Note: I have received requests from churches and mission groups in Australia, Germany, and the U.S. to leave this up one more day so that they can use it in their services tomorrow. I am happy to oblige and hope it helps.
It is important to be a part of the church by attending and participating in its programs and outreach, but the building is not the church. The name on the sign out front is not the church. The number of people who attend on any given Sunday is not the church. The word “church” comes from an old Scottish term that basically meant “building.” It is the thing that almost every translator got wrong at least over 100 times in the New Testament alone and is still getting it wrong, uncorrected for centuries. The Greek word that is in all of the oldest copies that we have on the New Testament canon is ecclesia and it referred not to a building or an organization, but to a group of special people. The Greek word ecclesia is correctly defined as: "The called-out (ones)" [ECC = out; KALEO = call], and these who are called out are called out for a specific purpose—to do what Christ called us to do. If the four walls of the building you call your church defines what it is, it is not a church at all. I’m not saying we don’t need to gather as a group--because we do. There is strength in numbers, comfort in numbers, encouragement in numbers, direction gained through combined efforts, and it doesn’t take many numbers to do it. Christ said that “wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there” and He is. His power, His love, His forgiveness, His commandments, and His exhortation to not be hearers of the word only, but to be doers—above all else. I really like how Bridget Willard phrased it, “Church isn’t where you meet. Church isn’t a building. Church is what you do. Church is who you are. Let’s be the Church.” The true church feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, comforts the sick, visits those in prison, and brings healing and hope to those feel lost, alone, alienated, and worthless. This may sound a bit radical, but remember it's me that is saying it (I am not alone in this belief)—I believe that Christ would be angry and disappointed at the huge amounts of money spent on buildings and infrastructure while letting the homeless sleep on a cold sidewalk. Christ never, and I repeat, never called for large organizations, complicated and costly infrastructures, and high wages and status for the leaders of those He called to usher in the Kingdom. One of the ways you can tell what is truly important to you is to ask how much you spend on it, how much time you spend raising money to maintain it, and how proud you are because you are paying your pastor large sums of money and giving him or her social status in your community. Since I have always believed these things, you can understand why I never really fit in with my particular brand of organized religion. One of the churches I served was voted “Church of the Year” by the denomination—not for its grand building, certainly not for its preacher, nor for the numbers filling the chairs every Sunday (we didn't have pews). It was considered the “Church of the Year” that year because it spent more of its money on others than on itself, and more of its members gave up their cloaks and walked the extra mile for strangers. I was very proud of those “ecclesia” for they knew who called them to reach out and not huddle within. The food pantry they started all those years ago is still feeding the hungry who only need to ask, unless the members already know of the need. When I first wanted to become a pastor,I was being questioned about the sincerity of my call to ministry and the committee asked what I thought should be done about the falling numbers of national members in our denomination. I suggested that we quit counting people and start helping them. Here in East Africa, where Christianity is growing faster than anywhere else in the world, the churches who are growing the fastest are those who provide schools, medical help, vocational training, compassionate love for all who are so hungry to hear God’s Word. The ecclesia who bring preaching and hope, praise singing and medical assistance, teaching how Christ lived and how He sacrificed Himself to give hope to the hopeless, light in the darkness and comfort to the mourning--they are the chosen ones. We Christians should not be identified by our church attendance but by our imitation of Christ and the disciples who sacrificed all they had for people they didn’t know and for generations yet unborn. My prayer is that more and more churches begin turning outward with compassion and love and less on holding hands and being thankful that they are not like the sinners outside the building they call church (and this is happening, just not on a huge scale). If I have offended anyone by what I wrote today--it was on purpose. A very old book that should be read every day was written by Thomas a Kempis a long time ago. It is called what we all should be and do—“The Imitation of Christ.” You can put it on your Kindle or iPad. It’s a start. The ecclesia were called not to be the norm but to be the example for all others. I try and fail every day, but because I keep trying, I succeed more than I fail. God bless each and every one of you who keep Christ alive more through your volunteering at a soup kitchen than your “perfect attendance” pin.