[“Church Without…” is a series of think-pieces designed to slowly deconstruct what we think is essential to having church and to call attention to the hidden barriers we’ve erected between ourselves and the Great Commission.]
Do you see what I did there with the title? Last time, we talked about how buildings can limit individual church bodies, so this week, let’s talk about how equating churches with buildings further limits the cause.
What is a “church” to you? Is it a building where people gather to worship Jesus or is it a body of people gathered for that same purpose? Etymologically, “church” comes from “kirche” the German word used by the Protestant Reformers as a vernacular substitute for “ekklesia,” the Greek word most often used by New Testament writers to refer to churches.
The difference between these words is simple but profound: kirche refers to a building while ekklesia is a word used to describe a gather of people.* By shifting the meaning, we shifted our focus. We lost the idea of a gathering and began to focus on the setting of the gather, the building. So, what if we went back? What if we rediscovered the power of the ekklesia, the assembly?
As we got back to a more ancient definition for church, let’s find a more modern, decentralized application. Let’s build an e-kklesia.
ChurchMag uses Slack for our backchannel discussions. One of the channels is for prayer requests. Through this and a few private direct messages, I have developed quite a nice circle of encouragement and accountability with people who love and worship Jesus.
Not too much unlike a church.
The power of the internet to unite people cannot be discounted, though many discount the propriety of using the internet to unite people for the purpose of worshipping Christ. Personally, I readily admit my own reticence to offer a blanket endorsement of such a plan, but perhaps that’s because we haven’t put in the effort—technologically, theologically, missiologically, and ecclesiologically—to develop a fully conceived and functioning digital church.
Maybe that’s the next step. We had the megachurch, the multi-site church, and the church network. Now, it’s time for a decentralized, networked, small group church.
How do we do it? I have no idea. We’ve got Hangouts, Slack, and a whole host of other pieces: some assembly is required. Get out your Allen wrench set from Ikea and get started.
*There is an obsolete meaning of kirche that matches up with ekklesia, but the fact that it’s obsolete so of proves the point: originally, the words shared a meaning, but the secondary meaning of kirche as a building slowly took over, resulting in centuries of confusion.