Church does not mean Sunday, and Vice-Versa

One of the most striking things I’ve found about the whole blogging experience is the feeling of interconnectedness. I’m thinking here of the manner in which I continue to find people out there who are thinking or struggling through much the same things (philosophical or experiential) as I am. And perhaps it’s happened again.

I was reading Nathan Calquhoun’s account of Starting Over After Two Weeks, in which he talks about the early days of the church he’s engaged in planting with some other dudes in Sarnia, The Story. After two weeks of meeting as a church, they were already gravitating toward a focus on Sunday morning, despite two years of dreaming plus two years of planning which told them this was the last thing they wanted to do. Says Nathan,

“I don’t want you to organize some amazing thing on Sunday for me to experience this as church.� These are the words that poured out of a girl at our second meeting as a new church plant. These are the words that as a team that has been planning this church plant for almost two years and been dreaming about it for four could have written down at the beginning. These are also the words that we sort of pushed to the side of ideals that would shape the look of theStory.

Hang on, let’s get one thing out again, the words of Steph, a girl in their church:

I don’t want you to organize some amazing thing on Sunday for me to experience this as church.

So Nathan says in response, “We were reminded about how easy it is to simply do a Sunday remix than completely re-work the way church is done.” Well done.

Now, what’s this to me? Our little band (and note that nobody is very good at keeping up the group blog that some of us wanted) that we’ve been hangin’ with for the past year and a half or so are evaluating. Last fall we took the step of moving from casual gathering times whenever it seemed to work out to regular biweekly gatherings. We began to share life together in a bit more structured way through this means, and by all accounts it’s been a good thing.

But it’s a year later now, and I suspect that we either need to add another layer of “deliberate-ness” (the word “intentional” is way too overused already) or back off a little. A number of folks in the group do not attend anywhere else beyond a visit once in a while, and a number of others attend regularly or semi-regularly at other churches “because of the kids.”

As much as we’re enjoying what we do, there’s some general concern (but surprisingly little from my direction) that we don’t have a children’s program of some type, and have not really been able to integrate them into our regular gatherings. In part, the reason for both is because of the number and age range of the kids in the group. Most people in the group seem to want to take a step forward toward recognizing (and representing) ourselves as a more “formalized” missional faith community, but this is not really a foregone conclusion.

Here’s the rub. Somehow, inexplicably inherent in this conversation is a significant gravitational pull toward a Sunday morning meeting. Uuurrgghhh. I’m so not about structured Sunday gatherings… I so much want to reimagine things far more than that. I’m just not down with weekly Sunday morning gatherings with programmed kids’ times and adults’ times anymore. Surely, we can do better than that… and note that when I say “better” I mean “different.” There are a lot of people and places already out there that do this so well. I don’t need to follow that pattern, and I’d rather add something new by not following it. I want to reimagine and not, as Nathan says, remix. If I can just resist the (un)natural forces of (church sub-) cultural gravity.

For Nathan and his crew, it seems they are meeting on Sunday mornings, but it sounds like they too don’t want to let that become the focus. I like the process they ran through in response to the flagging of this concern… seems wise to me.

We sat in the Coffee Lodge and wrote a list of fifteen things that we wanted theStory to look like and be. Beside each thing/characteristic we wrote in columns ‘Church’ and ‘Outside of Church’ and we began to rate. How much of our community building would be done on Sunday; how much would be done on the other six days? Down the list we went. We realized that this church plant is going to look so drastically different than anything we were used to and its going to take some major discipline to keep it that way. Most things were either 50/50 or 80/20, with the emphasis being on the other six days.

I’ve been reading the House Church Blog’s answer to the ubiquitous question, “What About Children?

This is usually the first question asked when it comes to house churches: “What about children?

The implication, of course, is that children are going to lose out if there is not an array of formal children’s programs to teach and take care of the children.

The assumption is that the “Sunday School� program provided by traditional churches is the best way to raise up spiritual kids. The fact is, the majority of children raised in these programs exit youth group after high school (if they have lasted that long) and do not become regular church-goers. This is not to say that something of value didn’t take place, but it does point out that we are not getting the “results� that we hoped for.

