When Justina Walford moved to New York City nine years ago…she’d left behind her Church, her God, and her old city, Los Angeles. Then a secular congregation called Sunday Assembly filled the spiritual void—at least for a time….‘They Tried to Start a Church Without God. For a While, it Worked’, Faith Hill, The Atlantic, July 21, 2019.
I have watched the church-without-God movement for a few years now. I wondered – what would it show us about what wedo every week? Would it be a shadow-mirror to our own gatherings? This is a long series of biblical reflections on the observations of New York journalist, Faith Hill, on how churches are built. Or rather, how they decline.
“Justina became an organizer, one of the leaders of the chapter working long volunteer hours to put each service together. That lasted for a couple of years—and then things began to fall apart. There just weren’t enough people. Making a congregation happen basically meant putting on a big show on a regular basis. “The core group worked their hearts out, but it wasn’t sustainable.””
What makes church happen week after week after week without killing people? How doesn’t a church implode every 5 weeks?
It is an incredible feat to pull it off, humanly speaking. Humanly speaking – it is a ‘show’. I have done the maths. I think last week at our church took about 60 people on ‘jobs’, and 70 other people to be here with some kind of happy heart to give all this labour a point. 55 of these people are volunteers. The 5 paid people all give well beyond their pay. It amounts to hours and hours of toil for one hour of divine power. And it happens every week and has in this place since 1916.
It’s an ordinary, every week kind of miracle. I turn to scripture to protect this grace of God.
‘Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit.’ Colossians 3:16
Church is not a show. No-one is performing. We might attend to some aspects of quality for clarity’s sake. But we aren’t performing. We are one-another-encouraging. If we are performing, Jesus warns us it’s pretty pointless. (Matt 6:5)
Not much wonder The Christless Church folds so quickly – what can sustain our culture’s insatiable appetite for performance and entertainment? For a ‘show’?
Nothing. Certainly not church. But this thing Jesus gave us can exist for another ‘E’ – Encouragement. Make sure you ‘put courage en’ someone else this week at church. And receive some. Let it be a good strong cycle of encouragement. Not from the front out, like some lame concert. One to another.