Unplugging from the Matrix, part 5

This is part 5 of a series of reflections about the journey of starting a church and leaving established, organizational, denominational religion. It’s a lot like unplugging from the matrix. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

As I’ve been processing my personal journey and the obvious and continued decline of mainline denominations, I have found this description by Craig Van Gelder very helpful in explaining the current state of denominations. It’s found on p. 17 of The Essence of the Church: A Community Created By the Spirit:

HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT OF DENOMINATIONS

  • Phase 1: Ethnic-Voluntarism Denomination, 1600-1800. This denominational type emerged in the early seventeenth to late eighteenth centuries and functioned as a coalition of ethnic immigrant churches of European parentage.
  • Phase 2: The Purposive-Missionary Denomination, 1800-1850. During the first half of the nineteenth century, this denominational type was formed as a national organizational structure responsible to introduce new churches into the expanding frontier.
  • Phase 3: The Churchly Denomination, 1850-1900. During the last half of the nineteenth century, denominations transitioned to this type as they built extensive institutional systems to serve the needs of their members.
  • Phase 4: The Corporate Denomination, 1900-1965. During the first half of the twentieth century, denominations created multiple agencies within an extensive bureaucratic hierarchy to manage the ministry of member churches.
  • Phase 5: The Regulatory Denomination, 1965 to present. In the last half of the twentieth century, a type of denomination has emerged that increasingly uses rules and policies to secure compliance from member churches.

So can denominations reverse the downward trend? What would it take to see growth happen? Or is the death of denominations inevitable – and the hope/sign of a future centered on Christ and His body (one holy, catholic church)?

Unplugging from the Matrix, part 3

This is part 3 of a series of reflections about the journey of starting a church and leaving established, organizational, denominational religion. It’s a lot like unplugging from the matrix. (Read Part 1, Read Part 2)

The Church Building. Also known as the sanctuary, worship center, nave, cathedral, auditorium, chapel, worship-torium, etc.

Churches waste money on buildings.

Church buildings aren’t inherently bad. Good things can come from a church having a building. But a church shouldn’t have to waste loads of money on a building – instead of investing in things that better serve the Kingdom of God and alleviate suffering in the world.

Everything that makes the church “the church” can be accomplished without a building. Can the Gospel be proclaimed without a building? Yes. Can you love and serve your neighbor without a building? Yes. Can you care for orphans, widows, and strangers without a building? Yes. Can you learn more about Jesus, the Bible, and discipleship without a building? Yes. Can you baptize people without a permanent baptistry or font? Yes. Can you share God’s meal of bread and wine without permanent furniture? Yes.

Oh, oh, oh, but how will we have a potluck luncheon, if we don’t have a building?!?

Well, the first issue is that you’ve named something a potluck luncheon :-). If anything, not having a physical building enhances our ability to be a community and tribe. Not having a building forces us to build relationships around tables, at bars, and in living rooms, which is where community is meant to happen and really occurs.

Mike quoted David Platt last year:

He makes a pretty good case that traditional churches are not very effective or efficient at helping change the world because they tend to get consumed with their buildings, their campuses and their little empires. (American Christians spend $10 billion a year on their church buildings, and almost a quarter trillion dollars is tied up in church-owned real estate.) In his book, Platt does a good job of challenging Christians to start caring less about building fancy, state-of-the-art church campuses and, instead, to start caring more about impacting the world for good.

One of the biggest cultural shifts for people that leave established/institutional church is getting over the building. The challenge is finding a way to create sacred spaces where people can feel like they’re “at church,” while not sacrificing the money to have an empty building 6 days a week.

Unplugging from the Matrix, part 1

The Matrix” is a film from 1999 that “depicts a future in which reality as perceived by most humans is actually a simulated reality created by sentient machines.

If memory serves me correctly, the movie became a natural analogy used by many hip preachers back at the turn of the millennium. It was an easy connection to the “in this world but not of this world” aspect of our faith.

Recently I’ve been reflecting on the journey of starting a church and leaving established, organizational, denominational religion. Its a lot like unplugging from the matrix.

A quote from Will Mancini:

The rise of church planting networks not only validate the entrepreneurial spirit but enable new groupings of ” the small” from the prior trend to exert more influence. As the new learning, new strategies and new relationships cluster in these front line networks, the knowledge, encouragement and accountability of traditional denominations bring less value. It’s no surprise to most readers that the time and resources from most denominations are woefully tied up with ineffective congregations.

When you first make the decision to leave the established/denominational church there is a lot of fear. It’s a scared-of-the-unknown, red pill/blue pill type decision. It’s inherently risky. I’ve spent several nights pondering whether delivering pizzas was in my career path. Or maybe inquiring about a managerial position at the local Half Price Books. But when you step back and look at the world today, that reality is present in every sector of the job market. So while leaving the established may seem risky, was it ever safe to begin with?

If you leave organized/denominational/established religion to find or create the perfect church, you’re doing it for the wrong reason. Because even the cool church with all the best intentions of not repeating the sins of the big brother down the block is doomed for imperfection. Because the church is made of people. And we all suck (see Romans 3:23).

A quote from Morpheus in the movie:

What is real? How do you define real? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.

The reality is this: God is working in some of the most unlikely places. I think that’s been the point all along, and why the Bible includes liars, adulterers, murderers, and doubters among it’s greatest heroes. When you step outside the matrix of established religion, there is another world. It is the real world and it is filled with people. And God is working in it.