When God Left the Building

Resurrecting a Fading Church

This Easter hundreds of thousands of churches across the land will put on their best face. But trends indicate fewer will hear the Resurrection story this year than last year.

Leadership Network’s Reggie McNeal says in the new documentary film When God Left the Building, “You can’t say that this is a lack of beautiful architecture, or fantastic programming, or we finally got the right coffee in the church. We’ve got all these retrofitted, up-fitted, outfitted churches with executive chefs. We’ve got it going when it comes to church!”

So why isn’t the church advancing in the American culture? McNeal says, “The big issue for the church is not how to do church better. That is the wrong question because we’ve been doing church better and better and better with the result of an increasing disaffection. The real question for the American church is how to be church better. How do you be church where people already are? How do you take church to people instead of just expecting people to come to church?”

That got me thinking. How different is the religious landscape from the landscape 2,000 years ago? The religious establishment then too had nearly perfected the religious machine. They were doing “church better and better and better.” But they needed the Redeemer to remind them to be the church better, to take the church to people.

May this Resurrection Day remind us anew of the true meaning and mission of the church.

34 Responses to “Resurrecting a Fading Church”

  1. “How do you take church to people instead of just expecting people to come to church?”

    Your doing that right here and I encourage you to continue. You have a group of followers, me being one. Yea, this looks nothing like a nice building with a big production, with music, singing, prayer and a big long sermon. I like to read blogs rather than spending an hour and a half away from home somewhere at a particular time. Blogs are short and to-the-point. I can read through a pointed sermon in 5 – 10 minutes any time of day. I can read several all week from different sources. The idea is this is one way to take church to people besides being an understanding, sympathetic Christian at home and at work. Just something to think about and consider.

  2. Ryan, good points. But we need to remember that God calls us to corporate worship also, not to be a solitary worshiper.
    Heb 10:25 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.
    Matt 18:20 “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
    Act 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
    (But i do agree with your idea about the big production with music and lights, etc. More like a show than worship.)
    Remember, worship is not a session on Sunday morning, it is a lifestyle.

    • I know it’s hard to consider a web page a meeting place to encourage people and be encouraged. We’re not face to face with each other so we don’t have that quick back and forth conversation. This is slower but it does work. The hard part is that it’s hard to be encouraging in type. This is still quicker then when Paul wrote letters from prison.

      I had a thought a week or so ago about the two or three gathered which brought me a question to consider. Can the Holy Spirit who is always with us and in us and God who we pray to be considered the 2nd or 3rd person gathered in Jesus name for Jesus to be in the midst when your alone? Jesus was said to be the ‘Word’ of God so when I sit with the Holy Spirit in me praying to God with my bible, which I do because I pray and read most nights, I commune with the whole Person of God. The form of the words don’t matter, paper and ink(bible) or light and shadow(Ipad). The words of God are spirit.

    • But the fact is Sava that unless you are attending “worship” services on a Sunday morning you are not worshiping in most churches. Has anyone invited you to come and worship at the bring and buy sale?

      Plus all the verses you referred to speak of meeting in homes, not corporate buildings which are no where used or sanctioned in the New Testament Church. The nearest they got to that was the Jewish believers who met in the temple as Jews because being a disciple of Jesus did not mean they stopped being Jews.

      Churches in the home are gaining ground rapidly. There is one in India that has 100,000 meeting in homes. In America, they would have spent millions of dollars putting up a corporate campus to let everyone know how successful they are and then focusing on getting the money to maintain the edifice and paying corporate wages.

      In India they spend those millions on evangelism and meeting needs and we wonder why the church in western society is a pale shadow of the real thing.

  3. This article hits home for me in a big way. I was raised in a “church” that works harder today to maintain the building, put on better “socials”, etc. But they are dwindling in numbers fast. I am leaving all organized religion. They starve people out. I tried to start a Bible study at this church, and it was basically met with little to no interest. They’d rather take 15 minutes before the service and talk about administrative details. I was feeling out of place there and invisible. I’m in my 40’s and can very much understand my generation and those younger than me, especially in today’s times, being frustrated with the machine. The church I’m leaving is being run by a generation that uses it basically as a social platform for themselves. That’s fine for them, but they’ve lost the meaning. I disagree with one minister making a living off this nonsense. I see ministers pandering to the people who are financially keeping the “church” running so they can have a great retirement.

