What If Everyone Left the Sunday Morning Institutions?

I thought some of you might be interested in this exchange with a brother today from Australia…

Quite seriously Wayne I can see your point of being the church no matter where we are or go without being committed to anywhere. But extend that premise to the extreme with no one committed anywhere. The Church would lose its presence in the earth, it would be over run. There would be literally no good works being done by corporate bodies who can with all due respect do far more than a lost of disgruntled fragmented people?

I’ll take your challenge and imagine the extreme in a moment. But first, don’t you think you set up a false dichotomy here? On the one hand you see people who meet in building to be committed and doing good works, and those who have taken distance from such gatherings as lost, disgruntled and fragmented? Is that really fair? Even some of the most passionate folks I know who embrace our institutional structures admit that only 10% of the people there do 90% of the work and contributing to let them happen. And the folks I know who are living outside such structures are incredibly active in their pursuit of God’s life, their relationships with other believers and their passion to make God known in the world. According to George Barna’s book, Revolution, they give more in time and money on average than those who attend. What’s more they have connections across broad spectrums with other believers, and many have pointed out that the gatherings in buildings on Sunday mornings make it the most fragmented hour in our culture by age, race, and economic status.

But let’s take it to the extreme as you suggest. Let’s say today everyone stops attending our Sunday (or Saturday) morning institutions. Would the Church lose its presence in the world? I don’t think so, and in fact I think you could argue that it would have both a greater and more effective impact. Admittedly there would be some chaos with so many support staff out of work, and dealing with buildings that would be difficult to sell, but once we got through all of that, I am convinced the church would take on a GREATER presence in the world. Our world wouldn’t have a daily reminder driving down their streets how fragmented Christianity is into its various institutions because people simply wouldn’t learn how to love each other they way they are loved by God.

Those who really love Jesus would find themselves liberated from all the machinery that consumes a huge amount of time, energy and resource and find their lives in more spacious places where they would have time to get to know and love their neighbor, their colleagues at work and people they pass on the street. Admittedly that wouldn’t be everyone’s response, but the reason I don’t fear people not being ‘committed anywhere’ is that they will get to find out just how committed to Jesus they really are. And that’s good for them and good for the world. Many Sunday-attenders have no idea they are missing out on what it means to be truly committed to Jesus. They think that attending a service and dropping some coins in the offering basket validate the depth of their faith. Yes, some would end up disgruntled and fragmented, but they wouldn’t be mistaken for those who really ‘get’ this journey and live in the increasing reality of being transformed by Jesus.

To survive, people would have to become more active in their faith, seeking out opportunities for growth, for relationship and for sharing God’s life in the world. They would lose the passivity that allows people to sit through a meeting on Sunday and live unchanged the rest of the week. New believers would be taught to know the Lord in small groups who share the life of the family together, rather than as cogs in a big machine. And we would have so many more resources to do whatever God might ask us to do, like reach out to AIDs patients, build hospitals in third world countries, feed the poor or host an outreach in a local park where others might come to know him. Leaders would emerge not by their education, vocation, or ability to draw a crowd, but because they have a gift to help people grow and live hospitably so that they actually come in contact with real people.

In summary, the Church would take on a greater presence in the world just because of the number of active believers scattered throughout it every day to make him known. And it would be more authentic as well, since it would be Jesus demonstrating himself through transformed lives, which I think is far more powerful than ornate buildings, spurious TV preachers, or the excesses and failures of our institutional leaders today.

So I guess I don’t agree with your premise, neither would I be so hopeful as to every think even a majority of people will ever give up their Sunday morning custom. Too many people find comfort there, and there’s quite a financial industry now based on its perpetuation. And yes, God will continue to use it to work in the world, because he is gracious to use whatever we give him. But at some point the value of it is overrun by its liabilities, which are many and vast. This life is so much easier learned in the joy of a spiritual family, rather than the rigid programs of an institution.

I think Jesus saw it that way too, which is why he didn’t leave us with the institutional instructions.

Or so that’s how I see it…

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30 Comments
  1. Brad Nelson November 18, 2007 at 9:43 pm

    Great Answer Wayne. Are their any case studies on this? Like persecution events?

