Most churches around the world operate from the same basic model – each Sunday morning, people sit in rows, sing some songs and listen to a sermon. Some churches are big, some are small, some have young people, some are older, some have modern music and preaching, some are more traditional – but despite the external differences in style, the “sit+sing+ sermon” model is essentially the same.
But what if this model is holding the church back from its full potential? What if the purpose of church is not to entertain and educate and attract greater numbers, but to build each other up towards maturity and unity, as each one of us participates and contributes (Eph 4:16)? What if rows are preventing God’s people from seeing each other face-to-face, loving one another and encouraging one another as the Bible commands us to? What if group singing has replaced mutual ministry and “one-anothering”? What if monologue sermons are not the most effective way for people to learn and engage with and apply God’s Word?
A growing number of God’s people are becoming dissatisfied with what churches are offering. They don’t feel a need to take time out each week to sit in rows in a room, staring at the backs of people’s heads, without having a chance to interact with them. They don’t see why they should listen to just one person speak on their behalf, rather than allowing all of God’s people to share and discuss what the Holy Spirit is speaking to them. They don’t get the point of sitting passively through a performance, rather than meeting together face-to-face as a relational, interactive, supportive community.
Some of these people are giving up on church altogether – not necessarily giving up on God, but certainly confused and frustrated by his people. Others are seeking out organic church communities – often struggling to find groups in their local area, often feeling disempowered and ill-equipped to start their own.
Some brave churches and groups are exploring a different way to do church, seeking a more biblical ecclesiology. It’s not easy for them. The existing structures, seminaries and Christian society don’t support them. They haven’t got many role models or examples to follow. They are often wandering in the dark, making it up as they go, experimenting and learning along the way.
There are a few bold pioneers who have trekked this path, who have wisdom and experience to share with you and I on our journeys. I highly recommend reading Thom Schultz, Alan Knox, Keith Giles, Dan White Jnr, Neil Cole, Mike Breen, Felicity Dale andHouse2House Magazine – just to mention a few – not just novices, but spiritually mature elders and mentors advocating and practicing a participatory, empowering ecclesiology rooted in good theology.
The way we do church matters. Possibly more than our theological position. If we can empower God’s people to discover their gifts and their voice, maybe we will see the subversive, upside-down kingdom movement Jesus spoke of, spreading like yeast through the world, unstoppable and uncontainable.