Tuesday, May 13, 2003

What is Church?-Via Bene, I came across this discussion on "can be a christian without attending church?" A lot depends on if you have something that fills that niche. Towards the end of his post, Dan gives this definition-"I see a church as a group of people intentionally and regularly gathering together for the purpose of challenging, learning, growing and keeping each other accountable in their christian lives." The problem with that definition is that many churches don't meet that definition, especially in the accountability part. You may go to church for an hour or two on Sunday, get a good message and good music, but not really be in a community of belivers. A stealth congregant can attend without being kept accountable by anyone in the church. I remember a church in Midland which had the best two hours of worship on Sunday mornings, with a professional-grade praise band and choir and excellent preaching. However, the thousand-person church didn't have a gifting for small groups, and I moved on looking for that personal connection. Sometimes a Bible study will fill that role. When I was at Michigan State, the grad IVCF chapter was more my spiritual home than the handful of churches in metro Lansing that I attended. Likewise, my Intervarsity friends at Kent State were more of a constant than the two churches that I bobbled between in the Kent/Akron area. Before finding Midland's New Life Vineyard, a single's Bible study at the E-Free church was more of a home than the three different churches I had attended while being a part of the study. However, such groups are meant to be part of a broader Christian community and not the primary focus. In some cases, house churches can evolve from a small-group study. A charismatic prayer group my dad was part of morphed into the "Love Street Revival Center," which started having Sunday services as well as their weeknight meeting. A number of the business faculty here at Warner Southern has started a house church where the families will get together for singing, Bible study and prayer. The early church was mostly made up of such house churches. However, such small churches can wind up having some funky theology, being outside of a standard theological framework. One of the things that I appreciate about how the Lakeland Vineyard sets things up is that everyone is expected to go to one of about a dozen weekly home groups, where a dozen or so people will have some singing, some Bible study (typically taking Sunday's sermon passage a bit deeper) and serious prayer time. While you can get ministered to at a Sunday morning service, the smaller scale of a home group give a better venue to express needs and to talk and pray things through. A good Sunday School class can meet that need as well, if it's small enough to be able to get to know people. Most of us need the encouragement and accountability of a small group setting to thrive in our walk with Lord. Churches that ignore that personal touch do so at their peril. You run the risk of people becoming stealth congregants, walking out when they realize that they don't know anybody and that no one knows them.

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