  2. Brad Nelson November 19, 2007 at 12:43 am

    Great Answer Wayne. Are their any case studies on this? Like persecution events?

  3. rob horton November 19, 2007 at 3:39 am

    solid wayne!!! excellent!

  4. rob horton November 19, 2007 at 6:39 am

    solid wayne!!! excellent!

  5. Bones November 19, 2007 at 7:30 am

    It’s a bit disappointing to hear the assumption of your correspondent that corporate institutions are necessary to the Church’s presence in the world. The Church cannot be overrun if it is Jesus who is building it!

    Wayne, the way you articulate the vision of the Body living in the world as salt and light diffusing God’s presence stirs hope that this is what Jesus is actually accomplishing in our midst today!

  6. Wayne November 19, 2007 at 9:22 am

    Brad,

    Not to my knowledge. Anyone know of any?

  7. todd November 19, 2007 at 9:34 am

    “To survive, people would have to become more active in their faith, seeking out opportunities for growth, for relationship and for sharing God’s life in the world. They would lose the passivity that allows people to sit through a meeting on Sunday and live unchanged the rest of the week. New believers would be taught to know the Lord in small groups who share the life of the family together, rather than as cogs in a big machine. And we would have so many more resources to do whatever God might ask us to do, like reach out to AIDs patients, build hospitals in third world countries, feed the poor or host an outreach in a local park where others might come to know him. Leaders would emerge not by their education, vocation, or ability to draw a crowd, but because they have a gift to help people grow and live hospitably so that they actually come in contact with real people.”

    Wayne,

    I really enjoyed this segment especially….it’s like hearing Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech where he gets all fired up at the end.

    I must say, I attend a small Saturday night gathering and even the dynamic of having “Sundays Open” has been a huge shift for me….taking the kidz to the park, visiting with other families who may not have any interest whatsoever in the Church as many folks know it….or going to the market on a Sunday morning and seeing all the different sorts of people there….wondering what their stories are and if they have any God-hunger burning in their hearts.

    I’ll pray and dream with you guys….that bans of grassroots believers all over the place will grow in relational living and then go and “happen” in there worlds and spheres of influence and beyond!!!!

    let it start with me!

    peace,

    Todd

  8. Brad Nelson November 19, 2007 at 9:42 am

    This made me think about the dispersion of Christians at Jeruselum, and the results of that.

    From Acts Chapter 8

    That set off a terrific persecution of the church in Jerusalem. The believers were all scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. All, that is, but the apostles. Good and brave men buried Stephen, giving him a solemn funeral—not many dry eyes that day!
    And Saul just went wild, devastating the church, entering house after house after house, dragging men and women off to jail. Forced to leave home base, the Christians all became missionaries. Wherever they were scattered, they preached the Message about Jesus. Going down to a Samaritan city, Philip proclaimed the Message of the Messiah. When the people heard what he had to say and saw the miracles, the clear signs of God’s action, they hung on his every word. Many who could neither stand nor walk were healed that day. The evil spirits protested loudly as they were sent on their way. And what joy in the city!

  9. Bones November 19, 2007 at 10:30 am

    It’s a bit disappointing to hear the assumption of your correspondent that corporate institutions are necessary to the Church’s presence in the world. The Church cannot be overrun if it is Jesus who is building it!

    Wayne, the way you articulate the vision of the Body living in the world as salt and light diffusing God’s presence stirs hope that this is what Jesus is actually accomplishing in our midst today!

  10. Dave November 19, 2007 at 11:41 am

    Maybe a time like that is closer to what you shared there Brad than we think. Future persecution that is.

    There is an emergence happening for sure and it ain’t by any man’s efforts but Jesus is calling His out and into Him. I don’t mean out of the church buildings necessarily but out of that life of institutional thinking and problem solving and into a real life of knowing Him, hearing His voice, and doing what we see Him doing. As soon as we try to stick a label on it or wrap it into a movement we begin to kill it… analyzing it to death. Learning that in Him we live and move and have our being is what is emerging. What does that look like? Where is it going? “It” is Him having His way with His loved ones… drawing those who ask ever deeper into Himself… changing us, ruining us, us becoming Him to the world around us. In this we can become ever so more effective for His purposes… because we’re following Him and His desires, not some institutionally driven agenda.

