A friend of mine who pastors a small church in a rural area came up with a great format for Sunday morning: one which will build a feeling of family, be comfortable and attractive to visitors, and encourage retention and real-life application of the morning’s teaching. He proposed that they meet at 9a, sit at round tables in groups of 8 – 10 and have breakfast together. They would remain at the tables for the morning. After a few songs, led simply by one person with a guitar, he would present one story of Jesus from the gospels, maybe 15 minutes. Then folks would process the story at tables for another 15 minutes. Then they would pray for each other.
When I read it, I thought it was a great idea on so many levels, not the least of which is that the average sermon, which the pastor may have labored 10 – 30 hours on, is gone from most people’s minds before they even get outside the building. Also, it’s difficult for a small church to have a competent “worship band”—something which takes talent and time to put together well. And of course, not much real fellowship takes place in a typical Sunday service environment. Having people sit and eat together is a no-brainer.
But the first reaction by members of my friend’s leadership team was, “That’s not church.”
Really? What makes it not church?
We like to hold up Acts 2.42 as a model: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Which of those four elements would not be in my friend’s Sunday morning?
We like to encourage people to “attend church” by quoting Hebrews 10.24, 25: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” I have not found the average Sunday service conducive to “stirring up one another” or “encouraging one another.” We’re expected to file into a room, sing when told to, and listen to a lecture. On the other hand, my friend’s proposal would allow time precisely for implementing the “one anothers” of Hebrews 10.
So what makes such a gathering “not church”? Or is our understanding of church very faulty? Basing our Sunday gatherings on a centuries-old form doesn’t make it either right or optimal. David Platt, former pastor of Brook Hills Church in Birmingham, AL, has decried the fact that church is “A Performance at a Place with Programs run by Professionals.” Yet that is exactly what most people expect from church to the point that when presented with an alternative, one that might be more conducive to what gatherings of God’s people should look like, they can only respond, “That’s not church.”