Coffeehouse Congregations: What is Church?

Coffee Shop Congregations: What is Church?

The Church Question: To Go or Not To Go?

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Internationally recognised, the Barna Research Group, in their 2006 publication “Revolution”, disclosed an intriguing trend: a large number of devout, born-again Christians are leaving established churches. What has prompted their departure and where are they choosing to go instead? Revolution from Amazon.

Fast forward 17 years and this trend appears to be persisting, with the Covid crisis potentially accelerating it. It’s not uncommon now to find mature Christians congregating in coffee shops, calling it their form of “church”.

Why departing from Church?

Let us consider some of the reasons behind this departure from traditional church attendance.

According to the scriptures, mankind, including Christians, is influenced by the spirit of the age. Here are a few factors influencing Christians:

  • Spirit of Lawlessness: This is increasingly visible in the way people dismiss the police, government officials and those in authority. Today’s society seems to disregard any form of authority.
  • Unteachable Spirit: Christians have access to a vast pool of knowledge via YouTube and the internet, featuring millions of teachings from a plethora of teachers. This abundance of information can lead to selective listening and a reluctance to engage with challenging or differing viewpoints.

In contrast, many Christians believe we are living in the end times and are witnessing a “falling away”. 2Thes 2:3. This can be seen in the number of churches filled with false teachings and doctrines, causing many Christians to abandon the institution. Several churches are adopting a “seeker-friendly” approach, avoiding discussions on sin and repentance. Practices such as homosexuality and fornication are tolerated under the banner of “walking in love”. Amidst this, there’s a growing concern over false doctrines infiltrating the church, such as hyper-grace, all-inclusivity, New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), prosperity gospel, and more.

False Doctrines: []

Therefore Christians have reason to avoid the “church”. However, are there churches still committed to pure doctrine?

Jesus declared that He will build His church and, as we know, Jesus never fails. Matt16:18

Understanding ‘Church’

In this article, we refer to the “local congregation” when referring to the “church”. You may find believers in coffee shops, enjoying each other’s company and referring to these gatherings as “having church”. So what is “church?”

The church is akin to a family, replete with structure: fathers, mothers, siblings, grandparents, in-laws, and more. It requires leadership, authority and structure. Much like a family, you don’t choose your church members. When you choose a spouse, for instance, you also gain in-laws. While you may not necessarily “like” certain family members, you’re expected to love and tolerate them. Within the family, your parents would feed you a balanced diet of food to ensure you grow healthy and strong. A pastor will serve a balanced diet of the Word of God, not just what you want to hear or what is pleasing to you. You are expected to perform certain chores in and around the home and discipline will keep you on the right path. The family will go to great lengths to aid in a crisis. Perhaps here lies the secret to overcoming persecution during extremely difficult times.

Coffee shop gatherings, by comparison, are akin to friendship circles rather than familial bonds. You choose your friends, the time and place to meet, and everything is on your terms. There is no need to tolerate anyone, nor is there a structured leadership in place. Within friendships, you eat what you like, when you want it without considering healthy balanced diets. How can you receive a balanced viewpoint of Scripture within your own stipulated boundaries? You don’t do chores for your friends and there is no discipline. Friends normally run away when you need them in a crisis. If you desperately need finances, who are you going to contact?

This suggests that the structure of the church in a local congregation serves a purpose beyond just fostering personal growth in patience, kindness, and love. Indeed, Jesus is building His church for believers with a specific purpose in mind.

Having established that there is a distinct purpose for a local congregation, we can now proceed to the next step.

The Search for a Church

Finding a church; meeting personal expectations,  is a challenge for many Christians.

Consider the analogy of a farmer walking through his fields, freshly ploughed and sown. He looks for the green shoots of emerging seeds, signs of life and growth amidst the soil. He acknowledges the presence of weeds – an inevitable part of the landscape. Yet, his focus remains on the sprouts, the promise of a future harvest. This approach reflects the guidance found in Matt13:25-29, suggesting a need for discernment and focus on the positive. In our spiritual journey, it’s crucial to trust in Jesus’ promise to build His church, guiding us to a community where we can grow and thrive. The challenge lies in overlooking the ‘weeds’, the imperfections, trusting that He will lead us to a place where we belong.

If we seek a good local congregation, we will find one!

Once in a church, we don’t stop discerning error and false teachings but we can stop complaining about the church’s lack of leeks, lentils and garlic.

Let’s rather say, how can I make a difference? We are salt, and just to be there makes a difference already.