We had two new visitors at church today: my friends Walt and Penny's little niece and nephew from out of town. During our meeting Penny shared that in the car on the way over they had talked about church, but when they arrived, her 7-year old niece was mystified. She looked up and down the street where their car had stopped, and then said to Penny:
"Where's the church?"
She couldn't figure out which building was our church, and I can understand why she was confused. Our "church" isn't white. It doesn't have a steeple, or a bell, or a cross on top. It doesn't have a parking lot, or a fancy sign, or any of those things. Our "church" doesn't look like what most people think of when they think of going to church. And that is because our "church" is in our home.
Talk about having a teachable moment handed to you on a silver platter! Penny explained to her niece that "church" isn't a building. It's the people that make up the church, not a location. The "church" is the gathered body of believers, wherever that may be.
I think a lot of adults have the same question that Penny's niece had. My husband and I have had a home church for a few years now, and I know there are still a lot of people who don't fully understand the concept. Or maybe they think we're a little bit crazy. Either way, I'm not offended, because I understand why this happens. Most of us haven't been taught to think of church as something we ARE. We think of it as a place that we go, and sometimes it's not such a welcoming place, either. We think of "church" as a big white building full of ornate things and uncomfortable seating. We think of "church" as a place full of people we don't really feel very comfortable around, with whom we share meaningless small talk and make awkward, stilted conversation. We think of "church" as an obligation, and one often fulfilled while battling an overwhelming desire to squeak out the door as soon as possible so we can get on with our real lives.
With that kind of a notion of church, I can understand why people wouldn't be interested, or would dread going. It sounds a lot like a wake to me, and I wouldn't want to be a part of that, either. But that's not what church was ever intended to be.
Church isn't a place. It's a family. It's people who care for each other because we have a common Father, and even if we look different, we can see His likeness in each other. Church isn't full of sterile, confusing ritual. It's full of honest, important discussion, of truth and questions, of love and challenges, and of fun and tears. Church isn't a place where sinners get zapped by lightening if they enter. It's a place where beauty comes from brokenness, where through Christ we get to link arms together and watch God heal and grow each other. Church isn't an obligation that takes us out of real life. It is an organism that is full of Real Life itself. These things are what makes up the true Church, no matter what the building looks like.
Here's what Penny's niece experienced today in home church. She listened to adults sharing about their lives, reading the Bible and discussing what it says, and praying together. She was instantly accepted and loved, and she made a new friend in my daughter. She ate yummy food and giggled. And at the end she was having fun, and wasn't ready to leave.
And that, little Olivia, is where the Church is.