My boys were in the car with my sister when it happened. They drove past our church building – a huge, gorgeous brick building located conspicuously downtown, right on the main drag.
“There’s your church!” my sister said, innocuously.
“Well, that’s the place we go to church,” my 4-year-old corrected her, just as innocuously. “Our church is really just people.”
My sister told me about it when they got home. We had quite a laugh. I had a bit of a proud parent moment. (You have to learn to take those, self-effacingly, whenever they come. They can feel so few and far between. Humble-pie parent moments are so much easier to come by.)
But it started – or continued, perhaps – a conversation between me and my sis and others that has now been long ongoing. I know that we are definitely not the first to stumble upon this question. But in our context, in our city, it is still a question being asked and answered and re-asked and re-answered all around us. Many different people are answering it in many different places in many different ways.
So what exactly is church?
Is it more of a place or is it more just people?
How many people do I need to have a church? How often must we meet? What must our meetings look like?
In Greek, the word is ekklēsía (from ek, “out from and to” + kaléō, “to call”) – properly, people called out from the world and to God, the outcome being the Church (the mystical body of Christ). (biblehub.com)
Shoot: this really ruins all of the things I most frequently say about church! Like, “C’mon guys, let’s get to church!” And “I just really want one of my neighbors to come to church with me.” And “Did you guys go to church last week?”
So, maybe church is just people. Maybe church could be just a group of people who take time away from regular life to be together and who think and pray about how they are called to minister back in the world for Christ’s sake. Maybe lots of different places and lots of different sizes of groups and lots of different worship service liturgies “count” as church.
This can be quite alarming for those of us who have done church in a very particular way for our whole lives. What if our traditions are lost? What if no one sings hymns any more? What if people dress differently than they always have? What if dedication to Scripture is practiced differently? What if we can’t afford to keep-up our events and our stuff and our building exactly as we always have?
Rest assured. The Holy Spirit is moving. Still moving. He is fully apprised of the redefinition-of-church situation. Pray faithfully for wisdom and grace to live out our own spiritual lives with God. Pray for courage and perseverance to invest in the next generation of Church.