In days long ago, churches were built within neighborhoods and were placed strategically as a unifying place and focal point for those within a certain community. As cars and mass transportation were introduced, our understanding of a neighborhood has expanded greatly, and our church-going habits have changed along with it.
Instead of walking to the church down the street, now we have the ability to choose any church in town that fits us. Extrapolate this into the Internet age, and we can get our church needs met by listening to podcasts, worship albums and live online services. This is obviously a weak understanding of church, but that doesn’t make it uncommon.
Two years ago, a church in Indiana changed the way they refer to their church building, taking the word “church” out of the title. The church still exists, but the building exists for the community. The church just happens to use part of the building for offices and weekend gatherings.
When I first heard of their decision, I thought it was incredibly misguided. “If you’re going to be a church, be a church. You don’t need to hide it,” I thought. But as I provided time and space for my thoughts to continue growing on the subject of the connection between a church and the building(s) where churches gather, I had another thought:
Church exists within a specific community, but rarely exists as a blessing for all within the community. Most churches are a blessing to those who call it home, but quite often the community would be unaffected if the church disappeared. Church exists as a beacon pointing toward the Kingdom of God. It does not exist to build itself.
In a small way, this church in Indiana was voicing their desire to do more than gather on Sunday, but to open their space to the community at large. The community helps the church grow into their God-given role. Most churches don’t have the kind of space that community groups can take advantage of, but this specific shift represents a mindset shift that all churches can and should adopt.
My church operates a monthly food bank, and just this summer we’re trying our hand at a community garden where we can grow foods to add to the food bank during harvest season. Both are a small example of our desire to not insulate the Christian community that calls our church home, but to be a church for the community at large. What being a church for the community looks like in your context may differ, but the calling is a given.