What We Learned From A Year Without Going to Church: Worship Services and Relationships

This is the beginning of the series “What We Learned From a Year Without Church

Click to visit other posts in the series.  Part 2: Busyness and Self-Awareness |  Part 3: Communication & Control – Message

I will be 34 years old this December. This means I have been part of a church for the better part of 33 years – minus some time for college angst and moodiness. Over the years I have learned a lot about the church. The past year though, of not going to church, has given me space for some deeper thinking on what church really is.

For close to a year now, we have not gone to church. Yes, my family and I have chosen to not get up on a Sunday, drive to a church, sit in chairs, and take part in a Sunday service. And there is a very good reason why.

Instead, we committed to being part of a “home church.” A home church is a gathering of Christian people who come together to take part in worship of some form, teaching from the Bible, prayer, and of course food  – all within a home. While it may sound similar to a traditional Sunday morning service, the experience is quite different. The simplicity and mobility of it is refreshing. I like to say that at a home church the “reasons” are more important than the “means”. In a more traditional church experience, the “means” or ways things are done can often become the reason the church even exists for many.

The Goal

Now, in an effort to be transparent, I have written this post many times. Each time I have felt the tone was too harsh or too lax, too detailed or not detailed enough, too theological or too practical. This is also not an ask for you to leave your church and go start a home church – my goal is far from that. Likewise, it is also not a theological or ecclesiological treatise though these questions and ideas do have large and important ideas supporting them.

Many of these ideas may feel underdeveloped, which they admittedly are. I have intentionally left it that way here for this particular article. My goal is to bring to light some of the realities and questions we experienced over the past year of our experience.  It is a humble attempt to lightly prod around the idea of church and to hopefully have you think about how you can bring them to wherever you are – in a Sunday driven church, home church, or anywhere in between.

Here then are some reflections from a family who stopped going to church to be the church.

People Don’t Care About Worship Services

Alan Hirsch, in The Forgotten Ways, estimates that on average 40% of your surrounding population attends a local church worship service on any given Sunday. This, of course, varies in certain contexts for many reasons but it still communicates something important. It means that in any given context, around 60% of a surrounding population does not and, more importantly, will not attend a Sunday morning service – and that number is growing.

As I have spoken to these people, the “nones” in regard to church attendance, the more this reality was confirmed. The idea of stepping into a church was as far from a reality for them as they could imagine. Surprisingly though for some, with these same people, something else became very clear – these “nones” actually wanted to talk about God, faith, and life. Their reasons for not going to a Sunday service varied from personal preference to deep conviction – either way, they were not going to come no matter how many ways the church made it more attractive.

Yet, most churches and the staff the church employs seem to spend a majority of their time creating the Sunday morning experience – from the staff to pull it off all the way to the utilities to keep it going like electricity and air-conditioning. That is not always true but an honest look would show us it is more than we might be willing to admit. I look back now and am sad at the amount of time I spent making sure a Sunday morning “went well” and the number of resources used to do so.

What we found when we didn’t have the Sunday morning service to invite people to, as a way to introduce them to the gospel, we started inviting them into our life instead. In many small and big ways, our lives became the most visible part of the church for them and we liked it that way. Our home church then is a place for people who are interested in committing more to each other as a family who care for one another. While the Sunday service acts like a funnel to hopefully identify people who want to go a little deeper, with a home church, our lives and relationships act as that instead.

Relationships Are the Building Blocks of the Church

When a church is 200+ people in average attendance, it is easy to blend in and take what you need. When it is a home church of 20, this type of approach does not work so well.

I have heard people talk about finding a church where they can just “attend” on Sunday and not be bothered. How sad is it that a person fundamentally misunderstands their worth and value to the church and the church’s worth and value toward them? Or how is it that the church would be set up to allow that to happen? The church is built on relationships; the relationship between the Trinity, the relationship between the Trinity and humanity, and the relationships between all of us.

When the relationships break down or don’t form, the church does not grow.  When people view the church as a provider of religious goods and services it short-circuits the system. They experience a twisted view of “church” and reject it – and they should. What they experienced though was not church but something else and they tell others the church is the problem. Maybe it is but maybe you were too?  We all have to own our own perspectives.

It’s a relational issue at its core. It makes me wonder how many of the 60% who refuse to step in a church do so not on some theological or philosophical issues but because of the relational scars and wounds they carry from those who were supposed to be different and care?

Close Proximity

Now, in a home church, people are often uncomfortably close to one another relationally – there are no big Sunday services or programs to get in the way and buffer that. As many know, when people get involved things can go sideways pretty quick. It is no surprise that egos will clash and feelings will be hurt but something very different can happen in this type of relationally driven setting. The big surprise for most is that when these things do happen they can become catalysts for the group.

When a home church moves toward one another in that mess rather than running away, they all learn and grow in their ability to care for others, their ability to empathize, their ability to say hard things and do it lovingly. It is in these real moments that people get a clearer picture of Jesus. It often skyrockets the group of people into a deeper sense of community – more than talking about what community is ever could. No one person is a clear picture of Jesus and no Sunday service can provide a whole picture but when the church binds together it might be the closest tangible expression of all his goodness for everyone.

Likewise, when someone stops coming to a Sunday morning service, minus those they may have become close with, the service continues on. It’s just the nature of the westernized church. In a home church though, the feeling is much different – it hurts more. There is a weightiness about it that a 200+ worship service just can’t cultivate. I believe there is good reason for it and good to feel that way about it.

Relationships then fuel the church to be what it is supposed to be – present and participatory. Anything less is just not the church.

More to come…

 

This is the beginning of the series “What We Learned From a Year Without Church

Click to visit other posts in the series.  Part 2: Busyness and Self-Awareness |  Part 3: Communication & Control – Message

Greg Smith

Blogging about faith, life, church, and everything in between.

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