It must have been nearly ten years ago when Aaron, the Student Community Pastor at the church I was attending was sitting in my car in front of the church building. We had just finished going out for lunch and had our usual on-going conversation about the sins of the church and the hope that this new thing called The Emerging Church was stirring up. Our conversation continued as we drove back to church. I remember his words vividly, “One thing I don’t understand is how come we have to come to this building for everything.” A lot of people don’t get that, especially younger people.
“When Christianity was born, it was the only religion on the planet that had no sacred objects, no sacred persons, and no sacred places. The Christian faith was born in homes, out in courtyards, and along roadsides.” (Frank Viola & George Barna, Pagan Christianity, (Carol Stream, IL: BarnaBooks, 2008), 14).
“In the United States alone, real estate owned by institutional churches today is worth over $230 billion. Church building debt, service, and maintenance consumes about 18% of the $50 to $60 billion tithes to churches annually.” (Frank Viola & George Barna, Pagan Christianity, (Carol Stream, IL: BarnaBooks, 2008), 41).
There is nothing like a huge church “campus” built on several acres of prime real estate that looks like a shopping mall to save the world.
Why do you have to travel to a building for activities centered on faith and ministry? Is that building sacred space or is every place sacred space? Is God somehow geographically confined? Do we go there just because it is a nice place for people to gather or because we need to justify the huge mortgage? Why is everything so centralized?
I can think of three reasons. It allows for control, for the professionals to lead, and gives us a cozy, sequestered place to practice our rituals. Quality control is an issue with most churches. If you have little groups meeting all over the place, how will you control what is going on? Churches have found ways because small groups have been popular for a long time, but it has its challenges.
It would be a huge step toward integrating faith into real life if we got it out of the special building and into homes, coffee shops, and bars, wherever life normally happens.
Like so many things I have suggested in this section, it is a matter of training people and releasing control. There would be a much greater chance of experiencing real community, having more real discussions, and a sense of belonging in a more intimate, normal setting.
– An excerpt from my book An Irreligious Faith