I had the opportunity this evening to visit the building that our church is going to purchase and move into in a few weeks. In some ways, it was odd to see the building that we'll soon be calling "our church" because any notion that I had that the church is a building has been shattered over the past three and a half years.
Growing up, I attended the same church every Sunday. A church that has been around for over a hundred fifty years. It has a steeple and stained glass windows and is traditional in every sense of the word.
After I moved to the DFW area, I started attending a large church that is centrally located. The church I attend now is a church plant of that large church. We started the church in the growing southwest part of the city on August 22, 2004, without a permanent home. Instead, we entered into a contract to rent a facility from an adoption organization and set up our meeting place each and every Sunday.
The facility served us well for the first two years, but then we grew. I don't know if there's something in the water at the adoption facility or if it's just our life stage, but our children's rooms began to overflow, and the college students (who now comprise approximately one-third of the church body) had to move their ministry off campus on occasion because there was no room for them to gather. The two services were also overflowing, as was the parking. These are great problems to have!
And so our leadership embarked upon a mission to see if there was another larger facility that we could rent or purchase. They negotiated over one property for quite a while and then felt the Lord leading them to pull away. Ultimately, the leadership was approached by a church facility that was for sale. And long story short, we are purchasing that facility.
But having not had a permanent facility for the past three and a half years, I've come to a better understanding of what "the church" truly is. The church is not a building. The church is not pews or hymnals with the names of the givers inscribed on them. The church does not begin to exist once there's a sign with the church's name on it. Those things all assist with holding worship services, but if it took those things to officially be a church, our church would have been nonexistant over these past years.
Instead, when I think of "the church," I think of the men and women who've gathered with me on Sundays for worship and teaching, as well as the young adults who have gathered at my house for movie and game nights and for community group. I think of those who have taken the time to mentor me, to hold me accountable, and to encourage me. I think of the gals in my writers' group who all came together as a result of our common beliefs. I think of those who have traveled to Sudan, Belize, New Orleans, and India to be the hands and feet of Christ.
These are all people, just like you and me. Not a building. So that old hymn, which says, "I am the church. You are the church. We are the church together," has become a reality for me. All because some people stepped out in faith and were willing to start a church. The kind without a steeple.