How can we “be” the church if we keep “going” to church?

“I can tell you by firsthand experience, when you (churches) get a facility, everything radically changes.  The church was designed to be a movement.  That dynamic seems to change rapidly when the church gets an address.  Somehow, someway, our infatuation with facilities, takes us out of the fluid mode to the maintenance mode in a nanosecond.

How can we be the Church if we keep going to Church?  God wants to have full custody of us rather than just weekend visits. – Gary Goodell in Permission Granted to do church differently in the 21st century.

Right after making this statement, Gary talks about what he calls the “edifice complex” that many churches have. Involved in this “complex” is how “the building dictates our priorities and our purpose.”

Over the last number of years, I have been endeavoring to remove from the common things I say phrases like “going to church” or referring to the building as the “church.” For many, these are common phrases to say. I know that for many the first phrase I mentioned means going to a gathering for worship, but even then, how has that phrase affected our attitude and perception of who and what is the church? They have been changed because the focus has changed over the years from relationships to the building.

Disagree? In response, I would encrouage you to do two things. First, look at your church budget. Compare the percentage of the budget dedicated to the building (mortgage, insurance, utilities, maintenance, upkeep, possessions, etc.) to how much money is dedicated for local outreach and ministry and mission. Second, compare how much ministry, mission and outreach happen outside the walls of the building to how much occurs inside those walls.

For many churches, the amount of money dedicated to the building far exceeds the amount of money dedicated for local outreach and ministry and mission. For many churches, the focus is on programs and ways to get people inside the building (it’s called being “attractional”), not on being out among the community as an alternative community, after all, don’t we need to justify all the money being spent on the building? The reality of this focus is why there is a need for a team like the one for my region of which I am a member to examine ways to “move the focus of energy from inward to outward: seeing mission outside the church walls.” If this reality didn’t exist, why would there be a need for this type of team?

A building is not necessary to be the church; there are many times that it can even be a hindrance to being the church to which God calls us to be. The attitude, which arises from the perception that we “go to church” instead of “being the church,” has caused many to live out the attitude that being a part of a church is just another thing in the schedule to do or an add-on to who I am, just like being an electrician, plumber, teacher, business person, etc.

If my approach is that no matter where I am, there is the church, then that has an effect on what I do and how I live and what is my focus, motives, desires and heart. Dividing my life into parts or compartments does not exist; everything finds its source in the reality that I am the church through my relationship, no matter where I may find myself. That will then change my attitude and approach as I encounter different situations and people. 

I wonder if the church, much like Israel, has been exhibiting a desire to be like those we see around us. When the Israelites ask Samuel for a king to lead them (I Samuel 8:5), the reason given to Samuel was that they wanted to be like the nations around them. Has this been part of the attitude that has crept into the church as the building has become the focus, namely, to be like other organizations around it?

Yes, a building can be a tool and a resource, but quite often, it moves beyond that to being what dictates and controls what we do.

Let me end this with something Howard Snyder wrote in 1975 in his book, The Problem of Wineskins, as Gary Goodell relates it in Permission Granted.  Snyder wrote that “church buildings attest to five facts about the Western church: its immobility, inflexibility, lack of fellowship, pride and class divisions. ‘The gospel says, “Go,” but our buildings say, “Stay.” The gospel says, “Seek the lost,” but our buildings say, “Let the lost seek the church.”’

“Only time will tell whether or not we are able to become fully missional in an institutional age, and so much of that rides on how we use our facilities and buildings.”



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