What is church? It’s a question that’s been asked over and over again, and a question that will most likely continue for generations to come. It’s a question that has streamed through my mind countless times in recent days and months. I understand that the church is the family of God, not the building we meet in, but do we, as the church, really fulfill our calling to be the church? Or have we acted like the building was the church even though we say it’s not?
My husband and I have searched for a home church since we were married nearly 15 years ago. Yes, I know that’s a long time to look for a church, but I can honestly say that no church ever became our home.
My father was a pastor, so my growing up years revolved around the church. I basically lived at the church. I would attend every church event, hang out in my dad’s office during the week, and even take my Sunday afternoon nap at the church when the day’s activities ran long. Church was my life.
So, when my husband and I got married and set off on our new life together, I always envisioned my home church being the same way it had been growing up. However, we soon found out that most churches didn’t welcome new individuals with open arms, and the ones that did were hoping we’d fill a need.
Every church we attended, we struggled to fit in, to find our niche. Churches were not overly welcoming to two quiet introverts who weren’t good at inserting themselves into whatever small group was available at the time.
Don’t get me wrong, we tried. Over and over again, we tried. Yet, our efforts felt futile. Being the more outgoing of the two, I would always volunteer, hoping my involvement would help us fit in, and it worked—for a time. Still, we never felt part of a community; no church ever felt like home.
As the years went by and we added to our family, the search for a church home became more intentional because we wanted our children to have the same church experience we had encountered growing up, but our high hopes and concerted efforts to fit were met with dismal failures and disappointments.
In recent days, we’ve started to wonder: Is this constant search for a church God’s way of showing us what other families and individuals encounter? If we, as Christians raised in the church, are struggling this much to feel welcomed by a church—not just a “hi” on Sunday morning, but truly accepted and part of a family—what are the people that have never been in the church feeling when they walk through the double doors of a church building?
I started noticing that every time the subject of church came up with our neighbors or people in the community, I was hearing a very common theme: I’ve tried this church and that church, but I didn’t fit.
Sadly, we weren’t alone in our search for church.
In our search for a church family, I’ve started noticing a pattern at many of the churches in our community. These churches are seeking to entertain—the flashier the better—to offer convenience with multiple services at multiple locations, and to see who can grow the biggest. Megachurches are the way to go, and the churches that aren’t megachurches seek to emulate them in hopes of attracting the megachurch crowd.
Unfortunately, I think many of these churches are blinded to the changing landscape. A recent survey showed that Millennials, especially, are looking for a church to be family, to be warm and welcoming, and to create an atmosphere of authenticity. The individuals who conducted the survey said certain words kept popping up over and over again: “Welcoming, accepting, belonging, authentic, hospitable and caring.”
I don’t think it’s just Millennials looking for those things at church, though. As technology continues to expand, and more and more of our lives are spent online cultivating relationships that are connected yet profoundly disconnected, I think the desire for something different at church will continue to grow.
Still, many churches are clinging to either their flashy performances or traditional hymn books, ignoring the fact that many churches are dying—physically and spiritually.
As these revelations have come, I’ve realized that in our search for a church family, we were looking for a way to have our needs met instead of finding ways to meet the needs around us. And, even though we still attend a brick and mortar church to hear a weekly sermon, we’ve decided to work at being the change our community needs.
Starting in small ways, we’ve opened our home to friends, engaged our neighbors, and begun to strive to build a church family outside of the church building. We’re hosting dinners, playgroups, and times of fellowship in our home. We’re making sure our door is always open to our neighbors, and we’re starting conversations that focus on God.
Many people would say we’re just starting a small group, but we’re pushing for something different from that. We’re striving to create an atmosphere of openness and authenticity, where friends, neighbors, and anyone looking for fellowship are welcome. A place where people feel comfortable sharing their failures and shortcomings. A place where worship is authentic and real, not choreographed and perfected. A place where the people who walk through the door know they’re welcome regardless of the struggles they are facing in life. A place where two or more people are gathering in Christ’s name (Matt. 18:20). A place where real people meet real people, where real sinners meet real sinners, and in our confession, fellowship, and worship we become the church.