Such a loaded word.
What do you think of when you hear it?
Happy people...or Hateful people. Hymnals...or hand-clapping. Silence. Sermons. Songs. Steeples. Prayers. Penance. Passion. A place to find peace...or a place to be proper. A place of hope...or a place of hurt.
It's easy to get disenchanted by the "church," by organized religion. The easy thing to do if you get hurt or become disillusioned is to call it all a farce and walk away. After all, people are sometimes harsh and unwelcoming. The sermons are sometimes - perhaps, often - boring and uninspired. Truth be told, the whole process of dressing up and sitting stiffly and shaking hands and shushing our kids seems exhausting.
I know. I really know.
Maybe the church isn't doing things right, by and large, across America.
After all, helping people - loving others - changing the world...those things should be anything but boring or ritualistic...or cold. It should all be a great adventure of growth and discovery. It should be fun and full.
My husband and I have thought long and hard about what we would want "church" to look like (side note: we are already a part of a church that we appreciate, but it's always good to dream about how to make things better, don't you think?). We've discussed it and debated it and written out ideas, over breakfast Cheerios and on long drives.
We would like it if we went to a place - met with a group of people - that was cheerful and compassionate, serious and reflective, intellectual and humble, light-hearted and socially active. It would be a multi-generational group.
And there wouldn't always be "sermons."
There would be discussions and deliberations - about how to make an impact, how to re-energize our families, how to change the world. But we wouldn't just talk. We would do. On some Sundays, we wouldn't have a "service." We would just go out into the community - to the soup kitchens, the food banks, the nursing homes, the schools, maybe even other churches - and we would serve. Everyone would have a part in it - from the tiniest baby to the oldest grandma. Perhaps we would do that twice a month. The other two weeks, we would meet for a meal and a short message from the Bible - short because the kids would all be there too. Babies would cry, toddlers would play, kids would listen, families would be there together. There would be no kids' classes - nursery here, 2-year-olds there, middle school here, etc. Every once in awhile (perhaps once a month...or less), the kids would have their own space to run and play games and listen to stories tailored specifically to them while the adults listened to a lengthier message or strategized ways to help the community. But it would be the exception, not the norm. The norm would be for everyone to be in one place. Crazy? Yes. Wonderful? Yes. Powerful? Yes.
Oh, and some weeks, everyone would just be encouraged to stay home with their families or to hang out with their neighbors or to visit their elderly relatives. Because, after all, we are the church and sometimes taking care of our own should trump attending services.
Would this format "work"? I don't know. But it would be fun to try.
Vincent Van Gogh once said that, "the best way to love God is to love many things." I agree. But I would change the phrase slightly: "The best way to love God is to love many people."
That's what my faith is about. My religion is love, remember? I want to live that out. I want to be love. I want the church to be that too.
AND I want my girls to be surrounded by people who want to impact the world for good. I want them to see love in action. The church - even in its imperfect state - provides that.
P.S. It is really hard to write about "church" because that word means so many things to so many different people. I wish we were having this conversation over milkshakes and pizza, with our kids running about.
P.P.S. Don't you just want to drive to that church in the picture right now and take pictures there? The architecture is spectacular.
P.P.P.S. Did I mention it's hard to talk about religion without clauses, explanations, and post scripts? It really, really is.
YOUR TURN: Do you go to church? Why or why not? What do YOU wish church was like?
*Image credit: Flickr, etrusia_uk's photostream
Always good, always true. Right on, sister.
I will be your first member. You have summed up my feelings perfectly.
We have a church, but have grown out of the habit of going every Sunday. I can't exactly put my finger on why - it just doesn't seem to feel right anymore. I would love a church such as the one you envision - maybe it's being separated from my kids for hours or the fact that my husband isn't comfortable attending church, and Sunday is his only day off so we want to spend it with him... In any case, I love the idea of a church 'family' that worships, serves and spends time together in the way you're describing. :)
We attend our Catholic Church every week. It is our foundation as a family.
I go to a church... The same church I've gone to since birth, and my dad went to since birth... I LOVE it. I love going every Sunday and Wednesday. I love that we spend ALL DAY on Sunday at church. Sunday school (yes, even the adults) then sermon in the morning, potluck lunch, visit and let the kids play for a few hours, choir, more visiting and playing until song service then sermon in the evening. I love that my kids have friends of all ages, true friends.