    From my window there seems this continual need for many to capture this as a “thing” and make it into the next newest model to live by, to strive for. Yuk, barf, please stop! …so tired of all the clatter. It becomes like politics with picking the best platform and candidate.

    Jesus is building His Church rather nicely… in and out of the buildings. But it seems He’s doing His best to kill the institutional way of thinking in us. That will die and perhaps not by those learning to live outside of it but rather by it being forced out again by persecution. And I have no idea what that will look like. Good thing. I scare too easily.

    I think I went off topic here… but just thinking aloud with you (with much personal rant added in for the fun of it).

  11. kent November 19, 2007 at 12:13 pm

    Wayne, many years ago when I walked out following what I was convinced was the Spirit leading me out, I remember hearing Steven Brown of Key Life Ministies ask the same question on his radio program. I almost ran off the road when I heard him say that he thought that it might be a good idea just to shut the whole thing down. It was actually a moment for me of thinking that maybe something BIG was about to happen. I was still in that mode of thinking BIG as the institution had shaped me to think of BIG.

    Well I came to find out that he wasn’t actually serious about doing that. This is a difficult thing for people to even imagine, not to mention actually walking out in. The idea of BIG things changed in me over the years of being away from systematic approaches to these things of following Jesus as we live in the world. I see BIG today in the simplicity of a life being changed and set free and that happening in others all over the world. Without freedom in Christ are systematic approaches are just BIG exercises in missing what is essential.

  12. Wayne November 19, 2007 at 12:22 pm

    Brad,

    Not to my knowledge. Anyone know of any?

  13. todd November 19, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    “To survive, people would have to become more active in their faith, seeking out opportunities for growth, for relationship and for sharing God’s life in the world. They would lose the passivity that allows people to sit through a meeting on Sunday and live unchanged the rest of the week. New believers would be taught to know the Lord in small groups who share the life of the family together, rather than as cogs in a big machine. And we would have so many more resources to do whatever God might ask us to do, like reach out to AIDs patients, build hospitals in third world countries, feed the poor or host an outreach in a local park where others might come to know him. Leaders would emerge not by their education, vocation, or ability to draw a crowd, but because they have a gift to help people grow and live hospitably so that they actually come in contact with real people.”

    Wayne,

    I really enjoyed this segment especially….it’s like hearing Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech where he gets all fired up at the end.

    I must say, I attend a small Saturday night gathering and even the dynamic of having “Sundays Open” has been a huge shift for me….taking the kidz to the park, visiting with other families who may not have any interest whatsoever in the Church as many folks know it….or going to the market on a Sunday morning and seeing all the different sorts of people there….wondering what their stories are and if they have any God-hunger burning in their hearts.

    I’ll pray and dream with you guys….that bans of grassroots believers all over the place will grow in relational living and then go and “happen” in there worlds and spheres of influence and beyond!!!!

    let it start with me!

    peace,

    Todd

  14. Brad Nelson November 19, 2007 at 12:42 pm

    This made me think about the dispersion of Christians at Jeruselum, and the results of that.

    From Acts Chapter 8

    That set off a terrific persecution of the church in Jerusalem. The believers were all scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. All, that is, but the apostles. Good and brave men buried Stephen, giving him a solemn funeral—not many dry eyes that day!
    And Saul just went wild, devastating the church, entering house after house after house, dragging men and women off to jail. Forced to leave home base, the Christians all became missionaries. Wherever they were scattered, they preached the Message about Jesus. Going down to a Samaritan city, Philip proclaimed the Message of the Messiah. When the people heard what he had to say and saw the miracles, the clear signs of God’s action, they hung on his every word. Many who could neither stand nor walk were healed that day. The evil spirits protested loudly as they were sent on their way. And what joy in the city!

