Where do you go to church?


“Richard Halverson writes, ‘When the Greeks got the gospel, they turned it into a philosophy; when the Romans got it, they turned it into a government; when the Europeans got it, they turned it into a culture; and when the Americans got it, they turned it into a business.’”
– quoted in Reimagining Church

“Where do you go to church?”

I don’t like the question. I haven’t for awhile.

I know what people mean when they ask; I still ask it of others myself. We’re asking what building do you worship in on Sundays, who do you serve with, what doctrines do you hold to, are we more alike or different in our beliefs.

And I can give the short answer to that question with no cringing.

But if you want a fuller answer . . .

I have multiple “churches.” I fellowship with many communities of believers in Jesus.

Yes, one is in the same building every Sunday morning.

But another is in a booth at Hardee’s on Saturday mornings and at lunch at Buena Vista now and again. Another is in the clothing room at Manna House on Wednesday afternoons, another is in my bedroom every night with Jeff, another around a different kitchen table or couch every month with my extended family.

All these combined make up church. They are the called-out believers I gather with.

And they also include you, friends I’ve never seen in person but whom I’ve grown to know and love in Christ online. We’re all in the same Kingdom.

No, church isn’t a building. But neither is it just a home. It’s in both and all and far more—phones and cars and restaurants and beaches and keyboards and backyards.

Jesus goes with us as we meet with others in ALL those places.

My view of church continues to evolve. So in reading Frank Viola’s Reimagining Church, I’m stretched yet again.


Viola writes to challenge our thinking of institutional church—he believes it no longer reflects God’s original intent. He proposes an organic approach—meeting in homes—like the earliest church did.

But perhaps even Viola’s image is too confining. I wrote more notes in the margin of this book than I have in awhile. Things like: “I doubt that was the reason” and “Yes, but on an everyday basis” and “Is this the only option???”

I don’t think Viola would mind the banter. Actually, I think he’d welcome it. Because we both care about the main thing: Jesus is Lord, and the church is to revolve around him.

“The church, therefore, should not be confused with an organization, a denomination, a movement, or a leadership structure. The church is the people of God, the very bride of Jesus Christ.”
– Frank Viola

He points out that the chief metaphor for the church in the New Testament is the family. He describes six aspects of what that means: the members take care of one another; they spend time together; they show one another affection; they grow; they share responsibility; and they reflect the Triune God in their relationships.

He gives lots of specifics of how this can look (and has looked in his experiences with house churches), and how he thinks it should not look (he prefers no clergy/laity distinctions, for example). Yet he remains humble about it: “I acknowledge that I could be completely wrong in my assessments, and I am open to standing corrected. But I only ask that those who make such critiques first experience for themselves what they are setting out to critique.”

He doesn’t deny God’s power to work in any situation: “Make no mistake about it: God has used and is using the institutional church. Because of His mercy, the Lord will work through any structure as long as He can find hearts in it that are truly open to Him.”

And he’s not afraid of tipping over sacred cows.

“Therefore, a pressing need today is the rediscovery of biblical language and ideas. We need to rethink our entire concept of church and discover it afresh through the lens of Jesus and the apostles. Because of common misteaching, we have many deeply buried assumptions that are in need of excavation and examination. Many of us have been mistaught that ‘church’ means a building, a denomination, or a worship service. And that a ‘minister’ is a special class of Christian.”

Occasionally I smile at the truth of his examples:

“ . . . you’ll have to go against the harsh grain of what one writer calls ‘the seven last words of the church’ (We never did it that way before).”

And even though he loses me in places, in the end he stills circles around Christ as the center. So regardless of the minor points we disagree on, we are still united.

So where do I go to church?
Well, it’s a long story. . . .


* * *

46 thoughts on “Where do you go to church?

  1. Adoption Mama

    No question about it; the body of Christ is indeed, important. From meeting on Sundays to all those times in between, yes, they keep us going in this journey called life. I pray my life is making a difference too.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I know your life IS making a difference. I still smile thinking about your boys’ tattoos. 🙂
      Yes, even those “in between” times can make a huge difference in our journey. I’m glad our paths continue to cross on this journey even if only online.