I could go on and on about how much I LOVE my church, and I LOVE Christ and all church entails.
I also could go on and on about how much it saddens me that people say they believe, yet they dont live it. They don't walk the walk. If everyone who said they believed walked the walk, what a different world we would live in... What a different world our children could grow up in...
I think your 'ideal' church sounds pretty great! The church we currently go to and are part of is very focused on the community, which I LOVE! Serving others is a tangible outward expression of the LOVE that we have and are given through Jesus.
I am going to answer your question about going to church a little differently. This is how "going to church" affected my life.
I was raised in the church. We were there every Sunday (twice) and Wednesday. It was never a discussion or a debate...it's just what we did. And overall, it was a positive experience for me (despite church scandal...involving my family).
When I reached my early 20's I chose a path of great sin. I knew I was doing many things wrong, but for some reason I still got to church every Sunday morning. I started going to a big church where I was anonymous. "Church" was a vestige of my upbring. A habit I kept up, even though my heart wasn't really in it.
But God used my compulsory church attendance to reach my heart and my mind and my life. What was a routine became my desire. What was a solitary hour on Sunday morning turned into relationships. What was a grave time of sin turned into active service, true healing and a renewed relationship with God.
So, for me, "church" was the thin thread that God used to bring me back to Him.
My husband and I spent close to two years looking for a church. We had exactly one criteria: it had to teach the Bible plus nothing. No so-and-so's guaranteed method of growing a church, no somebody else's direct-from-God Word" on taking the city for Christ. Just the Bible. We'd put up with anything, just to hear the Bible!
And a few months ago, we discovered Calvary Chapel. It's not a denomination, which we love. They teach the Bible- ALL of it. And the folks we meet every week are awesome! We have just about everything we like in a church, "thrown in"! This particular church is very homeschool friendly, not just family friendly. It is the biggest blessing, being excited about church again.
As a postscript (you are so right about those), I've been hearing from lots of demographics about dissatisfaction with church in general- singles, for instance, mostly feel that church tends to be about families! It's too easy to think that church is about getting my needs met, instead of a time to worship God.
I do go to church every Sunday. I find that it is a time to recharge my spiritual batteries. I am able to feel that spirit of love and reaffirm my beliefs every week in church. It also gives me the opportunity to serve. In our church, every member has a responsibility. I teach a children's class for seven and eight year-olds. I get to share with these young children a love for our Savior.
Now, I read scriptures and pray during the week, and this is also very uplifting, but sacrificing my time once a week to worship God helps me to come closer to him.
We go to church every Sunday for three hours. We have our sacrament meeting for one hour, a gospel doctrine class the second hour and then a women's and men's class third hour. The children attend their own classes. I wish it wasn't so long at times but I always leave feeling more spiritual and renewed.
The nice thing about "your dream church" is that it really includes families. My husband and I have struggled with our church because of many reasons but the last issue we had that forced us to leave was a conviction we could not ignore. Although the set up was always a standard layout in modern churches, the seemingly optional children's classes and nursery were not so optional for those who'd been attending for years (our age also got in the way and the passage "Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity." 1 Timothy 4:12 seems to be meant for building up young people but if you read it, it can do that as well as make it clear that we, as young people, have something to offer THEM).
After much research we had come to the conclusion (and conviction) of keeping our children with us. When we started keeping them in the service, many wondered if everything was okay at first. Then came the "concern" and blatant disapproval of our removing the children from their classes. The Bible says who is to be training up the children - it's the parents and as we began taking on that responsibility, it unfortunately offended others in the process. Unfortunate because these are other children of God who are passionate about Christ and kept correcting us as we were getting CLOSER to Him completely unaware of that being the case. We were forced to leave (of our own choosing) because it was very hard to go after that - feeling like we're being looked down upon for straying from truth when we were running toward it no matter how intimidating.
I'd love for the church to get a hold of the book "Family Driven Faith" by Voddie Baucham. It's an amazing portrayal of the dynamic of God's intended church (not the troubleshooting church, the tolerant church, or the church that is more focused on hype than fellowship). My dream church doesn't have its own separate doctrine but stands on the Word of God no matter how offensive to the world. Jesus didn't appeal to everyone... only to the humble and willing.
