aging at 25, and then they buy, earn, give, barter, or steal time to continue living until they are killed or the meter on their arm runs out of time and they die. Their time literally “runs out.”
The mindset is that we have to continue working to feed the church organization new people, new givers, new attendees, new “customers,” and new “investors” in order to buy more time for our church organizations to continue to exist.
What would the Church be like if it didn’t NEED an offering to exist? What would that Church be doing, what would that Church be believing about themselves, how would that Church use financial gifts, goods, and services so that no one in the Church had a need and they could bless their unbelieving neighbors who had a need so that they could bring the kingdom near and bring others into the kingdom?
The Perceived Problem . . .
There is a mass exodus of people leaving church organizations specifically here in America. Christian leaders are writing books entitled Autopsy of a Deceased Church or Growing Young among many others to try out different marketing strategies to “reengage” with culture, to “get church attendance up,” to stop the decline, and to regain church prominence in American society who is “kicking God out of schools and government.” There has been the constant presence of “God” through “Christendom” (Christianity in social, political, economic, and cultural prominence) in America, with its peak in the 1950’s. Since then, we have seen a massive decline over the years of both the amount of attendees, acceptance, prominence, and desire for involvement in church and by church in American society in all forms.
As I’ve said many times and will continue to say, I see this trend and I am grateful. Many have written about the “rise of the nones” – meaning, there is a great rise in people who check the religion box “none” on survey’s. This doesn’t mean that people are ceasing to be Christians, it simply means that people are ceasing to pretend to be Christians and are being honest.
The gospel of salvation by grace through faith in the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of the LORD Jesus Christ is foolishness and offensive to those who are perishing (nonbelievers/outsiders). Many churches don’t preach the gospel of grace because they want attendance to stay up in order to continue to exist. Grace doesn’t sell. Works sells. Self-Help sells. Church organizations with flashing lights, free food, and fun/cool market strategies to bring in the crowds sells.
Would your spiritual life in the Church be enough without a church name, without 501(c)3 status, with no offering, no church building, no administrative offices, no worship service, no Facebook, no website, and no bank account? If Jesus and His presence aren’t enough, maybe you need to rethink what you were saved into or whether you know Jesus at all.
Do you sit there in your church building before, during, or after the service and wonder if this is it, if this the entirety of what Jesus came to build? Do you sit there and wonder, “Is this it? There must be more!” I believe Martin Luther’s work is far from over. What he began was LONG overdue, but he being a part of that which distorted Christianity to begin with in the 4th century, the Catholic church, he was only able to stomach so much change. I believe there is currently and coming a “neo-reformation” or “continued reformation” that is bringing the heart of His Church closer to what she was intended to be and do and believe and experience.
The Church and the continued reformation cannot be “simplified” to one blog nor to one person. As this is a much longer, larger, and convoluted discussion. To start somewhere, check out my teaching series through Frank Viola’s book Pagan Christianity, Andrew Farley’s book The Naked Gospel, Larry Crabb’s books Understanding Who You Are, Connecting, and SoulTalk. This is just to get started.
Be a part of what Christ is doing in the life of His Church, His Bride, His Body, His People, and see what grasping the power of the gospel of grace through the indwelling Holy Spirit.