I heard a startling number the other day. It was the estimated value of land and buildings held by the church in North America. It was something to the tune of 70 Billion dollars! Yes, billion! With that much invested in real-estate, the question has to be asked, is it worth it? Is having that much invested into a structure and an address really helping the church be her best?
I’ve been wondering lately about what the church would and possibly will look like if all of that real estate were to go away? What if the fore-closure scene begins to include the churches and other non-profit organizations? Would the “programs” and people they are running and numbering still remain intact? Who will oversee them? Where will they be held? How will they be funded?
If there is no Senior Pastor, no executive board, no elder board, pastoral support teams, facilities crews, grounds keepers, etc…how will the church continue? What will that look like? When there are no more Sunday sermons, mid-week Bible studies, book stores and the latest releases on CD, DVD, Book or other; what then? When Saturday nights “contemporary service”, Sunday mornings at 8, 9:30 and 11:00am services and Sunday nights are no longer held because there is no pastor, no teacher and no place to gather for the ‘service'; what will church look like?
What if, God forbid, but very possible, it becomes a crime, punishable by imprisonment or worse, to preach from and teach from the Holy Bible the name and gospel of Jesus Christ? What will church look like? What if there were no bulletins listing all the different care ministries offered by the church and staff because the church has been closed permanently; what will church look like? When the pastor of the church you used to ‘go to’ has been arrested and sent to prison or even put to death for hate crimes? What will church look like then?
I know these scenarios and ponderings seem afar off…but are they really? And how do we know just how far off they are? Did Germany see the Holocaust being “far off”? Did America see Pearl Harbor and 9/11 as “far off”? Did Thailand, India and Indonesia see the Tsunami’s as “far off”? Did Noah see the flood as “far off”? Did Jesus see the Cross as “far off”? Did the person who just died in the last 5 minutes since you’ve been reading this see their death as “far off”?
My point really in writing this is to try to get you to consider what church would look like if these and many other potential circumstances were to happen in our time. In our generation. In the generation after us. As I’ve thought about these things what comes to mind is the “early church”. Which, interesting enough, is still the church that is alive today just as the adult of 50 years of age was an infant 49 ½ years ago. It’s still the same person isn’t it? If this is true, then the “early church” is just a time description of an era and not of something different at all.
So we would see the church of “today” with all of its additives being forced to reduce, like mom’s pasta sauce on the oven. The longer it sits on the flames, the more it reduces it’s ingredients down. Do we really need all the “bells and whistles” in order for the “wheels on the bus to go round and round, round and round”?
Let me put it to you straight. What would YOUR current church experience look like if at the very least some of these things were to happen? If the economy never recovers? If the government continues to eliminate the religious freedoms that make it legal to gather for “religious causes and instruction”? If the police, state or federal, were rounding up “church leaders” and taking them to prison? Would you still have a “church experience”? Or, quite possibly, would you find yourself experiencing church for the very first time in your life?
What do I mean by that? I mean would you remain part of a family that knows you as intimately as you do each of them? Would you still come over to each others house to eat, worship, pray and read the Bible together; all 6 of you? All 4 of you? All 3…or 2 of you? Would you be able to read the Bible for yourself and hear the voice of your Father in heaven? Would you still come to serve the poor, but instead of the shelter downtown it would be at your front door? Instead of going on short-term mission trips you would see your neighborhood for the first time as your mission field? Would you become so dependent on your brothers and sisters in Christ just to survive daily, that you put aside theological differences of when a person is officially saved or not, baptized or not, sprinkle, emersion, flipped or dipped! Pre, Mid, Post, or not at all, it just wouldn’t matter at all! Would you begin to see every person around you as a “minister” within the group of “friends” you now live with?
Are you seeing the difference? Do you want to see the difference? Could it be that when the world is at its very worst, Christ’s Bride, THE Church, will be at her very best? Will these kinds of changes be so drastic you might not recover from them, or would it be more like going over a speed bump? That all depends on your current “church” experience; is it living and breathing, or stale and stagnant?
If it’s not like that found in the Book of Acts, and yes that includes all the messes and mistakes, the tongues and the prophecies, the healings and the deliverances, the salvation of the 1 and the thousands, the shadows and handkerchiefs of apostles healing people, the radical opposition of the government and “religious leaders” of the time, the hatred of the world and those given over to their evil nature, the intense manifestations of God’s Spirit in numerous ways, the signs and wonders, the sweet gatherings of people who follow Jesus together in their homes or wherever they possibly could, the letters of others being passed from community to community to encourage and give direction to the believers in them, to sharing of everything owned with others, the eating together out of desire and necessity, the love of God which would rather suffer for doing righteously rather than to compromise and give in to sin and evil even at the cost of your life. If it’s not, maybe “change” really is the word for our generation. Maybe it’s been the word to many generations? Maybe change is what’s needed most? I trust you with that conclusion.
Tim Crozier is a surfboard shaper, owner of Blackbird Surfboards and an organic church planter. He currently leads “therootschurch” network in Leucadia, California where he and his wife Gina and their two surfing sons, Caleb and Micah live.