WOW, this post relates to where I'm at right now in life so much. My husband and I attended our church for 5 years before we just had our daughter (she's 8 months old) and since she has been born we have left the church. They do not allow ANY children under 5 in the sanctuary during worship or sermons. You either have to put your kid in the nursery with strangers or sit in a 5x8 family room with stuffy air. It made us feel like we were being quarantined for a disease all because we had a baby. It was awful. I left church that night for the first time in my life and never wanted to go back. It's been a ruff year.
Anyways, the "church" you described would be GREAT, and I think it's how Jesus meant it to be. We the people are suppose to be the church, its not all about a building. And I believe it should be family-friendly.
Eventually I suppose I'll try to find a new church home where we can worship and my daughter can still be in my arms.
I agree with you that talking about church or religion is a hard one.
I grew up with my father as a minister of an Evangelical church. My uncle is a minister and his side of the family says they are very "Christian"
My father stopped going to church and became Atheist for awhile and when I was 19 I visited many different churches. I was in search of a church that you describe. The perfect church for me! I started dating a guy that was Mormon, or belonged to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was not an active member, meaning that he was not attending church anymore and not following the gospel that was taught. I went to his church anyways...I was in search of something...something more.
I absolutely loved it. The church you describe sounds a lot like the Mormon Church. During the sermon we are all together, yes, even the kids. We do have Sunday school and are separated but with the actual sermon we are all together. We also do things a little different. We are called to speak in front of the congregation by the Bishop of the church. We have youth speakers, then the adult speakers. I love this because you get a variety of speakers and the spirit really helps them. Yes, some of the speakers are boring but I realize that sometimes they will reach others that maybe another speaker won’t reach.
I totally feel like my church is a community...actually they are my other family. We also serve, serve a lot. We take care of the needy, sick, hungry and anyone in need. We are taught that our family comes first though, and then we can bless others. We are trying to be like Jesus, our best example!
Did I say that I LOVE my church! I really do. I am the only one in my family that joined...but I have been in this church now for 12 years now. I have a wonderful husband, wonderful kids, a wonderful life. My mother and father and siblings respect me and my decision and see how happy I am now. I am happy I made this decision when I was 19. It has been the happiest days of my life.
I do go to church most Sundays...but I love to and don't go because I feel I have to go, but rather because I want to go. I feel like it is a place to recharge for the week.
Thanks for the post. I hope that I don't sound preachy. I just really am a happy person and if I didn't give credit to who it really comes from and makes me who I am today, then I wouldn't be grateful to my Heavenly Father.
I love the comment that it should be called "community" rather than "church". Isn't that really what it's all about? Otherwise we could simply worship as individuals...
I think that God doesnt want the church to be the stereotypical "church" anymore- people inside four walls on Sunday for 1 1/2 hours then onto their daily lives until the next Sunday. In the early church, they fellowshipped in homes, learned about Jesus, the Gospels, and they grew the believers in force. They told others about Jesus. They got into the Word of God and learned how to transform their lives and show others the transforming power of God.
They also fought, gossiped, argued over whether to follow this disciple or that disciple. Several New Testament books talk about the different things the early church struggled with. It was not perfect, because the early church was made up of HUMANS, doing their best to get closer to God.
Same for today. The Church should be a body of believers who go outside the four walls of the building and show others the joy and abundant LIFE that Jesus brought to us.
we are part of a church family right now. i think the term church should be switched out for the word "community" in today's society. i think the true meaning of church is sometimes misconstrued.
i've always made it a point of telling anyone when asked "what denomination do you go to?" that " i go here _____ BUT i'll go ANYWHERE love is shown and the Bible is being taught as the whole truth"
OH and we're searching for a church that welcomes parents staying sometimes and being involved in their children's classrooms because that's important to us too. We stay in the room with our babe at least the whole first time we visit somewhere...but I'm still shocked that every time we visit a new church (especially the big ones) they just expect me to drop off my child with this person I've never met and don't know...I know most people do it but it's just bizarre to me and couldn't do it. I personally wouldn't do it anywhere else and it being "church" doesn't make it better or ok to me.
