There’s no getting away from it. When it comes to church, some assembly is required. I love that little IKEA visual. It all makes it look so easy! Experience has taught many a person otherwise.
But the challenging bit of church is doing the actually church bit; assembling together.
Some assembly is required. In fact as we go into the future more assembly is going to be required.
And here’s why. As Jamie Smith points out, our actions shape our desires. And our assembly as God’s people will shape our desires in ways too profound for us to initially articulate.
If we are going to remotely resemble an alternate ethical community in our increasingly secular, non-transcendent world, then assembly is going to be required. It cannot be an optional extra to my private devotional life, whatever that is.
And as a pastor I have noticed that over the past two decades there’s been a general decrease in the number of times per month that the average church goer assembles. Regular attendance used to be three in four, now it’s about two in four.
Numerous factors are at play in the West. We’ve had the loss of any particular rhythm to the week. I’m not a sabbatarian by theological conviction, but gee we seem to have lost something!
There’s no pattern or shape to a week these days. Liturgically we’ve lost our Christian epoch calendar (it’s all BCE now); our Christian yearly calendar (End of Financial Year Celebration anyone?); and our Christian weekly calendar (no slow down, no reflection.)
Of course we can’t just blame the big, bad secular world for that last one, as the frantic method in which many of our churches run is counter to the idea of rest completely.
And not only that, the message is all too often “do more”, “try harder”, “give more”, “serve more”; as if the goal is to get people busier. Of course the pastoral staff may not hear themselves saying “Get busy!”, but our already busy people are hearing that.
In fact, anecdotally here’s a better illustration of what busy church feels like for busy people:
This church assembly thing – when it gets over complicated – is becoming emotional suicide for many.
Younger people in particular are burning out of churches at a rapid rate. Yes, some assembly is required and they signed up for it. But this? This four nights out a week? This incessant and theologically rather spurious call for “excellence in ministry”? They’re starting to check out. And then they’re pulling away from assembling altogether.
Or they’re starting to find sustainable ways to assemble that don’t feel so torturously exhausting.
And that can be helpful. But if all we have is a boom and bust cycle in which each successive generation crawls off to lick its wounds, then we’re not doing assembly as the Bible calls assembly. We’re not “one anothering” across generations and experiences and identities. We’re not doing the baton-passing thing that the New Testament speaks of when it comes to the gospel message.
The future of assembling together is going to be different to what it is today, as the business-model seeker sensitive church runs its course, and the falling away to the siren call of the Sexular Culture continues among many the progressives.
Sustainable, healthy assembly will be leaner and lighter and liturgical. Many churches are already heading in that direction.
Leaner, because money will be more of an issue, and if you don’t have a building by now there’s a chance you’ll be in “make do” mode.
Lighter, because churches will not be so program driven. Nothing wrong with programs, but once they start to lead vision rather than being lead by vision, a future generation of time-poor assemblers will trim them down. They will delete all that is not necessary.
Liturgical, because more and more Christians are requiring a framework for understanding the world that goes beyond a couple of verses and a short prayer here and there in a service surrounded by fifteen songs and a homily completely disconnected from the Bible. Am I being harsh about what is available out there? No. I’m just reporting what people tell me is happening. And sugar will not sustain you in a marathon.
Some assembly is required.
But not just some assembly. The right type of assembly.
Here’s a thought: Maybe we need to go back and read the instructions just a little bit more carefully.