I was talking with a friend today about church. He said what I hear so many people say . . . that he wasn’t sure about the future of the institutional church. Will it survive in the expression it has come to take in society of late? That is, as the consumer-driven machine through which we scramble and struggle to give people what they want: need a program for your teenager? Done. Childcare? Sure. Coffee shop? Counseling center? Bookstore? No problem.
And not to say any of these are bad, but where’s the church in all of this? And by church I mean the little rag-tag group of dreamers hanging on tight to each other while risking whatever it takes to live the Gospel?
I’m not saying that being the church in an authentic way is impossible while sipping a latte, but the question is worth thinking about. Because . . . if the church is the same as every other institution in our lives, is it really worth getting up early on Sundays to come to worship? It might very well be that there’s a nice community center somewhere closer to home that wouldn’t demand nearly as much commitment, you know what I mean?
I understand my friend’s concern about the future of the church, but hearing him wonder whether it will live on makes me quake inside. I’ve seen the nasty underside of the church for sure, but something about the dream of Gospel community keeps me coming back . . . see, I want so much to be part of something different. I want to belong to a group of people who gather to welcome the work of God’s Spirit, who understand God as a liberating, ever-creating presence, moving us-even when we’re intent on standing still-toward a future that is increasingly hope-filled.
It’s this and, honestly, the fact that I see and hear God most clearly in the faces and voices of people in my own little rag-tag group trying desperately to live authentic faith in a truly inauthentic world. I freely confess: maybe it’s not even these lofty ideals at all . . . maybe it’s just my need to see God that keeps me hoping for the future of the church.
So I hope all the folks I meet who have just about given up on the church might keep hoping just a little while longer . . . because I think my friend is right: the future of the institutional church as a consumer-driven clubhouse is probably questionable. But as long as someone is telling the Gospel story I have to believe there will be people who gather together to sing and pray and hope that the Gospel transformation Jesus taught us about will take root in our lives and, maybe even in our world.
Yes, I’m still hoping for Gospel transformation, or, at the very least, a place where desperate, dim-eyed dreamers like me will be able to glance across a room to meet the eyes of somebody else who believes . . . and catch even a fleeting glimpse of the God who has been mostly obscured by what we’ve called the church up until now.
This is the church I’m not ready to give up on yet.