    • If you are leaving, leaving, like I totally left and no longer go, praise God He will never leave you. Whether you stay out or go back, that’s up to you. I just encourage you to continue praying and read the bible together, watching for things to stick out and touch you in the spirit. That is God speaking. When your out of church, it will just be you and God alone. I’ve gotten to know God a lot deeper and more personally. If ever I go back, it won’t be because I miss God and need more God in my life. It will be because I want to share and teach others how to have this great relationship I have gained with God. I don’t want to just teach people to pray, but I want to teach people how to hear God speak. When you read in Thes 4:9 “for ye yourselves are ‘taught of God’ to love one another.” This is exactly what God teaches and the affect God has. “Blessed is the man that heareth me,” God says so read and listen, pay attention. You’ll hear Him. He’ll tell you exactly what you need to hear and when you need to hear it. That is one of the things I love about God.

    • So true Jill. I read the story of a member of a church suggesting to the minister that they do something differently to put a bit more life in the church. The minister’s reply was that the congregation pay his wages and the denomination pay his retirement income so he wasn’t going to change anything.

  4. It is a challenge to take the church (faith) to the people and yet still have a “community” of believers. It is the complete body of Christ that is the church. I have noticed that the church needs to be a sanctuary for the new babes in faith yet also a place of challenge and opportunity for service for those that are ready.

    I am more and more convinced that the faith being brought to the people is more a matter of spiritual warfare, prayer and obedience to Jesus commands rather than a set of things we do or how we do them.

    • That is right Mark but you try and convince the average minister of that. He is committed to his preaching sermons and running meetings to justify his existence. Without them what is there for him to do? I talked to the wife of the minister of a church I went to who hogged all the preaching for himself. She said the reason that he does this was due to the fact that without out it he would not have anything to do or have any purpose.

      • Ministers are people and as a result are subject to the same stresses and sins the rest of us are. You did mention average. My Pastor is not average. If mine is not average I know there are others who are not.

        Until we find, make, become a better model of what the entire body of Christ should be, we cannot be quick to dump the church. The church for a great many hurting people is and oasis. For a great many “doing okay” people it is a place to relax and the serve. I don’t see a problem with that so long as we serve the other 6 days a week where God has planted us, work, home, school, etc.

        ALL the parts of the body matter, in the diversity is beauty, strength, power and value!

  5. Bingo! Thom, as always, your commentary on the American church is accurate. Today’s post-modern, post-Christian culture is eerily similar to Rome’s pre-modern, pre-Christian culture and the Church thrived…not in a building but a Body. Wherever two or more gathered (that’s what ekklesia or “church” means), Jesus was there. And He’s still here today.

    BTW, an early Christian practice was to meet in the cemetery every Sunday, gathering with the saints both living and dead. As the sun came up over the eastern sky, believers sang, read Scripture and prayed. In other words, they held an Easter sunrise service EVERY Sunday. Later when Constantine legalized Christianity, one of the first things he did was convert pagan temples into churches and the church began to build basilicas OVER their dead saints (St. Peter’s in Rome, for example).

    The Church was never the same once it came indoors…until now.

  6. One of the fun things we have had success with at our inner-city Presbyterian church is taking advantage of the big parking lot around the church. Many of the neighborhood children play in this parking lot with their friends, so when we take any activity that we are doing out of the church and into the parking lot area the kids see us from their houses and come over (often in big groups) with no invitation. Any kind of food is (obviously) a big draw, but I have had many wonderful conversations with children over the years in the parking lot. I guess you could call it a “parking lot” ministry of a whole different kind!

  7. Ryan, I agree the blog is great BUT you also need to be AN ACTIVE PART of the Body of Christ. Jesus is building His church and there are lessons for us to learn which you cannot learn outside of Body Life. God bless!!

    • Graham, may I ask where does it say in scripture that you have to attend a corporate meeting in a corporate building to be an active member of the church? In the new Testament, I don’t see anyone being invited to attend a “church service” to get saved.

