The reason why it is such an issue to me has a lot to do with my history. Growing up I attended a local fellowship whose membership didn’t really go over 15 adult members. My brother, sister and I were the only young people there from the time I was 12 until I left for university with the exception of the grand-children of the pastor. The picture I’m painting here sees our main service for the week having maybe seven adults there on a regular basis and then from time to time we would have visitors from Peterborough and Northampton.
As I got into my teens I asked why are we spending so much money renting out a hall that no one visits except for a few people? Why don’t we just have services at home? That idea was a non-starter I feel because of the tradition of the church. We’d always had a hall, we would always have a hall regardless of how little effect it actually has on the community around it and regardless of how little effective relationships were developed.
Yet sometimes we would have some mid-week prayer meetings in people’s homes that felt a lot warmer in character and relaxed in feel. Although there was not a case that it would actually get me interested in prayer – let’s not get crazy – at least it beat having to go to a hall. Indeed I often think back on those naïve days where Christianity was the faith of my parents that I snuggled up to for convenience but no real relationship with Jesus. In those days prayer meetings were boring and only good for kneeling down, bowing my head and going to sleep, or seeing if I could sneak in a read of the comic that I hid in my coat. Dude, it was hilarious witnessing the prayer races where the saints would compete to see who could pray the longest – cos obviously the longer you pray the more the prayer means to God as the scripture says. (Hold on a minute which scri… waddaya mean don’t ask those questions?)
Anyway, back on my theme, when I think about it, my life started at home. My understanding of life was birthed from home experiences. There’s nothing as personal as the home. There’s no place where I’m more relaxed than at home. It’s a great sign of personal trust to invite someone to your home and I was thought it was an honour to be allowed inside someone’s home. It’s a great atmosphere to reflect and relax. More than anywhere it is a location where life takes place without masks.
Sure, the reality can often be that people have bad experiences at home for one reason or another and it doesn’t work for some people. I don’t want to give the impression that home was an idyll of bliss from the horrors of the outside world – things were not perfect. What I do want to suggest and its something intensely personal from the relational perspective of family that linked to family is the concept of home. Home not just as a closed place, but as an intimate location where you can be real, vulnerable and experience sanctuary and rest like nowhere else.
That’s why I find it so tragic that there’s such a great rush to ‘get a building’. As if the mark of being a proper church is to have a ‘building’. Almost as though we forget that the building project Jesus was on was building people – and that work was not about doing it in a particular facility, but developing the kind of warm relationships filled with the Spirit of God – around a meal if you will – that reflected the concept of being part of a family. I saw it as natural that when those environments are developed and more people get interested that it’s then that you determine the need for a larger facility to house those interested. Even then, that was never essential in my reading of what made for church growth as actual development of people in Christ and reaching others to do the same.
I am not completely against large facilities for use of Christian activities and even large gatherings of church. I’m sure they have their function in the work of church. What I am saying is that the neglect of the whole house to house thing misses a really basic structure for church growth and for the development of all those who are part of here.
Let’s face it, where are you more likely to express you – in a fairly impersonal gathering of a large number people in which you can remain anonymous and the focus is on an individual or a group of individuals on a raised platform directing proceedings, or relaxed on a couch seated next to people who evidently care for you and there’s no pressure on you to share, but there is a desire to do so because you’re among people doing something special. It is all about getting the right ingredients to create the right meal for people to taste and see that the Lord is good. That I think can work in the home arguably better than anywhere else.
For His Name’s Sake