Every Monday, a group of us from Trinity Baptist Church gather at a local coffee shop to fellowship and talk about whatever is on our minds.
Topics range from politics to hobbies, travel excursions to child-rearing. On any given week, there can be as few as four people or as many as a dozen who attend.
We had a big turnout last week. We had visitors from the community. My wife and children–freed from the burdens of school to celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.–were in attendance. It took about three tables to fit everyone.
I rallied the group and took a picture for our Facebook page. We laughed. We told stories. We were captivated by some folks who told us eyewitness accounts of the Civil Rights movement and Dr. King’s visit to Southern Seminary in 1961 when several of our parishioners were students there.
Most of all, I was captivated by the idea that we were being the church right there around that table. (And, yes, there were twelve of us that day.)
It was long ago that we at Trinity changed our tune about what Christ’s Body is all about. Usually, when people refer to “church,” they refer to a building or a place in which formal worship takes place.
Over the years, we learned that the church is made up, not of bricks and mortar, but of the people of God. Where “two or more are gathered” in Jesus’ name, we are being the church. And when we leave a physical building, we therefore bring church wherever we go.
In a conference I attended recently, someone stated that there are two ingredients that make a good church: a sense of transcendence and an environment that inspires a sense of belonging.
For thousands of years, church architecture and music have been the primary catalysts for providing transcendence. Long-term relationships in the pews and pulpit have added to a congregation’s sense of belonging.
The only problem churches face now is that people no longer require a traditional church building to experience those two ingredients. Walk into any coffee shop, mall, or movie theater, and you will find architecture, music, and abundant relationships that fulfill people’s needs for transcendence and belonging.
Many churches have to compete; and, in some cases, churches lose the battle and close.
The life and ministry of Christ as told in the New Testament reminds us that we don’t need buildings to have a relationship with God or with others in a sacred space in which the Holy Spirit guides God’s people. Jesus was constantly on the move, and his only church consisted of crowds, mountain sides, boats, and campfires.
Yet, Jesus did not neglect the buildings that were important in a life of faith–Jesus went to temple for his annual sacrifices; he went for his Bar Mitzvah (Luke 2:42); he went to synagogue to commune, pray, and teach (Luke 4:15).
But he also knew that God was larger than any one of those edifices.
Don’t hear me wrong, dear reader. I love the institutional church. I love church buildings. In fact, I grieve over the fact that we spend more money on erecting sports arenas than we do on building more cathedrals, and that many a church has lost a sense of grandeur when it comes to “God’s house.”
Yet, we have to keep things in perspective: Jesus used places as a means to an end. He taught and discipled in one place, only to send those very disciples out to create sacred spaces in their local communities.
Church buildings are still a means to an end: They are places to gather and celebrate what God is doing in the world. They also serve as hubs to equip disciples for ministry. They are launching pads for ambassadors of the good news of the Gospel.
So it is with our little coffee group every week. The routine is the same: Worship on Sunday; coffee group on Monday. And both are church to me. They are sacred spaces that carve out sacred times for the people of God to meet with one another–and with God–in ever creative and vibrant ways.