  15. Dave November 19, 2007 at 2:41 pm

    Maybe a time like that is closer to what you shared there Brad than we think. Future persecution that is.

    There is an emergence happening for sure and it ain’t by any man’s efforts but Jesus is calling His out and into Him. I don’t mean out of the church buildings necessarily but out of that life of institutional thinking and problem solving and into a real life of knowing Him, hearing His voice, and doing what we see Him doing. As soon as we try to stick a label on it or wrap it into a movement we begin to kill it… analyzing it to death. Learning that in Him we live and move and have our being is what is emerging. What does that look like? Where is it going? “It” is Him having His way with His loved ones… drawing those who ask ever deeper into Himself… changing us, ruining us, us becoming Him to the world around us. In this we can become ever so more effective for His purposes… because we’re following Him and His desires, not some institutionally driven agenda.

    From my window there seems this continual need for many to capture this as a “thing” and make it into the next newest model to live by, to strive for. Yuk, barf, please stop! …so tired of all the clatter. It becomes like politics with picking the best platform and candidate.

    Jesus is building His Church rather nicely… in and out of the buildings. But it seems He’s doing His best to kill the institutional way of thinking in us. That will die and perhaps not by those learning to live outside of it but rather by it being forced out again by persecution. And I have no idea what that will look like. Good thing. I scare too easily.

    I think I went off topic here… but just thinking aloud with you (with much personal rant added in for the fun of it).

  16. kent November 19, 2007 at 3:13 pm

    Wayne, many years ago when I walked out following what I was convinced was the Spirit leading me out, I remember hearing Steven Brown of Key Life Ministies ask the same question on his radio program. I almost ran off the road when I heard him say that he thought that it might be a good idea just to shut the whole thing down. It was actually a moment for me of thinking that maybe something BIG was about to happen. I was still in that mode of thinking BIG as the institution had shaped me to think of BIG.

    Well I came to find out that he wasn’t actually serious about doing that. This is a difficult thing for people to even imagine, not to mention actually walking out in. The idea of BIG things changed in me over the years of being away from systematic approaches to these things of following Jesus as we live in the world. I see BIG today in the simplicity of a life being changed and set free and that happening in others all over the world. Without freedom in Christ are systematic approaches are just BIG exercises in missing what is essential.

  17. Jeff November 19, 2007 at 3:45 pm

    My prayer for all in the institutional church is that the Lord will open their eyes so that they may see!

  18. Jeff November 19, 2007 at 6:45 pm

    My prayer for all in the institutional church is that the Lord will open their eyes so that they may see!

  19. David Grant November 19, 2007 at 6:54 pm

    I think a lot of people would be lost for sometime as we have been trained to protect and mouth the words of whatever system we have found ourselves in. Listening to the voice of the Spirit is very difficult because He likely has been speaking to us but we didn’t like what he had to say about our particular brand name. Our loyalty to our system has likely even allowed us to righteously rebuke the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

    Will they be upset for awhile? I hope so. If I somebody tells me a lie I get upset. However I can’t be angry at any particular person because I was one who for almost 30 years strengthened the lie and I’m just starting to see the depth of the deception. As Paul said, Ephe 6:12 (NIV) For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

  20. Jim November 19, 2007 at 7:21 pm

    Wayne,

    Well said!!!!!!!!
    Sorry, I just like to get to the point.

  21. David Grant November 19, 2007 at 9:54 pm

    I think a lot of people would be lost for sometime as we have been trained to protect and mouth the words of whatever system we have found ourselves in. Listening to the voice of the Spirit is very difficult because He likely has been speaking to us but we didn’t like what he had to say about our particular brand name. Our loyalty to our system has likely even allowed us to righteously rebuke the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

    Will they be upset for awhile? I hope so. If I somebody tells me a lie I get upset. However I can’t be angry at any particular person because I was one who for almost 30 years strengthened the lie and I’m just starting to see the depth of the deception. As Paul said, Ephe 6:12 (NIV) For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

  22. Jim November 19, 2007 at 10:21 pm

    Wayne,

    Well said!!!!!!!!
    Sorry, I just like to get to the point.

