“God designed the Church to be much more than what the majority of us experience in America. There are many of us who believe this and want change.” Francis Chan
Pastor Francis Chan walked away from his megachurch to start over with a collection of home churches. His spiritual journey is an enormously valuable lesson for all Christians. In his book, “Letters to the Church”, Pastor Chan details his experience and his concern for the Christian church in America. His observations are enlightening and insightful; however they are, in my view, incomplete and I believe invite further discussion. To that end, my goal here is to expand on Pastor Chan’s experience by balancing his vast experience in ministry with my personal experience as a worshiper. It is my hope that these two points of view blended together will inspire the reader to carefully consider the path forward for the Christian church in America.
If you haven’t read “Letters to the Church,” I highly recommend you do. I’ll be offering my point of view chapter by chapter. It is not necessary to read the book before reading my response, but you will benefit greatly from Pastor Chan’s teaching and his inclusion of the scripture from which he bases his conclusions.
Francis Chan begins his book by asking this wonderfully revealing question:
“Imagine you find yourself stranded on a deserted island with nothing but a copy of the Bible. You have no experience with Christianity whatsoever, and all you know about the Church will come from your reading of the Bible. How would you imagine a church to function?”
Church would be a lifestyle – an ongoing experience continuously connected to all other church members. Each church member would look out for all the other church members and help one another in any way possible. Praise and prayer to God would be never ending – a part of every moment of every day. One day a week would be devoted to the worship of God. Music and singing would start a worship service followed by serious Bible study led by a mature student of the Word. Communal prayer would follow. A great meal would come next that would include communion. Fellowship would follow the meal which would lead to church members discovering the needs of others so that they could make plans to help. The week would be filled with service to God by serving others, followed by a full day of worship. This pattern would be never-ending.
Simply stated, Francis Chan has come to the conclusion that a small home-based church is a better worship experience; however, he also concedes this may not be the right approach for all Christians in America. Therefore, much of our discussion will be regarding the pros and cons of small vs. large church gatherings.
When I look at my response to Francis Chan’s question, my first impression is how difficult that model would be to implement in a large church. On the other hand, I can see how a large church would be more capable of providing service to others. For instance, if you only had a gathering of 10 – 20 meeting in a home, you would be very limited in the kinds of service that could be provided. In a church with thousands of members, chances are there is always someone who has the skills, talent, and resources to help in almost all situations. While the intimacy of a small gathering might appeal to some as a more logical way to connect on a deeper level, in terms of opportunity for service, it is extremely limiting.
The question then becomes, is it possible to somehow combine the two? Of course this is what many churches are doing by using the small group model. Francis Chan tried to divide his megachurch up into small home churches, but they had already grown accustomed to a large venue worship model and were reluctant to change. The fact is, there are many people who simply prefer the large group gathering to the small intimate group gathering.
As Francis Chan explains in his book, one of his problems was the fact that he had become the primary leader of his church. Most of the people there didn’t want to be led by anyone else. Therefore, they all wanted to attend the same service. This is a major problem for many churches. The entire operation is dependent on one dynamic leader. If that leader should for whatever reason depart, the whole church falls apart. This fixation with celebrity seems to be a part of the American culture. One of the fascinating aspects of Francis Chan’s book is his resistance to his own extraordinary gift – his natural ability to attract others to his teaching. It seems like his gift became a burden to him when his charismatic charm began to overshadow the message he was preaching. People were coming to see Francis Chan rather than have an encounter with the one true God. That sounds ridiculously silly, but I’m sure it’s true in some cases – maybe in many cases.
How do we take celebrity out of the church? How do we build a church that is large enough to meet everyone’s needs and still remain intimate enough to develop deep meaningful connections? How do we design a worship style that speaks to every Christian – those who like large gatherings and those who like small gatherings?
As I see it, all of this is possible. Of course, with God’s help, anything is possible; however, I don’t think we need miraculous assistance. I think this is something we can easily do in our own power. Nevertheless, there is something that I think needs to be addressed before we get started – something that I’m surprised is for the most part absent from Francis Chan’s book. That is an acknowledgment of the extremely dedicated and profoundly cunning enemy who is standing in our way. The devil is in the details. He is there attempting to block our every effort. Unless we identify his involvement and shine a bright light on his every move, we will be doomed to failure no matter what we try.