Who Needs a Church?

Lots of paradigms are shifting these days as our world comes to terms with a new world unfolding before us, a world of increased sickness and death, but also of increased simplicity and community–forced as it may be by our present circumstances. I’ve heard it said recently that God is making us to lie down in green pastures, that God is compelling a ‘Martha’ world to become a ‘Mary’ world.

In this world of changing paradigms, perhaps it’s time that we look anew at our bricks and mortar church buildings and consider whether there is a new and better purpose for which they can be repurposed. Many are understandably eager to return to their buildings while others are marveling at the deeper and wider connections happening through technology platforms (Zoom, in particular).

First, it’s worth noting that the Church had no buildings for the first two centuries of its existence and did quite well meeting in believers’ homes. By all accounts, the first church building didn’t appear until sometime between 233 & 256 A.D. (in Dura-Europos, Syria). Church buildings didn’t appear in any significant number until the reign of Constantine in the early 4th century A.D., and, yet, somehow, the Church experienced a period of growth rivaling any in it’s 2000 year history…in the century before all the buildings arrived! The 3rd century A.D. is a wonder of Christian expansion–no political power, no buildings, and yet increasing from a population of 200,000 (200 A.D.) to 6 million (300 A.D.) in the Roman Empire. How did they do this? They loved well and courageously and they proclaimed the Gospel unapologetically.

Now, back to the buildings…here’s a proposal: the Church goes back to it’s roots and begins to meet again in the homes of it’s members, 10-15 at a gathering (when the time is right, of course, and socially distanced, if necessary…we can figure this out…in the backyards, whatever). Further, many of our gatherings continue to meet on Zoom and by way of other technologies. And, lastly, and most magnificently, our buildings are converted to mission centers…they become shelters for those without shelter, they become food pantries and job training sites…they become beehives of love and courage in action. I imagine a proposal such as this might face a few hurdles, but we’ve got a big God.


  1. Vicki Hammel

    Many church communities do some or all of these and still worship in their buildings. I’ve always been one that thinks the idolatry of buildings is more about habit and humans who need to have control of both the hierarchy and the kinds of worship they’ve “always done” rather than asking the radical question about what God is leading them to do and be.

    I guess human imagination would have to connect with the higher purposes of service and sacrifice before many would grab hold of your idea. That said, we never go backwards, we can only remember yesterday, or even the last few moments, and we can’t see the future. We can only respond to the demands and ideas of the moment with imperfect faith. Thanks for the article and for asking me to think. Love to you and Kim. Stay safe wash your dads don’t touch your face laugh pray be grateful and shower the world with love…God bless…Vicki

    • Well said, Vicki, and I would add, given the nature of our imperfect faith, it would seem that the human imagination needs often to be pushed, even forced, into realizing the higher purposes to which God is calling us, not unlike the early apostles and disciples being pushed out of Jerusalem by way of persecution, yet, once pushed into diaspora, took the Gospel all over world. I think there’s something rather analogous at work today. Peace to you & yours, my friend, Matt

  2. Jeff Murray

    Interesting proposal, Matt! In a tangential sort of way, this morning – prior to reading your post – I was thinking about this idea while my family convened around the tube to the livestream church service (along with most other physically distant members of our congregation). I watched our as our pastor stood in his home – behind a makeshift lectern and in front of the webcasting camera. And I suppose the notion of meeting and worshiping solely in members’ home stayed with me. I posed a few questions to my wife: “After we’re able to get less physically-distant from one another, how many internet-only churches will launch? How many are already in existence? Is it foolish to think this? Would this be helpful to doing God’s work?”

    I don’t have the answers, and frankly did not plan to dwell on those questions. But your proposal makes me think about the Church’s actual need for four walls and a roof. Even with physical distancing, the idea doesn’t go against Hebrews 10:25, does it? I’m inclined to think ‘no’. Thanks for posting, Matt!


    • I’m inclined to agree with your intuition, Jeff. To be physically present with each other is good (and I would say necessary, too), but there are ways of being physically present with each other outside of our buildings…which is part of the testimony of the early Church. Peace, Matt

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