      The other thing is that yes, Jesus is building HIS church, not ours. With that in mind I would say that most churches are NOT his church.

    • From baby on up I was taken to and had gone to church for 42 years. I guess I grew tired of it all. It lost its meaning and value. It was the same thing over and over. I was the choir being preached to every week. I was involved in many ministries and even overdid it and burnt myself out… mostly because I’m not a highly social person. As far as your statement about lessons that cannot be learned outside body life, I’ve learned and lived lessons that cannot be experienced in the realm of the church institution. I could not have gotten this close to God, in the way I have, had I kept going. There is just too much humanity that comes from the pulpit that can’t be helped because pastors are unfortunately human and the circumstances of their position. I’m not cutting pastors. I couldn’t be any better. I’ve had a few years of the purity of spending time with God alone. Someday, maybe God will send me back. There is no way God would have had me go back before I crossed the line of no return. I would have been a bad thorn. I could still be now.

  8. I’m one of those people who is being fed by the church, in a building that “is being the church”. I believe a church that “works” is one that makes the Bible relevant in my life and teaches me how to continue to build a growing relationship with Jesus. That includes getting off my “pew” and going out and being the hands and feet of Christ. It’s just that I personally need a home base where I feel His loving presence and encouragement. Relevant and not boring. Surrounded by others who know they need a savior in order to be a better father, mother, sister, brother, friend, employee in and out of the building. And my church is growing. Not by canabalizing only, but with many who have left the church because they’ve been hurt in the past and were invited back by someone that walked the talk. There are many who aren’t even sure what they believe yet but keep coming back. Something is working there. Holy Spirit?

  9. We have an excellent example from the early Acts church – a body of believers surrounded by religions and ideologies of all kinds. What attracted people to join Christians? They experienced the selfless love for all, saw miracles and changed lives, and were a body of believers that took God seriously when He said: Love God. Love each other. It’s that simple. Trouble is, those commands are lip service to most Christian churches today.

    • I agree terivogeli. I put a proposition to my church that we throw the doors open and have a fun day. Bring and buy sale; vintage car rides; Harley Davidson bike rides; blow up castle; food; children’s activities etc.

      They thought it was a great idea. It never happened. Might get the carpet dirty.

  10. Very thought provoking article… and the comments that followed. I have been a pastor for almost 20 years in a couple of different denominations, and several different positions (youth, children, associate, church planter, Lead pastor). There is such a fine line between ‘being’ and ‘doing’ church… and it all revolves around a transformed heart!! When we truly have a transforming experience with Christ (whether it be Salvation, or various growth experiences).. we need, even must, share them with others and invite them to experience God in similar fashion (salvation/growth/etc.)… Jesus called that “making disciples”… that is what HE did in is life and ministry. We are not called to a fellowship of believers (Heb. 10:24-25) at the expense of the place where God has placed us (community/workplace/etc.). We are also not called to the community/workplace/etc. at the expense of corporate worship/growth/discipline/etc (i.e. church). These two aspects of our lives should be in harmony with one another. If we are spending too much time at church (groups & people) then we lose touch with the least and lost of the communities to which Christ has sent us. Conversely, if we neglect the worship, growth, support of our church family, then we become ‘tasteless’ and utterly useless and powerless in the community. Our message gets watered down, not because we want it to, but because we lose touch with our support system. We become the ‘straggler’ that the enemy seeks to ‘pick off’.
    The goal is to multiply DISCIPLES FOR CHRIST, not for a church, pastor, or denomination…

    • Sorry to say Terry a typical reply from someone who has a territory and a job to defend. I have a transformed heart and to date, no church is interested in being involved in reaching the unreached. One ministers fraternal said they were too busy running their churches to have time for evangelism. Another one said “go away. We run things around here” after admitting that the new converts all eight of them produced in the last 12 months was three.

      What was I to do? Stew in the pew which is what they wanted? No. I signed up as a volunteer for a new Pregnancy Support Centre opening up and am about to start a new church focusing on ministering to the fatherless which is going to meet on Saturday afternoon in a cafe. Horror of horrors…not Sunday morning so it can’t be worship.

