What’s the point of going to church? Is it to sing songs, rate the sermon out of ten and then eat biscuits whilst chatting to people you’ve known for ages about what you did on Saturday? No. Well considering that none of those things actually constitute the point of going to church it’s amazing how they can become the only things that constitute our weekly experience of church. It is so, so easy to turn going to church into a mindless habit whilst allowing the point of it all to slip quietly away. I’m definitely guilty of this, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one.
The fact is that we have an absolutely awesome opportunity every Sunday. Isn’t it incredible that every week you can meet with a bunch of likeminded people to worship the same God and actually meet with that God together? Of course you can meet with God on your own but there’s something special about being together and sharing that experience.
Have we forgotten how powerful God is? Have we forgotten the heart that He has for seeing change in this world? Too often we see church as a safe place where nothing changes. We know what we’re going to get. We know how long we’ll sing for and we know how long the service will be and we know who’s going to be around after the service to chat to. It’s a place where we come to celebrate the familiar. Is that it?
I know I’m generalising. This isn’t the experience of everyone (thank goodness) and it isn’t my experience of every week. I’m also not criticising the way that church services are run. What I’m trying to get at is that attitude that we as normal churchgoers have towards them.
Acts 2:42-47 is often quoted when people talk about church as the model for what church is, and it’s a great model. If we were all devoting ourselves to teaching and fellowship and prayer I think we’d very quickly see stuff happening in church. We’d see strong relationships built, we’d see our communities reached, we’d see people wanting to get involved. But Acts 2:42-47 doesn’t tell the whole story, in fact, it only really gives the end result. That picture of the early church didn’t just happen; we need to look at what happened first.
What had just happened was Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came on the disciples of Jesus and they suddenly started preaching to Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit is absolutely key when it comes to talking about church for two big reasons: a) as we see here, something recognisable as church only happened after the Holy Spirit came on the apostles and b) the Holy Spirit is God living in us and working through us on Earth today. There is no Garden of Eden, no Ark of the Covenant, no tabernacle, no temple, no Jesus physically walking the Earth; the baton has passed to us, Christians, to be the bearers of God’s Spirit on Earth. Everything we do, including church, has to be done in awareness of this.
So what is a church? It’s not a building, let’s make that clear. A church is a group of people meeting together to worship God. A church is the house of God’s presence on Earth because God’s presence is within the individual bodies of everyone who makes up a church. Suddenly a church looks less like an out of date building and more like something capable of miracles. The scary side of this is that churches – this means the people – are the representatives of God today. We are responsible for how people see God.
I hope it’s starting to become clear that there is so much more to church than just the social gathering. It’s great that we can meet friends at church – community is important – but that shouldn’t be the sole focus. The point of church is that we get to know God more. If we go to church and we haven’t done something to move us further along in our relationship with God then there’s not a lot of point in going. This will look different week in, week out. Sometimes you’ll be in a really bad place and the thing you need is to go to church and receive support. Sometimes the speaker might open up a Bible passage in a way that you hadn’t thought of before and you’ll learn something. Sometimes you’ll receive healing for emotional or physical pain. All these things can bring us closer to God and they can all happen at church.
Then there’s the stuff that’s even bigger than our personal journeys. Church has the potential to have a massive impact on society. Imagine if every church was growing with new Christians coming in from the local area. Imagine if every church was feeding the hungry. Imagine if every church was blessing the poor. Sometimes church’s aren’t economically capable of doing big-scale things but there is always something a church, however big, small, rich or poor, can do to bless its local community and show the people around it who God is.
The point of church is that we get to know God more, but it’s also that we show other people God. If we’re not doing those things then we’re wasting our time on a Sunday morning. We need to wake up to the fact that the church, globally, is the closest thing that the world has to seeing God, and frankly, we don’t do a very good job of representing Him. But the best part is that if we stop wasting our time and seek God week in week out, as a collective, then there is the potential for amazing things to happen.