  23. The Other Pam November 19, 2007 at 10:38 pm

    I always wonder why in these sorts of discussions the language seems to be so “either/or”, everyone or no one, go to a meeting or not go to a meeting. Does it necessarily mean a person is shut down and controlled in the relationship with the Lord just because they go to a meeting? Does it mean a person will lose their relationship with Him they don’t? The answer to both those questions in my opinion is “no”. I hear comments about institutional Christianity here, and those criticisms have a great deal of merit to me. Then I think maybe I should leave my church or club as you call it. But then there’s that “S” word to me that doesn’t sound like freedom to me, doesn’t seem like that’s where the Spirits leading me, at least not now. Currently I don’t have a compelling reason to quit the fellowship have with that group of people that meets Sunday morning in a certain building. I love them; I would miss them. I would even miss the meeting. Somehow that seems so ugly in this forum of discussion. What is it about us that drives us sometimes to want everyone to join our particular bandwagon whatever that might be? Do we really all have to be living before him in the same format? It’s all just format to me. In my opinion, I don’t think God cares much about whether we do or don’t. For people who don’t go to church services anymore y’all spend alot of time sometimes talking about meetings. When people attack you for living where God has you “outside the box”, ignore them for “they know not what the do”. Chances of your convincing them otherwise are probably pretty slim.

    Wayne I think you just did a podcast about this; I didn’t listen to it yet. I know you are not dogmatic; this is just what this kind of discussion stirs up for me. It still feels like if you don’t join us “outside the box” you’re missing it. I like my pastor, yet I feel encouraged to be suspicious of him because he earns a living being my pastor. Yet I’ve met you and wouldn’t have you change a thing about who you are and how you live. I am continually left feeling sad, conflicted and confused.

  24. The Other Pam November 20, 2007 at 1:38 am

    I always wonder why in these sorts of discussions the language seems to be so “either/or”, everyone or no one, go to a meeting or not go to a meeting. Does it necessarily mean a person is shut down and controlled in the relationship with the Lord just because they go to a meeting? Does it mean a person will lose their relationship with Him they don’t? The answer to both those questions in my opinion is “no”. I hear comments about institutional Christianity here, and those criticisms have a great deal of merit to me. Then I think maybe I should leave my church or club as you call it. But then there’s that “S” word to me that doesn’t sound like freedom to me, doesn’t seem like that’s where the Spirits leading me, at least not now. Currently I don’t have a compelling reason to quit the fellowship have with that group of people that meets Sunday morning in a certain building. I love them; I would miss them. I would even miss the meeting. Somehow that seems so ugly in this forum of discussion. What is it about us that drives us sometimes to want everyone to join our particular bandwagon whatever that might be? Do we really all have to be living before him in the same format? It’s all just format to me. In my opinion, I don’t think God cares much about whether we do or don’t. For people who don’t go to church services anymore y’all spend alot of time sometimes talking about meetings. When people attack you for living where God has you “outside the box”, ignore them for “they know not what the do”. Chances of your convincing them otherwise are probably pretty slim.

    Wayne I think you just did a podcast about this; I didn’t listen to it yet. I know you are not dogmatic; this is just what this kind of discussion stirs up for me. It still feels like if you don’t join us “outside the box” you’re missing it. I like my pastor, yet I feel encouraged to be suspicious of him because he earns a living being my pastor. Yet I’ve met you and wouldn’t have you change a thing about who you are and how you live. I am continually left feeling sad, conflicted and confused.

  25. Wayne November 20, 2007 at 11:43 am

    The Other Pam,

    I am sorry you took my answer that way. There was nothing in that or other things that I write saying all people SHOULD leave Sunday morning institutions. The question posed was whether or not the presence of the Church would be lost to the world if those didn’t exist. I’m blessed that there are still healthy gatherings of believers out there and it sounds like God has you just where he wants you. Most of the people I know on this journey are not on the ‘us versus them’ bandwagon. I know some people read that into it on both sides, but most people have the grace to let others have their own journey and not impose theirs on someone else.