  2. Kim Adams Morgan

    Hi Lisa,

    I love this and may have to get Frank’s book. I’m a fan of his work (mostly). As for me, I think I “go to church” everywhere. I always take the opportunity to talk about God to anyone who will listen. I wish more folks would realize our Father is not just for Sundays! He is with us always. We should want to share all of our life with Him. Stopping in from Thought-provoking Thursdays.

    1. Sheila at Longings end

      We think the same, Kim. Church is US wherever we are. And I think if more folks would just BE the church instead of worrying so much about DOING church the Church in America would be far more effective in reaching and serving the lost, the hurting, the hopeless. Thanks.

      1. LisaNotes Post author

        Sheila, your comment reminds me of the book “Quit Going to Church” which makes the same point as you–BE the church, don’t just DO church. I totally agree with you.

    2. LisaNotes Post author

      I’ve read a few of Viola’s other books, too, so I am (mostly) a fan too. He always makes me think, and more often than not, I nod yes in agreement with him.

      “Our Father is not just for Sundays” –sounds like a good slogan. 🙂 Thanks, Kim.

  3. Melissa

    Very good, Lisa. I agree. My Bible study group and our couples’ small group, though part of our larger church, are families in and of themselves. I also agree with what Kim said above, that ‘I “go to church” everywhere.’ Because WE are the church, wherever we are is the church.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m glad you have those smaller groups, Melissa. My choir is one of those groups for me. Those are just as much the church as the larger body. That’s how I feel about small groups I’ve been a part of in the past and am in now. We’re not always “official” or meet regularly, but the fellowship of believers is very present.

  4. Ceil

    Hi Lisa! This sounds like an interesting book. I do believe that we should meet in community, but that can take many forms. I can see myself making margin notes too. It’s good to challenge myself to rethink concepts, it helps to make sure of what I believe.

    Your list of ‘church’ is very long, and I think that’s a good thing. Being involved in a holy way with so many people creates a life that remembers Christ in many places. I think that’s part of our mission on earth, including Christ in our hours and days.

    Very thought provoking ideas here!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I believe in meeting in community too, Ceil. I love my Sunday morning time of worship with my church and would not want to give that up. So thankful that we can all still do that in such freedom.

      Love this phrase: “being involved in a holy way”–it has such a feeling of intentionality. So glad you shared your thoughts here. I think you’d like the book too.

  5. Sheila at Longings end

    Love your words, Lisa: No, church isn’t a building. But neither is it just a home. It’s in both and all and far more—phones and cars and restaurants and beaches and keyboards and backyards. Jesus goes with us as we meet with others in ALL those places. — And over the last few years my perspective has changed GREATLY. Michael and I have listened several times to the book, So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore and it constantly encourages us to BE THE CHURCH by BEING CHRISTLIKE wherever, whenever with whomever. We may have to read Viola’s book, too. Thanks for sharing your heart on this vital subject.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      My perspective continues to change too, Sheila. And each time, I’m even happier about it. I’ve not heard of that book; I’ll have to look it up. Sounds like one I’d love to read. Thanks for mentioning it.

  6. TC Avey

    Sounds like a much needed book. Your post reminds me of Bill’s, http://billgrandi.ovcf.org/wordpress/?p=11140
    He talks about the book, “Dancing Priest” by Glenn Young. Real “Church” happens on the periphery. The center is diseased.

