That’s Not Church

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.”

7 thoughts on “That’s Not Church”

    1. I’m the friend mentioned above. So … not being one to scrap a good idea just because some people don’t like it, I decided to at least give it a try. So, the second Sunday of January, we had an “Acts 2:42 Sunday gathering.” As Bob outlined in his post. We started with a potluck breakfast … outstanding food. After breakfast, we sang a few songs and shared the Lord’s Supper at our tables. Then we had a discussion around Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman in John 4:1-26 focusing on “What do we learn about Jesus?” and “How does what we learn impact us?” Some of it was discussed at the individual tables, some with the whole group. Then we closed by praying at our tables – thanking Jesus for being/doing what we saw in our discussion and asking Jesus to be/do the same for us. …. And afterwards, the man who originally said, “That’s not church” said, “This was great!!!! I learned things about people at our table that I never knew before. We should do this again. This is something to invite people to.” We will do it again. … I didn’t remind him of what he said when it was just an unfamiliar idea.

  1. This is consistent with what I recently read in Jim Peterson’s book, The Insider. “Traditional” church tends to be stuck in a formulaic model of “congregating”. The church must be true and fixed to uphold God’s Word, but must be flexible enough to meet people where they are. Jesus met with people not only in the temple, but local synagogues, as well as in their homes, workplaces, and in the streets.

    1. Good observation, John, on flexibility. Not only are churches normally not flexible most are stuck in the same basic formula of what a Sunday gathering needs to look like.

  2. When we gather to teach/study/discuss our Lord, whether on a mountain top or an ocean beach, we are the church. It’s not brick and mortar that constitutes a church. It’s us, believers gathered together.
    I was thrilled to read about what the pastor of that small church was proposing to do. What a wonderful way to make learning more exciting! And I’m sure that people would be more inclined to remember what they had discussed for some afterwards! I would eagerly participate in such a venture!

    1. You are absolutely right, Claudia. They would remember what they had discussed (and may be more likely to implement the teaching, especially if that’s how the discussion is directed. I think my friend will be trying such a service at least once. If he does, I’ll post the impact.

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