  11. Charlie Robinson Reply April 16, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    Maybe it’s time to stop all the fuss about “being” or “doing” church and start being and doing Jesus. It’s all about Jesus – what He said, what He did, that He died, that He rose, and that all people need to hear about HIM and confess that He is both Lord and Christ. THAT is the Kingdom of God!

    • Charlie, if we were the church, we would be doing and being Jesus. The fact that we are not, suggests that the church is not the church, it is a religious social organisation with a particular emphasis, just like a gardening club has a specific emphasis.

  12. I’m an Econnect Alum and I’m seeing dividends from investing in social media–a great way to take the faith to the people. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkhoctYOJV8

  13. Being a Jesus disciple, follower,evangelist, IS being the church….and gathering together IS being the church…There are churches who help people know Jesus better, serve Jesus, hear Jesus, who help us reach out to others to give the amazing message of God’s love and grace and changed lives. Keep looking until you find one that is. They are out there I know they are. Satan would love you to try to do it on your own. We need each other to fight the battle, to inspire us to move forward in our faith, to challenge us to change things in our lives that aren’t in obedience to Him, and to learn how to serve with imperfect people.

    • If that is the case, why do we need multi million dollar buildings. I don’t need them to help a person on need. I don’t need them to pray for the sick. I don’t need them to cast out demons. I don;t need them to comfort the lonely. I don’t need them to read the scriptures. I don’t need them where two or three are gathered together in His Name. I don’t need them to eat a meal with others.

      As far as I can see having multi million dollar buildings is just an excuse to avoid the core of the gospel, that of a servant ministry as not many church leaders are servants and going into all the world.

  14. Something to keep in mind. The church is a gathering of people. It is not a building or a minister or a club, etc. The gathering is responsible for “doing church.” If the church is failing I need only look at the man in the mirror. What I have done or not done? Am I an example of Jesus on earth? Am I serving and loving despite the circumstances?

    • How can you do church if all you are asked to do is to attend a formal meeting and be the cheer squad for a handful of professional christians?

  15. I remember a Group workshop activity prepared for Sunday School teachers. It was a rope 168 inches long (the number of hours in a week). I had taken red twine and tied two pieces one inch apart in the middle (representing the amount of time they had influence on the children). The point was that they are to help the parents…not replace them in that child’s education of Jesus.
    Unfortunately, that one inch (Sunday in a church building) is all that many, many people get of their relationship with Jesus. As a parent, you would not try to raise your child by being with them only one hour a week. Is not a new believer a ‘babe in Christ’ that God has brought to you? If you think God has ‘called’ you to be His shepherd, why would you think you can spend one hour a week with them and expect a disciple to develop?
    God’s plan is that the Body of Christ (the true church) be the hands and feet of Christ.
    What would you do, how would you accomplish that if you didn’t have the business side of church (the building, the staff, the budget)? If you can find an answer to that question, you will have discovered how God wants to build His church.

    • I remember that rope, Terry!

    • How do you discover how God wants to build his church without buildings, staff and money? Simple Get rid of buildings, staff and money. Then you have to rely entirely on the work of the Holy Spirit, you know the way the Jesus said he would build HIS church, not ours.

  16. I agree with your article as far as it goes. My problem is I have been hearing the exact same words for years. The difficulty comes in the application of the concept of taking the church to the people without losing the “assembling together” command of the Apostle Paul. The more loosely we define church the weaker it gets. I know , I’ve been there. I have also observed something you may not like. Every declining church I have dealt with as an ecclesiastical worker and consultant HAS been “doing church” badly. In every individual instance of declining congregations, I have discovered organizational and managerial mediocrity. The leadership just does NOT do church well.

    • Once upon a time malls were a booming place. Now they are becoming a ghost of the past. It’s not that people aren’t buying things any more. Technology has changed our culture in that we all can do this from home. So where people use to have to go to a physical place for ‘certain things’ is no longer necessary. Stores are closing their brick and mortar businesses and taking their stuff to the people… online. I suggest the church get creative. The down side for some is there is no money to be made here unless you write books that people will want to read like Mr. Schultz. As far as assembling, we are a different culture because of our tools, the one your reading now. The method has changed so may we be able to encourage each other in places like this as we see the day approaching. Just something to think about.

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