    No one here is encouraging you to be suspicious of anyone. I agree that God has people involved in regular gatherings and I also know God has invited others outside of it. I have found great life and joy outside the demands and maintenance such arrangements require. You are finding great life and joy within it. There’s nothing wrong with that. I want you to find the freedom and joy to do what Father asks. At the same time, I don’t think you need to feel threatened by others have a conversation about how embedding the life of Jesus in an institutional format does have implications that can be destructive. They aren’t always that way, but they can be.

    Wayne

  26. Wayne November 20, 2007 at 2:43 pm

    The Other Pam,

    I am sorry you took my answer that way. There was nothing in that or other things that I write saying all people SHOULD leave Sunday morning institutions. The question posed was whether or not the presence of the Church would be lost to the world if those didn’t exist. I’m blessed that there are still healthy gatherings of believers out there and it sounds like God has you just where he wants you. Most of the people I know on this journey are not on the ‘us versus them’ bandwagon. I know some people read that into it on both sides, but most people have the grace to let others have their own journey and not impose theirs on someone else.

    No one here is encouraging you to be suspicious of anyone. I agree that God has people involved in regular gatherings and I also know God has invited others outside of it. I have found great life and joy outside the demands and maintenance such arrangements require. You are finding great life and joy within it. There’s nothing wrong with that. I want you to find the freedom and joy to do what Father asks. At the same time, I don’t think you need to feel threatened by others have a conversation about how embedding the life of Jesus in an institutional format does have implications that can be destructive. They aren’t always that way, but they can be.

    Wayne

  27. The Other Pam November 21, 2007 at 7:33 am

    Wayne, I wasn’t really respomding to your anwer on the blog, so posting my angst in this contest was confusing and maybe inappropriate. I’m not sure I am finding greater freedom. Your departure from the instition was more like an ejection. My experience is different. I have questions, but my husband is a board member; the pastor is a friend; and most of my closest friends are at my “church”. I am a woman; the relationships mean more to me then the brokenness of the structure. Sometimes people on the blog or on the forum make sweeping statements about people “in the intitution” are hard to listen to. Or sometimes the discussion takes on a derisive tone. (Not you personally necessarily, but in this internet community.) I understand the humanity of all that, but where I am at it’s hard to hear. I just need to stick to the encouragement from the writings about “living loved” etc. I wish sometimes there was more time spent on that life than this intitutional talk. It’s so hard for me to hear; I guess I just wanted those feeling understood. For you the band-aid was ripped off quickly; for me it is very, very slowly.

  28. The Other Pam November 21, 2007 at 10:33 am

    Wayne, I wasn’t really respomding to your anwer on the blog, so posting my angst in this contest was confusing and maybe inappropriate. I’m not sure I am finding greater freedom. Your departure from the instition was more like an ejection. My experience is different. I have questions, but my husband is a board member; the pastor is a friend; and most of my closest friends are at my “church”. I am a woman; the relationships mean more to me then the brokenness of the structure. Sometimes people on the blog or on the forum make sweeping statements about people “in the intitution” are hard to listen to. Or sometimes the discussion takes on a derisive tone. (Not you personally necessarily, but in this internet community.) I understand the humanity of all that, but where I am at it’s hard to hear. I just need to stick to the encouragement from the writings about “living loved” etc. I wish sometimes there was more time spent on that life than this intitutional talk. It’s so hard for me to hear; I guess I just wanted those feeling understood. For you the band-aid was ripped off quickly; for me it is very, very slowly.

  29. Rich December 4, 2007 at 2:39 pm

    I am SO pleased that Dad deals gently with us and never pushes His will on us. Maybe if we just follow His promptings day to day, the traditional meeting systems will change in ways we can’t imagine AND without our effort and manipulations. It’s not up to us, He is growing and grooming a bride for His son. What do I know?
    Rich

  30. Rich December 4, 2007 at 5:39 pm

    I am SO pleased that Dad deals gently with us and never pushes His will on us. Maybe if we just follow His promptings day to day, the traditional meeting systems will change in ways we can’t imagine AND without our effort and manipulations. It’s not up to us, He is growing and grooming a bride for His son. What do I know?
    Rich

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