When Riverchase United Methodist Church announced they would hold church services in a local Buffalo Wild Wings, they probably hoped to make a splash in the city of Hoover. I doubt they knew the move would inspire a top ten list on David Letterman and spawn endless debates on social media. People from different “camps” have had strong opinions about this decision. Some believe this is a revolutionary idea to reach more people because some in our culture don’t feel comfortable going into traditional church buildings. Others see this as taking the sacred into the secular or pandering to people as consumers.
On one level an idea like this should not bother us. Christians need to abandon the idea of holy buildings and holy sites. Our church buildings are not the New Testament fulfillment of the Old Testament temple. Jesus is. The temple was the place where people encountered the presence of God. Solomon’s immaculate temple ultimately pointed forward to Jesus, who is the dwelling place of God among men. We meet with God not in a physical building, but through Jesus who gave his life for us. The Old Testament dwelling place also typified how God would indwell his people through the Holy Spirit. Paul commands Christians in Corinth to abstain from sexual immorality because their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Then in Ephesians 2 he says the church is being built into a “holy temple to the Lord” reminding us that the Holy Spirit dwells in believers individually and together corporately in church. The Holy Spirit is present and active wherever the church of the living God meets together. He does not live in buildings, but in his people. When we keep this reality in mind, a church meeting in a sports bar should not bother us.
At the same time, we make a subtle mistake when we think that the best way to reach our culture is by changing where our church gathers for worship. For far too long churches have adopted a “come and see” approach to the faith. We think the best way to get people into the faith is to get them into our buildings through providing bigger and better experiences for them. Churches believe that by throwing on a pair of jeans, turning down the lights, and cranking up the volume we are going to appeal to people. There is no problem with jeans, low lights, or screaming guitars, but they symbolize our flawed thinking about how people are attracted to the Christian faith. Jesus told his followers the night before he died that “the world will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” The church’s witness to the community does not depend on our ability to get them into our worship gatherings. Instead we should focus on both proclaiming and living out the Gospel in our daily lives. This means our friends and neighbors will hear the message of the Gospel and see what it produces in our life together. When we live out the words of Jesus in John 13:35 we will not have to design creative worship experiences to get our culture’s attention, they will be asking us questions about the reason for the hope within us.