    For a long time I like to answer I’m a Christian and not say a specific denomination. Denominations are a way to divide us instead of unify us. But that’s a huge topic, one too big for a simple comment.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks for pointing me to Bill’s post. Just read it. I so agree with him. It’s out there on the periphery that Christ was transforming lives. At the center has gotten so comfortable that we’ve forgotten that we’re supposed to get messy. (Loved Glynn’s novel, btw!). I like your answer of saying you’re a Christian. And yes, it is a huge topic. Maybe another day… 🙂

  7. Beth

    Yes, this notion that the church is a building or organization or even a set of beliefs, must be stretched and expanded in our thinking among believers, Lisa. I appreciate your review of this book and it sounds like one that my son (who is in seminary) would love or maybe already has read. My dad (a pastor) was a big one for denominational lines and distinctions, so I feel a bit like a traitor to his way of thinking. But how else are we going to spend eternity together if we can’t break through the walls that divide us now? Isn’t that what Jesus’ sacrifice and power to tear the veil in the temple in two models for us? Unity on the essentials! Deep thoughts, my friend! Thanks for sharing!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      “But how else are we going to spend eternity together if we can’t break through the walls that divide us now? Isn’t that what Jesus’ sacrifice and power to tear the veil in the temple in two models for us?”

      I’m not surprised to find we think alike on this, Beth. 🙂 I understand the delicate situation you face with your dad though. There are certain ways and traditions that are hard for each generation to let go of and think differently about. I’m sure I have my own; I’m just blind to them. It’ll be my kids who point them out to me later. ha.

      Unity on the essentials! Yes indeed.

  8. floyd

    That quote about the different countries and what they did with scripture is profound. I’m with you on the church, Lisa. I find it interesting that it was almost two hundred years after Paul that the “church” built it’s first Christian place of worship. How we’ve all been misled since then.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      That quote spoke to me too. I’m sure it’s not totally accurate, but it does make you think. We’ve all seen ways that the gospel has been turned into a business. The question I have to ask myself is what do I do about it?

  9. Linda@Creekside

    Praise God for the way we’re changing our view of this word, this concept. Far beyond 4 walls and into the dailyness of life, of relationship, of the sacred in the midst of the ordinary. Lots to savor here today, my friend.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I praise him for it, too, Linda. I do see change around the way we think of church, much of it needed. It’s good to know that God is ultimately always in charge. I thank him for that grace in not letting us totally take the reins. 🙂

  10. Katie

    Thank you Lisa, for making this a place of “church.” I am grateful for your blog and making sweet friends with you. Tears of gratitude for your words that the Holy Spirit speaks to me through.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Aw, I treasure everything about your comment, Katie. I’m so glad the Kingdom is powerful enough to stretch through cyberspace so we can know each other as sisters. You’ve been a blessing and joy to know. You are a sweet friend indeed!

  11. Rick Dawson

    To your opening quote I added on a FaceBook status a logical conclusion that had been shared before: “When a body becomes a business? It’s called prostitution…just saying.” …which you just now saw 🙂

    I’ve started this book, and love it – as I do most everything Frank has written. I love the people I know that attend services where we do, as well as at other churches we’ve attended – but I also am called to love those I don’t know, and may not even like, who attend the same services, hear the same messages, and yet walk out the door unmoved. Unchanged. If I only love those who love me, well, we know the rest of that verse, don’t we?

    I’ve heard it said growing old is not for sissies. The same is true for following God – we have to be willing to re-examine everything in our lives, and be willing to have our sacred structures pulled down – but sacred cows make the best hamburgers. 🙂

    Good post, Lisa!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I always appreciate your way with words, Rick. 🙂 I’ve wanted to eat a lot of those hamburgers through the years when they weren’t allowed on the menu.

      I was talking with a friend just this week about a new church plant that’s aiming to drop a lot of the Christian lingo, do things differently, and really minister in a hurting part of our city. She was already taking some flak for it. But that’s to be expected when we break tradition, unfortunately.

      The older I get, the more I understand the need to hang out with more “messy” people and not worry about getting my hands dirty. God keeps obliging me with opportunities, too. 🙂 He’s like that, yes?

      Thanks for your camaraderie, brother. Much appreciated.

