“What are you going to do about the local churches?” This is probably the most often asked question these days, followed closely by questions about the Feast of Tabernacles and Methods of evangelism. Oddly enough, it is the one question you may be able to act on yourself.
For one thing, you can continue to go where you have gone before. If you are growing there, if you are loved there, why leave? you don’t need to leave your friends and brethren in order to learn from this or that teacher. You can stay where you are and ignore the organizational boundaries that people keep putting up in their minds. You can attend your church and go to the feast anywhere you please.
But there are increasing numbers of people these days who simply cannot continue where they are. The doctrines preached from the pulpit do not match what they see in their Bible, or the atmosphere in church has become inhospitable. They may feel the church’s administration has been corrupted and they can no longer support their leadership. Or, they feel worse after church than they did before they went. For many reasons, people feel they must make a change, but they are uncertain about where to go and what to do. Many are asking us these question and they are wondering what kind of support we can offer.
What can you do about a church? Well, you can start one. Starting a church is not really a very big problem (unless you want to start a very big church). The word “church” simply means “assembly” so we get some folks together. A church can meet nearly anywhere. People who call themselves Christians have met in caves, alongside rivers, in homes, in hired rooms, and even in church buildings. The one thing that is required to be a “church” is to meet together. The New Testament word for “church” means “assembly”.
The three primary activities of a local church are worship, edification, and fellowship. Prayer and singing are the most common forms of worship. Bible study, Sabbath school and sermon are the usual forms of edification. Fellowship, in part, is the bonding that takes place through church activities and acts of service. If all you do is get together with family and friends, listen to a tape, and share coffee and sandwiches, you have two of the three-edification and fellowship. The third, worship, is not consciously done in many church services, but without it we cannot really say that it is “church” – an assembly of the children of God.
What is required if we are to say we have been to “church” is a conscious “Worship” or obeisance to God, an awareness of coming into His presence with others who share this purpose. Worship must of necessity include prayer. The word “worship” carries the sense of doing obeisance or “bowing down”. So, at the beginning and the end we bow ourselves in prayer. Worship should also include song. Song is the way we give praise to God. One traditional aspect of worship that has fallen into disuse in out tradition is the reading of scripture-perhaps because of the invention of printing. We all now have our own Bibles and can read at home. In ancient times, the reading of scriptures at solemn assemblies was the only time many came into contact with Holy Writings, and yet is still seems appropriate to have scripture reading as a part of a worship service. So consider your options. You can have some friends over for coffee and refreshments and watch a videotape of a church service. It is cozy, it is informal, it is relaxed, but it is not “church:. Call it a fellowship. It is a good way to start.
If you want to call it church, even a “house church” here are my recommendations:
- Open with prayer.
- Sing hymns of praise to God.
- Have a moderately short reading of scripture.
- Have some form of edification: Bible study, sermon, even if taped.
- Sing another hymn and close in prayer.
Maintain an atmosphere of respect and honor for God throughout the service. Have no refreshments between the opening and closing prayer. Keep the service short enough that no one has to get up and go out from beginning to end.
Keep in mind that the local church service is an important tool for evangelism. If you plan to invite visitors, it is vital that you make a good impression on them. Well-behaved children, an atmosphere of respect for God, a comfortable and attractive environment, can all work together to accomplish the ends of having a local church.