I’m with him here. In my own desire to reimagine even the children’s ministry, I’m questioning the assumption whether the Sunday School model we’ve inherited really is the best method for today. After all, it was conceived of 226 years ago to serve an entirely different purpose than the one we expect it to fill today. I’m also with Roger when he notes, “Children need to be in families who are modeling their own spiritual life. This is more important than 1,000 teaching sessions on faith in Christ.” Now, this is not a simple matter… it’s a tall order for the average parents. But the fact that might be difficult hardly invalidates the validity of the model. If I’m concerned enough to be asking and attempting to answer the “what about the children” question, I should be concerned enough to tackle even a difficult challenge like this one. Ouch. I hate when I write myself into the corner of conviction… and I’ve really not left myself much room to manoever here.

Now, the article provides an excellent summary of the kids-in-house-church viewpoint, so I’m pretty much on board through the whole thing, but what really drove it home for me was in his quotation of Wayne Jacobsen:

But don’t our children need church activities? I’d suggest that what they need most is to be integrated into God’s life through relational fellowship with other believers. 92% of children who grow up in Sunday schools with all the puppets and high-powered entertainment, leave ‘church’ when they leave their parents’ home. Instead of filling our children with ethics and rules we need to demonstrate how to live in God’s life together.

Even sociologists tell us that the #1 factor in determining whether a child will thrive in society is if they have deep, personal friendships with non-relative adults. No Sunday school can fill that role. I know of one community in Australia who after 20 years of sharing God’s life together as families could say that they had not lost one child to the faith as they grew into adulthood. I know I cut across the grain here, but it is far more important that our children experience real fellowship among believers rather than the bells and whistles of a slick children’s program.

Now, how do I intend to wrap this all up? Well, there is a theme. The one thing to put in your back pocket and take home with you is the realization that church is not what happens during scheduled weekly meetings. Insofar as it’s an event at all, it’s the event that fills in the spaces between the meetings and committments that we tend to think of as church. It’s much more about life in the margins. It’s not about whether you put your kids in Sunday School or in the pew. It’s not about how often you meet or what time of the week, or if you schedule it at all. It has to do with the thing that glues us all together as the church, the one body, in the first place.

After all my time of faithfully attending weekly gatherings of the institutional (or inherited) church, it turns out that week after week, of the two and a half to three hours invested each Sunday morning, the part that was “real” church turns out to have been the fifteen or twenty minutes before and after the formal program, the space in the margins that was filled with “How was your week?” conversations between sips of coffee. This was the space that surrounded the meeting but wasn’t viewed as the “main event.” It was the time during which we shared the sacred grace of relationship, administering one to another the sacrament of friendship.

So it turns out, after all this time, the most sacred space in the church wasn’t the altar or the pulpit. The most sacred space in the building was the coffee urn. Who knew?


  1. Great insight! We do seem very wrapped up in the idea that the 1-2hr “service” each sunday is church. This bothers me alot! Church is the meeting together of God’s people daily. Church is where believers met together to expereince God and share the expereince of God with others. Your concern/thoughts on sunday school is interesting. I am shocked by the statistics you present but in considering them their is truth to it. Maybe the key is to have childrens activities on a different time period then the regular gathering of the commmunity. I”m not sure, honestly but I do appreciate your suggestion of involving children in the gathering to model to them a spiritual family. Of course hoping the church is not just word focused and has it’s eyes on the power of God. Typically I have found “church” in the meeting over dinner after the weekly gathering, where we share our lives and how God has shown his power to us this past week or few days (depending on how often you meet with these people).

    Thanks for the post!

  2. Great post, I’m sending this to the other guys now, you went one step further than what was going on in my mind, with the children, but something I know that we are soon going to have to make decisions on.

