Why is there a need to talk about the church? What does it mean when we say “the church exists as a community?” Is there any alternate way of living the church?
In the Christian world, the church occupies an integral part of one’s life. Being involved in the church offers a sense of belonging and hope for our spiritual existence. Belonging is where one feels valued, cultivating trusting relationships, and hoping that one is not alone in this spiritual and material journey. The church is a space where people can come together, share, listen, and grow together as a family. It is not just a physical space but also spiritual, emotional, and social that defines who we are as a community. Today, this sense of belongingness and hope is thwarted by various forces that are mostly the result of our creation. For instance, capitalism aimed to advance our society towards freedom, and self-sufficiency has become the spine of individualism and narcissism. Alongside racism, classism, and many other forms of “isms” are killing the spirit of being a community. The church is on the brink of becoming irrelevant. It is high time that one should embark on a mission to rediscover the spirit of the church. If the church is a community of believers, how can we better understand and act as a community? Understanding the significance of church is vital to explore the idea of community.
Traditionally the idea of community is well understood in terms of fellowship and sharing. It comes from the Greek word koinonia, which means community, communion, fellowship, joint participation, sharing, and intimacy. There is no single English word that could express its depth and richness. Koinonia stands for both spiritual (inner goodness towards virtue), and an external act of displaying that inner goodness towards social realities and activities. Put differently, koinonia is an invitation to involve not just spiritually but also to participate with others for a better cause. Therefore, koinonia does not rest on “feel good,” but on the “act good” factor.
There are four different aspects of the community:
Come-in-unity: Without unity, there is no community, and without community, there is no church. The heart of any church rests on the shoulders of committed and faithful believers. Commitment and faithfulness are not enough until people decide to come together in the unity of mind and heart. As Augustine said in the Rule of St. Augustine, “the main purpose for you having come together is to live harmoniously in your house, intent upon God in oneness of mind and heart.” Any church event is possible when people believe it to be their responsibility to participate and make this event their own.
Come-in-uniformity: In today’s world, any call for uniformity anticipates an adverse reaction. Uniformity is indeed dull when applied to all walks of life. However, uniformity defines a rationale for a cause. For instance, military personnel wearing a uniform signifies their purpose, commitment, and direction. Similarly, church-in-uniformity signifies its mission, ministry, and service for the people in need.
Church-in-plurality: When church-in-unity and church-in-uniformity represent oneness and mission-oriented life, church-in-plurality celebrates the beauty of diversity in unity and uniformity. It is like a music director bringing together different musicians and instruments to perform a piece. Since musicians and their skills are different but they work together in unity and purpose to create a masterpiece. Church-in-plurality is not a state of being; rather, it is a state-of-existence whose sole purpose is to serve others just as Christ served.
Church-in-solidarity: When Emile Durkheim espoused the idea of solidarity in his work The Division of labour in Society in 1893, he meant it within a mechanical social scientific perspective. However, explorations in the sociological and theological circles, the idea of solidarity has received more subjective and emotional elements to its meaning. In short, solidarity is the feeling of empathy and responsibility exchanged between members of the group for mutual and selfless support. It means that solidarity implies unconditional love and friendship. Therefore, the church becomes a church when its members live in unconditional love and friendship. Life-in-solidarity calls for a church in mutual acceptance, understanding, and respect.
Where does church stands today? Has the church become irrelevant, or is it an opportunity to become relevant?
One of the significant issues that has plagued our church today is the lack of attendance. Every year thousands of people are turning away from church because it lacks vision and relevance. People who derived meaning and identity from the church are moving towards other platforms of self-definition and identity. The move also signifies a transition from a community-based existence to self-gratifying and selfish ambitions.
Those who are still around the churches follow specific models. These models are as follows:
Fine Dining Church Model
This is a restaurant model where people might visit during a special occasion or celebration like anniversary, birthdays or weddings, etc. Similarly, these churches are available for those attending church on special occasions like baptism, Easter, weddings, etc. These churches provide great ambiance, comfort, and meant for people with money and status. Here church exists for those who can afford it.
Fast Casual Church Model
This type of restaurant-style church model is a mixture of fine-dining and fast food type. It is not so upscale and not so cheap as well. This style of churches is in demand today as they cater to higher profits with lesser commitment and struggle. In the name of prosperity theology, this church invites people for a better spiritual life with more investments but less commitment. Here, people can feel a taste of upscale spirituality without being accountable for one’s actions.
Buffet Church Model
In this model, the church provides numerous choices and ways to achieve salvation. People can choose what they want and how much they want. The difference between this model and other models is the amount of preparation, thought, and quality goes into making it. The former models have a comparatively higher standard in the quality of preparation and execution, but in the latter, the quality is compromised for cheap performance with unhealthy spirituality.
Drive-Through Church Model
This model of the church looks for fast and convenient delivery. It does not matter if the church offers quality service; what matters is the quantity. More people, more money, and less hassle with quick performance. In this model, deep commitment from the people is not a requirement; instead, it is available for the convenience of the people. In other words, this model exists to make people feel good and satisfy their immediate needs rather than building long-term spiritual life.
Food Truck Church Model
This is a model that is based not just on convenience but also on individual-based needs. When the previous model is confined to the four walls of the building, this model satisfies the needs of the people by reaching out to the people in their respective streets. The role of the church is to tailor the needs of the people, even at the cost of sacrificing comfort. Like the Food trucks which offer fresh home-made food tailored and customized based on the needs of the people, this church model goes out of their comfort zones to the street where they provide quality spiritual services to those neglected by the Society. Preaching from the pulpit is all good, but God requires us to go out to the streets to make faith relevant and understandable.
All these models are essential in their respective faith traditions. However, as the world is changing around us, the church must be creative in addressing issues and finding ways to be relevant. As it is evident that the number of churchgoers is dwindling all over the world, the church must become adaptive to the needs of the people. Streets are not just space but an organic event. It is full of activities with numerous people share ideas and stories. Listening to these stories is a liberative event not only for the individuals but also for the church. The church, as a sacred organic space, needs to step down to the levels of the streets from their sacred comfort zones. Since the foundation of Christian faith originated on the dirty streets of Judea and Transjordan, the church needs to go back in time to learn from Jesus’ public ministry to rejuvenate church and its mission in today’s context. A church on the streets is a clarion call for all the Christian denominations to do ministry on the streets as Jesus showed us.
— Rev. Dr. Godson Jacob