The Pathetic Alternative to the Corporate Church

If the church isn’t designed to be a corporation but we try to organize it that way we will produce something that isn’t the church. We can call it a church if we want to but it will fail to deliver the right product. Because the corporate model is understood in the general community we can use it to produce an organization that seems credible. We can attract crowds to attend its events, we can fund-raise and build impressive structures. We can use corporate marketing techniques, produce glossy booklets and multi-media wonders to match and surpass the best but we struggle to produce transformation in people’s lives. We have the words of life but not its power.

The problem is that we’ve locked ourselves into a performance matrix – success is measured by the size or our meetings, the quality of our concerts, our funding and our increasingly impressive structures. We are not content with being a corporation, we want to be a Fortune 500 corporation. In our jargon this is called a mega-church and you can’t really be successful without one. We want to call ourselves the fastest growing church in . . .  (fill in the blank but think really BIG.) The next problem we run into is that seminaries don’t produce pastors with the skill-sets needed for running corporations and so we have to become creative to find staff who have corporate skills – that can produce intriguing results. We rapidly get into trouble when our pastoral staff prove to be incompetent and spiritual featherweights.  Meantime we are forced to keep the concerts coming, ignoring the fact that the concert-goers are spectators who are not engaging with God.

When we look at the Christian scene we see a number of bigger corporate churches and a whole lot of small struggling churches which are corporate wannabe’s lacking the resources and clues to pull off the big-time. Mid-sized churches are an endangered species – they failed to thrive sufficiently to make the big-time or they are gradually sagging because they can’t sustain the big-time they aspired to. Around 90% of US churches fall into the small category and they feel the frustration and humiliation of not being “successful.”

Apparently only rocket scientists can grasp that this is not working.  Mostly we bravely soldier on hoping for our day in the big league when,in reality, eternity won’t be long enough to see that happen. Our problem is we’ve gotten off track and are having trouble achieving our dreams simply because we are following OUR dreams without checking to see if they were also God’s dreams. Don’t go interpreting this as a Big Church Bash Session, but think of it as a reality check. Nowhere in the bible is there any indication that Jesus intended his church to look like a worldly corporation.

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber to be an example of a charismatic religious leader. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He held some big meetings (think Sermon on the Mount) and he was followed by crowds, but he never trusted them (think mobs shouting,  “Hosanna!”  and a few days later shouting, “Crucify him!”). His consistent action was to build significant, life-changing relationships with his followers, sharing the quality of his life and teachings with them, teaching them to approach life as he did and to invest in people rather than material goods and achievements. If anyone was capable of building a top-notch corporation it was Jesus but instead the legacy from his ministry on earth was a motley crew of followers we would consider incapable and ill-prepared. He considered they had what was needed and was willing to let them prove it. The corporate moguls of their day mocked them and dismissed them as being hopeless.

But if we major on quality we find it hard to also build quantity! 

Exactly. It may not be impossible to generate high quality disciples by the thousands but apparently Jesus had trouble doing this: or was it that he was following a different plan?

Here’s an interesting quote from Jim Wright who is planting churches based on community focused concepts with intriguing results.

“The participatory based and community focused model for the first three centuries of church history was firmly rooted in the New Testament, where believers met in each other’s homes to fellowship and partake of communion as a shared meal. Unlike other settings, the home environment fosters participation, hospitality and building relationships. Interestingly, and contrary to our current male dominated “churches” where women are typically excluded from key roles, those home fellowships were often hosted by women such as Mark’s mom in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12), Lydia in Philippi (Acts 16:15 & 40), and Priscilla in Ephesus and then Rome (Rom. 16:3-5 and 1 Cor. 16:19).

Jesus himself established this pattern of home-oriented fellowship in Luke 10:1-11. He sent seventy disciples, two by two, to find houses of peace to serve as focal points for bringing the Kingdom of God into a new town or village.

For too long, I wrongly focused in this passage on the disciples. After all, they were the ones sent out by Jesus himself and I thought they were the most important element for advancing God’s Kingdom. In reality, however, the key was those homes of peace, where hospitality and blessing could flow forth and draw people in. Absent such households, the disciples could do nothing and were commanded to shake the dust off their feet as they left for the next town.

We then see Peter, and then Paul, repeatedly using this same model as they planted and grew the church in households of peace and hospitality. (See Acts 2:42 & 46-47 and 16:12-15, 30-34 & 40 as just a few of the many examples of this in the New Testament.)

I don’t think this focus by Jesus, Peter or Paul on using peaceful homes as the foundation for authentic fellowship, discipleship and church growth was an accident. It simply is not possible in larger, podium-focused meetings for people to feel the intimacy and security needed to open up, share with each other, develop their gifts and participate by ministering one to another. Plus, homes of peace are the ideal setting for being the church, because the gift of hospitality naturally draws people in and fosters authentic relationships.

Now let me be clear: There’s nothing particularly magic about “doing” church in a home, and the same objectives can be met in other settings. But if you look at the New Testament pattern and precepts for “being the church” through active, participatory meetings, it is hard to envision how it can be done outside of small, intimate, informal and fellowship-based settings. And it is harder to envision a better (but certainly not exclusive!) setting for that to happen than sitting around a table and sharing a meal in a household of peace.”

Is there a place for large meetings?

Sure, good things can happen there if we can resist the temptation to make it a concert. The good things will be reflections of the life found in the small authentic fellowship settings where people discover the life of Christ and learn to live it out in practical ways.

Jesus builds his church on transformed people not on worldly systems so what makes us think we know better?

. . .

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About CiteSimon

Sometimes we find the "right answers" but maybe it's the struggle of discovery that helps us grow most.

Posted on April 17, 2012, in Active faith and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. It amazes me how people assume that because the Church (universal) is to grow, then the Church (local) must also grow! This is not true. Think of the human race, it has grown incredibly in recent centuries yet families have actually grown smaller! The race has grown, not by families growing larger, but by there being many more families. That is, surely, the model we should be following.

    Of course, when you play this out it almost inevitably leads you to a church that doesn’t own property dedicated just to its own gatherings. Home churches fit, but also small churches that meet in appropriate rented spaces. And you are right, such settings pretty much force an intimacy that is absent in corporate churches.

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