  12. Beverley

    In the Old Testament they were taught to keep the Sabbath day holy. In the New Testament they were taught to meet together and partake of the the sacrament and to Feed my Sheep. Meeting in a church building helps to strengthen one another. We do not have a paid ministry. The leaders are called to serve for a season and then are released for others to take there place. Yet we can take the Spirit with us wherever we go and in so doing others will see our good works and glorify our Father which is in heaven. Church is a building but being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Even though we may disagree on some of the details, I love that we agree on taking the Spirit everywhere we go as disciples of Christ. It’s a blessing to realize that we are never alone; he is always with us. It’s something we can too easily take for granted and forget, but it is always empowering when we remember.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      This makes me smile. 🙂 Yes, I do believe we go to the same church! I’m grateful for so many brothers and sisters who show up at God’s invitation.

  13. Krista

    Church is wherever we gather with Christlike-minded people. If only more folks would be open to seeing it this way! Wonderful post Lisa!
    Definitely want to check out this book by Mr. Viola! 🙂

    Have a blessed Holiday weekend!


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      His book was definitely good for thought and forcing you to think outside the box (which I like to do anyway). He also includes a great appendix in the back explaining in more detail some of the pertinent Greek words used in the texts.

  14. AlyssaZ

    Oh man! This sounds like a good book! This has been something on the heart of one of my churches 🙂 Thanks for highlighting it, because now I think I need to buy 5 copies!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      It’d be interesting to see all the different “places” that we worship. We could come up with quite an eclectic list all around the world, in all the places we are!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Your books have been a great contribution to the Kingdom, Frank. You’ve made many of us think and rethink what we’ve “always been taught” in new and fresh ways. I pray God will continue to bless your ministry. I know there are many of us who love to read your writings.

  15. Amy Young

    Lisa, I love the way you look at church … I don’t really like that question either because I’m in a season of attending one church, but wishing for something different 🙂 … and yet I do actively participate in various aspects of the broader body. Thanks for these thoughts!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I sat in that season awhile myself, Amy. It took a particular decision made by the church leaders that made me know it was time to move on. We visited a wide variety of churches before we settled on one close to our house and close to our hearts. It’s been so freeing and grace-filled and all about Jesus. Praying for your journey!

  16. Kelli Woodford

    A fabulous exploration of a topic in much need of redefinition. Mostly, though, I love your heart, Lisa. You are tender and willing to see things from a different angle, and yet honoring. That’s a beautiful thing, friend.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I guess the topics that need redefining could go on and on if we were to sit down and make a list. I’m glad to see this one getting new life of late. Thanks for your encouraging words, Kelli.

  17. laura

    Sounds like an interesting book, Lisa. I have to agree with a lot of what you say–church for me is a long story too 🙂 I love this idea of the family as metaphor for the church. We always refer to our “church family” but I think we don’t take it deep enough in actuality. Very interesting, Lisa. Thanks for sharing about this book.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, the whole “church family” analogy does tend to break down too easily once it gets pushed a little. Then again, all families are dysfunctional to some degree, so we shouldn’t be surprised at the dysfunction in our church families. 😉 More reason to see our need for grace….

  18. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    Interesting thoughts.

    In general, the institutional church seems to be necessary as a “self-correcting” mechanism, in preventing a drift to making up our own version of the Almighty, based on cherry-picking our favorite Scripture.

    But then, a lot of institutional churches do just this!

    I’m far too ill now to attend church regularly. My only contact with others is through the keyboard. Home visits by friends just aren’t on; it’s too noisy (we run a sanctuary for abused and abandoned dogs). But I was never very good at being a churchgoer anway. Among warm, emotional, spirit-filled people I came across as a cold logician, and there was quite a bit of mutual discomfort.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      …church as “a self-correcting mechanism”–not sure I’d have thought of that term on my own, but I definitely see where you’re coming from, Andrew. Community does serve that function, both small communities and larger ones. When we get too isolated, we get more and more narrow. We need other people to rub against, to wear down our rough edges and help us better see the God-image in each of us. I’m glad that can happen through a keyboard too. I thank God for spiritual communities that spring up online for those who can’t get out and for those who can. God can work through any medium and time.

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