We haven't attended church regularly since our baby was born but are currently looking and visiting new ones. We have a hard time b/c most pastors (where we live at least) are old(er) men with extremely traditional (outdated) opinions on things such as equality in marriage and women in the ministry. So we're searching for one where there are female pastors or at the very least female elders of the church. We'll see...I don't personally feel like I need church to learn and be close to God but we would like our little one to learn and have fun somewhere every Sunday AM...we'll see what we find!
I would love your ideal church. I really, really would.
I like my church - I go every time the doors are open, I teach Sunday School, I play the organ, I sing, and I often think about how it could be better...
I've had lots of bad church experiences, sigh... fortunately I've been able to keep "church" and "God" separate - that has been very important for me.
Your dream church would pretty much rock. Working for a church causes me to really struggle with the many flaws of churches. There are so many things that go on that I just cringe over...petty arguments, cliques trying to control EVERYTHING, church being too much like work for people who don't even work there...and, by work I don't mean service...I mean drudgery. At the same time, I see the good in it. It is a place for Christians to come together to do what we are supposed to do...truly worship. As humans, we often fail on this, but still sometimes it happens. And, when it does, it's beautiful.
Steph, I think that the church you dream of IS tangible. I would totally attend your church. I feel the closest to God when I am loving others. I love how I feel when I volunteer, help a friend in need,bake food for others, the list goes on and on. One of my goals as a parent is to make sure that my children know how to love.
I would love to talk to you more about this church you speak of. Why couldn't we start it?
What you describe sounds like the church in Acts, home churches that were about love and service and spreading the gospel.
I would love that too!
And by the way, Stephanie, your church sounds like my total dream church. We should team up and start it ;)
Church. That is a hard one for me. The church I grew up in fell apart when the pastor got caught stealing money. That alone was enough to ruin a person on church. Not God, but church.
Then we were drug to church after church as teens. And I don't care what anyone thinks or says, all teens are cliquey. And so it made going to church just pain miserable and uncomfortable.
We never found another church we felt totally welcomed by and part of. And I'm sure we still held some of that betrayal with us from the old pastor.
It was never about God or His word or His worship. Always about the people that never seemed very welcoming to the new people.
Then as I became a parent I knew it was time to find a place to call our church home for our children's sake. And it was like starting all over again as a teen. Uncomfortable, yes. Not being spoken or or acknowledged, yes. But the biggest hurdle I've yet to overcome is my needs in a church.
Church has gotten quite stale. Can be so judgmental. I'm not into sermons that DRIP religion.
I need a church that can teach me about God and practical uses for living life as a Christian in today's day and time. I also need a church that isn't wimpy when it comes to prayer and healing. I need a church that doesn't pray "if it's your will, God, heal this person". It's ALWAYS God's will to heal. Don't be afraid of a strong prayer. Be passionate, believe what you say, Jesus wants us to heal and save and love... just like He did.
I saw my Mom come out of a brain dead coma because of my step- dad's prayers. I know miracles happen and I'm so disappointed by how many of His people ignore this oh so important part of being a Christian.
How did Jesus attract people? Healing, Miracles, Love. We need more of that in church and out of church.
I'm very picky, I know. And maybe some of that is just a defense mechanism, I don't know. There are a couple preachers I listen to online, on the radio and watch on TV that knock my socks off and inspire me every day. If only they preached here. I need to be fired up. I need to be so moved in praise and worship that I'm jumping around. I need to feel so inspired in preaching that I have to exclaim.
I feel everything so deeply and if a church isn't on fire for God ... then it feels like a chore.
I guess my point is that I think church serves it purpose and has a place. For sure. But with or without church, I still have a deep and fulfilling relationship with God and am ready to do His mighty works.
I do hope to find my dream church one day, though.
This church sounds great! Attending church reminds to stay connected with God, but sometimes I think God would love for us to stay connected as a people.
Currently, I don't attend any church! I have most of my life (UCC). I have taught several ages of Sunday School, Bible School, coached co-ed softll,
youth leader and served on committees. It seems there is a pocket full of people at my home church who keep running the pastors away. The concregation
has gone down a lot and the finances are not doing well. It can really depress me if I let it.
It IS so hard to talk about church. I'm really seeking and searching right now to understand just where my family is supposed to be right now. It is all about getting the message and love to the people, not about getting the people into a building. But that building IS usually for US... so that we can go back out stronger and ready for the people out there... oh sigh.