  3. Brother Maynard,
    I’ve loved your recent posts, although I haven’t had time to interact with them.

    One thing that Wayne Jacobsen said regarding children that really stuck with me is that when we plan an extended family gathering, we don’t usually say, “Well what are we going to do with the kids.” In a real family gathering, they are among us and a part of us. Sometimes parents have to miss some visiting or game playing while they take care of their children, and sometimes another relative gives them a break and helps with the care of their child. He said that the issue of children in our gatherings is that we are trying to have a “meeting.”

    But as you said in your post, if real church is happening in our fellowship with one another, maybe our meeting or main event isn’t as important as we thought it was. Just like with family, we sometimes might want to have adult-only times for serious discussion and sometimes have children-focused activities, but for the most part, we are gathering as a spiritual family.

    As for the rest, maybe our inability to reimagine the church gathering is due to a lack of real understanding of our identity as the church dispersed.

    It’s great reading what you are thinking about.

  4. Brother Maynard,
    What a great post! I’ve been reading your blog for a while. Thanks so much! I share the concern that somehow we find a way of being church where we live life all the days of our week. Could it be that the pull towards Sunday is that our culture has a “weekend?” Perhaps the weekend provides a natural expansion of time for interfacing the larger gathering of the church. If we take a Acts 5:42 pattern as something that is basic to human sociology–the house and the temple–we may find ourselves as church pastors and planters fighting the gravity of what is divine design if we ignore either.

    Keep up the great blogging!

  5. I have been reading your blog for quite a while now, thanks to finding it via Emerging Grace (who commented above). I don’t often interact on here, and I’m not sure why, because (especially lately), your blog resonates so well with me.

    For some reason, this post actually brought tears to my eyes because I felt like I was reading my own thoughts. The informal group we fellowship with in homes was just discussing this a few days ago during our bimonthly breakfast time (which occurs on a Sunday morning, but only coincidentally, and not out of any “sacred” obligation to Sunday mornings). We were talking about the pressure that groups often face to “formalize” their relationship (perhaps just so we all feel like we have an “acceptable” answer to the frequent “Where do you go to church?” question), and face the pressure to “do something with the kids”.

    Your frustration with this, and your thoughts are in harmony with our discussion about it.

    Thank you for being such a blessing! I’m sorry I don’t tell you that more often.

    God bless!
    steve :)

  6. I’m convinced I have the best blog-readers out there. I appreciate the comments responding to this post — they’re quite an encouragement actually, as I wasn’t completely sure this particular post flowed properly to get its point accross. Well, blogging is like that; you could always do better but if you held off, you’d never publish anything. The comments mean more than you know.

    A point of note about the Jacobsen quote… 92% sounds very high to me, I don’t think that fits with what I have observed, so I’d like to know the source of the statistic and what context it comes from. After all, isn’t it a well-known fact that 84% of all statistics are made up on the spot to support a thesis?

    Still, this is a huge issue, and like several of the subjects I’ve been (re)visiting this week, it’s one where once you see through a wrong understanding that you’ve lived under, it’s like a —no, not like a breath of fresh air… it’s like some weight is lifted, a burden you never knew you were under. It would be like a breath of fresh air if you’ve never been able to breathe at all before. Hard to explain, it can be quite emotive. I feel like I’m making further discoveries like this lately, and even just with topics I’ve thought through in the past but have a fresh idea about or sense of committment toward. In some cases (watch for my post tomorrow) I’ve found corroborrating thoughts on a given topic almost for the first time. That “I’m-not-alone” feeling is powerful, and it’s one that I’m getting from the comments in this thread as well.

    Thanks for your comments, especially you first-timers!

    Grace — great angle, the church dispersed… living as exiles. I like it.

    Craig — it probably has a lot to do with the weekend. Even though many people aren’t on that kind of work schedule anymore, most still are, the kids are with school, and that mindset runs deep.

    Steve — I’m not sure what this formalization-pressure is exactly either. In some ways, it could be a committment to each other about living in community. I hope it’s that and not just the urge to have an “acceptable” answer to where you go to church. I’ve been fielding that one for a while now. Some people I tell them I’m an ecclesiastical vagrant, but others need a “real” answer. Normally it depends who’s asking, but most often I just say “house church” regardless of how formal or informal it is. That’s a whole topic of its own though!


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