This link popped up on my Twitter Feed today http://ericgeiger.com/2015/07/the-important-stats-about-our-cultural-context/#.VbcpiZXH-1t (thank you Simon Bowkett) which states in its initial summary: 52% of Americans believe worshipping alone or with one’s family is a valid replacement for regularly attending church.
My first reaction was ‘Hoorah! Now there’s something to celebrate! Americans worshipping within their families, not relying on once-a-week-church-in-a-building to sustain them. And more than half of them believe this! The US is so far ahead of the UK! (And hoorah #2: the Americans spell ‘worshipping’ with two p’s – a real high five for international unity.)
If only, I thought, there was a similar groundswell of belief in being ‘church-where-we-are’ in the UK, a desire and confidence to be households of faith not just on a Sunday morning in a particular building, but in our homes, our schools, our offices, our parks and forests. That we consider ourselves to be worshippers through the whole of life, not just one day in seven. That we knew how to worship God as a family without feeling it was a burden or an embarrassment.
So I felt rather gloomy when I read on and discovered that the blogger, Eric Geiger, was himself horrified by the stat he’d quoted, and that he reads it, not as a glorious revelation that Christian faith is being lived out in homes, but as a reflection on the way Americans don’t believe in church:Because more than half of Americans believe that the church isn’t an essential part of their worship, people come to your church every week who think “it’s not that important.” Many have confused a personal faith with the misconception of a “private faith.” The Christian faith is personal, but it is not private. The more we are personally transformed, the less private our faith is. They need to hear that the Church is the beautiful bride of Christ, not perfect but clothed in His righteousness. They need to be invited to participate with other believers, not merely associate with them on occasional “drop-in” church visits.
And of course he’s right to reiterate how valuable gathered church is and how mad we would be to neglect meeting together to gather not just those lucky enough to have people around them at home or at work, but to give a community and family to the lonely and isolated, the old and the young, those who know Christ and those who are just hearing his call.
But surely worship expressed in homes is still something to celebrate? Surely this is where character is formed, values are explored, identity is created to such an extent that attending a ‘gathered church’ then becomes one logical, joyful outcome of a faith lived out in private? Surely the reality of faith that families see lived out warts and all in a house where there’s nobody to impress, no power to be gained, no ulterior motives – where children hear what their dad really thinks of the socially inappropriate person who accosts him over coffee – surely this is the real faith that will shape real disciples? This faith is then taken out into the public arena of a gathered church to be celebrated, tested and affirmed, and where it encourages, teaches and inspires others. But it starts at home. And this is something to celebrate.