Six years ago I moved from Los Angeles to Atlanta. I loved my church in L.A. and wasn’t ready to give it up. This was the first time in my life that I really had to search for a church. After a year and half of “church-hopping,” I found my home. Just like my L.A. church, it is artsy, addresses important issues of faith (even the hard ones), has great community and feels smaller than it actually is.
Did you notice something there? I didn’t mention what the pastors were wearing, the up-and-coming worship leader or the fair trade organic coffee. Now, you should know that I really appreciate a good cup of coffee. However, though these things can make for beautiful extras, the core of the church is not in these details.
Many churches, in response to young people leaving the pews, are focusing heavily on becoming more relevant. They are focusing on the details, trying to follow trends in social media, music, fashion or coffee, while leaving the big picture blurry.
The early church looked a little different:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers… And all who believed were together and had all things in common… breaking bread in their homes… praising God and having favor with all people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42, 44, 46-47, ESV)
The early church was focused on the big-picture gospel, the true story that united them in love. My hope for the Church today is that we can be a picture of that love by embracing authenticity, honesty and community.
- Authenticity: One thing that I love about the body of Christ is that we are unique. My church in L.A. was artsy with high production value. Contemporary and street dancers shared the stage, honing their craft each week. A film team produced shorts that could easily show on bigger screens in Hollywood. My church in Atlanta is artsy in a laid-back way, hosting writing groups and discussions about the theology of art. Churches should be true to what they are, instead of caring about what is cool.
- Honesty: Understanding the Bible in our nuanced world is hard, and a church teaching that pretends to know it all would make me want to run. A church that cares more about figuring it out in open discussion is one of great honesty. I’ve often heard my pastor open to the weekly text and admit, “This is a tough passage. I don’t know the answer, but let’s wrestle through it together.”
- Community: What I love about both churches I’ve mentioned is that they are big, but they feel small because of great community. The early church not only met for teaching, but also for dinner. Sharing life together means being there for each other in celebrations and sadness. This is what makes the church attractive to those who don’t believe yet.
These simple values are far more important to me than whatever a church deems “in” and tries to be for a time. When the church looks like a group of believers sharing, talking and living in love, the world takes notice.