When the Church Stops Going to Church

I have many friends who have stopped going to church. Not because they are too “worldly” or because they don’t believe in Jesus, but because the dominant church structures can no longer contain how they feel called to express their faith. And just as often as I hear about folks no longer going to church, I almost always hear, as though an echo, someone else retorting, “But what about ‘Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together’?” For you heathens out there, that’s the go-to verse in Hebrews for why we should go to church.

The problem is that such a reaction makes an assumption. That the only proper way to “assemble together” as Christians is to sit in a building together for an hour to listen to thirty minutes of music followed by thirty minutes of lecture.

Such an assumption is an example of what Deleuze calls “the dogmatic image of thought.” We have narrowed the words “gathering together as the Church” to such an extent that we can now only conceive of one option: the weekly church service. It’s the sacred cow for many Christians that goes unquestioned.

I would argue it’s time we slaughter that cow and have it for dinner alongside a nice cold beer and our closest friends and family (sorry to my vegetarian friends for that image, I’m from Texas, so forgive me). Am I saying the services that many Christians have come to love and rely on is bad or illegitimate in some way? No. Is that a legitimate way to worship God? Sure it is.

The problem comes when we limit God & the Church to just one legitimate way.

When we keep the Creator God for whom “all things are possible” in a box by shaming anyone who doesn’t play by our rules, I think we are dangerously close to creating an idol out of an expression, a universal law out of one example.

Unless we release our artists and creatives to create new ways of living out Church rhythms by supporting rather than shaming, cheering them to go rather than guilting them into staying, we not only will find ourselves woefully obsolete to a growing generation but sinfully misrepresenting a God who multiplies, not a God who limits, a God who “no longer wants to be worshiped on this mountain or that mountain” but wants to be worshiped “in spirit & in truth.”

So next time someone tells you that they no longer attend church but love Jesus and the Church more than ever, believe them. And ask them “What are the creative ways you have found to stay connected to the Body of Christ?” And ask yourself, “What am I assuming about how the Spirit works through the Church?”

And together, by believing the best about one another, and by believing that Christ really is the Head of the Church, we can create vibrant, diverse, & holistic expressions of what it means to assemble together.

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5 responses to “When the Church Stops Going to Church

  1. There is a liberating poignancy here. The said dogma is prevalent everywhere. Many have come and gone for having been beaten down and ironically out of the church. And as I get older and more observant I also become more curious and aware of the community outside the four walls of the church. It has been thru this curiosity that I have begun discovering a more raw God, a more real God, a God that is omnipresent, a God who’s Spirit can’t be corralled by a man made building. Far be it that we would limit church to an hour or two meeting.

  2. I think it’s worth distinguishing between creativity and innovation. I think we can have creative worship without reformatting the whole worship tradition. I like imagining creative ways to worship, but constant innovation can leave us formless and empty. I’ve found myself in a church that contains a clear form but has lots of creativity within that form. It’s like a field of flowers, rooted and still moved by the wind. You need both–the problem, I think, is that we’ve abandoned many of our roots: that’s why you’ve got 30 minutes of music, 30 minutes of lecture in the first place. It’s a form that feels formless.

    Still, I’m all for creativity within the forms that the Church has cultivated and given to us, its heirs.

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