A few years ago, I read a book about the early years of “Eucharist Church,” a congregation planted by the book’s author, Kevin Makins, and his friends in Hamilton, Ontario. The book revolves around the question, “Why would anyone go to church?”
The question is provocative, and I think necessary. It’s necessary for those of us called to midwife new Christian communities into existence. It’s necessary for those of us who are long-time participants in older expressions of the Jesus movement in our communities, too. Asking this question is necessary because it roots us in the reasons why—2000 years later—the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection still matters to the life of the world.
I wonder how you would answer that question for yourself.
If you asked another parishioner, clergy in your parish, or other parish or diocesan leaders why they go to church, what would they say? What might we learn about God; about God’s relationship to people; and about the church, if we dared ask this question?
Why do you, why do they, why does anyone go to church anymore?
This book tells the story of a community of friends on the edges of the established church who are prompted by God to wrestle with the Christian story and to find ways of embodying the Jesus movement in their particular time and place. What I find fascinating about this story is not that their worship or expression of church is particularly innovative. It’s not that their coffee is better than whatever you serve at your church (although my guess is that they take their coffee very seriously).
What comes through clearly on the pages of the book is the sense that this community of nones and almost-nones (“nones”: those who do not identify with any religion), this community of long-time churchgoers, and those new to the Jesus story are looking for something deep and profound. They are looking for something transformational and astonishing. They are looking for (and expecting!) God to break into history. They pray and work and wait with joyful expectation for God to do a new thing amongst them, for the sake of the world into which they’ve been sent.
And what happens? God shows up.
It’s messy, of course. But God always shows up in the muck and filth of real life. God shows up in dust and ashes, at shared meals and gravesides, in the workplace, at dance clubs, and even the occasional wedding.
In reading the story of this young community’s quest to live faithfully into the Christian story, I find myself inspired. I find myself inspired by their energy and commitment. I find myself inspired by the ways in which this community of doubters and believers, of longtime churchgoers and those new to the faith, finds a way forward to embody Jesus’ love for one another and the community around them. I find myself inspired by the ways in which they are willing to try things to connect with their local community, to fail, and to learn from it.
Most of all, I find myself inspired by their willingness to shed comfort and certainty to step into God’s future without a road map, with only signposts along the way, trusting that God goes with them.
Here’s the thing I’m taking away from reading this book: I have this renewed sense that I want to be the kind of person, and I want to be part of the kind of Christian community ready and willing to listen for God’s whisper. I want to be the kind of person, and a member of the kind of community so transformed by God’s self-giving love that we (in the midst of our uncertainties) are ready and willing to step out, in faith, in response to God’s leading. I want to be part of a community that knows and embodies and articulates ever more clearly why church matters—not solely to those on the inside— but especially for those not currently a part of Christ’s church.
And so, as we move ever closer to the season of Lent, I have begun to pray more fervently. I have begun to pray, and I invite you to join me in praying that God would renew our hearts and minds. May we pray that God would renew our vision of what the world might look like as we open our hearts and minds, our whole lives and our entire communities to the astonishing, transformative, world-changing power of the gospel we have come to know in Jesus Christ!