The word “church” tends to have a very specific image attached to it: a mid sized building with a tall steeple—usually with a cross perched at the top—sometimes with a sign in front with some sort of cheesy message spelled out in plastic letters.
As a kid, I can remember being told what I was and wasn’t allowed to do in the “House of God,” as if God lived somewhere in those four brick walls and would be irritated if I wore my hat or played catch in his house.
Maybe you’ve rejected that traditional church image—opting instead for a gathering at a storefront or local coffeeshop. But even without the steeple and sign, many of us still think of “church” as a place we go.
Of course, having a fixed location is not a bad thing. Whether your church meets in a traditional church building, a house, a mall, a coffee shop, a bar, an old factory or wherever else, your location is a wonderful way to reach out to your community. And none of our meeting places are superior to another. There are so many passions and demographics that sometimes we get caught up in the superiority of our preferences. That is an easy way to divide us, and that is never good.
But early Church folks would be confused at the sentence, “Let’s go to church.” They understood themselves to be the Church. It wasn’t a building or tent. It was them.
Today, as you travel to your church on Sunday morning, it’s easy to lose sight of the reality that you’re not just going to church, you are the church. Really, the place we meet shouldn’t matter. Embracing church as a place causes several problems:
Church, and therefore Christianity, gets compartmentalized when we see it as a place.
We tend to compartmentalize our lives, and this has a lot to do with location. We go to work or to school and show off our professional, put-together selves. We go home and relax with our families.
This mindset often transfers over to our lives as Christians, too. We look at Sunday as the totality of the Church experience. When we see Church as a building or place, our relationship with God tends to be something that only really takes place in that particular location. It’s easy to follow Christ in a place where everyone around you thinks you should follow Christ.
But, obviously, being the Church should transcend building and day. You have the hope that so many in this world need. If your faith exclusively exists in a building or around other Christians, you miss the point of the very faith you represent.
Church, and therefore Christianity, is limited when we see it as a place.
God knows people’s hearts. If He asks me to say or do something and I obey, I place Him face to face with people who need Him, and people who listen to God do the same for me.
Thinking of Church as a building or as a place, damages that line of thought, because you deny yourself your true identity as a member of the body of Christ.
If you go to church and are not the Church, then that allows you to justifiably be less than what you were meant to be. The building becomes the place where people are supposed to be presented with the Gospel. You invite people to a building hoping that someone else will tell them about Jesus instead of telling them yourself when you get chances in your day-to-day life.
Perhaps the lack of love and power we can experience today is rooted in the idea that we view Church and Christianity as consumer events and things we do, not as identities.
Finally, Church, and therefore, Christianity, is isolated when we see it as a place.
I was recently in a discussion with people that I admire concerning “online church.” The general consensus was that our generation sees the online world as a community.
Some people feel they can skip “going to church,” because the message is online. They don’t have to go, because they get plenty of stimulating discussions on Facebook (Good luck with that!). Fitting inspirational quotes in 140 characters has become an art form.
Let’s not limit this to the online community and the Millennial generation. There are plenty of you who skip church because your kid has a soccer game, you are taking your 17th vacation, or the weather is too nice or too bad. You might listen to the podcast version of the sermon and not think anything of it.
In that way, we neglect or are neglected by a community of Christians because Church is viewed as a place, not people. But being an active serving part of a local body unleashes your passions and leads to more growth than you can get living your spiritual life alone.
In the early Church, believers spent time with each other, met each other’s needs and confessed sin to each other. You can’t get the full extent of that through a podcast or text, and you certainly can’t if sleep or nice weather is more important. Personal contact, conversations and living life together broadens our perspectives. When you view church as a place, you can isolate yourself from the people who can help you unlock your purpose.
God wants to use you in the lives of people you know and people you don’t know. If you aren’t an active part of a local body of believers, it is difficult to walk in your purpose.
In the Bible, “church” is always a reference to people, not a place. Church is not a building or a day. Church is the walking, talking embodiment of Christ to a world where so many are not fulfilled because they do not love Him.
Think of all the Church could do if we do not compartmentalize, limit and isolate ourselves by thinking of ourselves as a place.