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Seven Churches I Just Made Up
What could church be if we allowed ourselves to dream?
I have been thinking a lot recently about what churches are meant to be, and whether there are ways churches could innovate to serve the spiritual and physical needs of their congregations. Here are seven imaginary churches that do things their own way. I would endorse some but not all of them.
Town Square has regular services on Sunday morning, but if you stop by during the week you will not find an empty building! Everyone is encouraged to use the building in whatever way might be helpful to them, so you’ll see college students and startup employees typing away on laptops in the corners as children enjoy an avalanche of toys and their parents get some much-needed adult conversation. You can find friends at any hour of the day, whether that’s local retirees playing bridge, musicians getting their jam on, or your unhoused neighbors playing basketball with a motley crew of high schoolers, young professionals, and one old man who claims to have played here every Tuesday for the past sixty-five years.
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This church has two campuses: one in Los Angeles and one in Nairobi, and has two pastors (one at each site) who alternate preaching, so that each week one campus sees the message in-person and the other sees it over Zoom. The leaders of Two-Site have put a lot of effort into using technology creatively (including digital greeting times during services and regular game nights), so the members in each campus really feel like part of a single congregation and have built real relationships across significant geographic distance.
A relatively mysterious church. Every Sunday morning at 10 am, regardless of weather, participants meet along the lakefront and form small circular discussion groups. The discussion topics are always the same: “Where have you seen God this week, and where have you not seen God this week?” Nobody can seem to remember who founded the church, which has no staff, website, or leadership structure because there’s never anything to plan, but nevertheless The Circles are absolutely thriving as dozens of highly motivated attendees bring songs, bible passages, and stories to try to bear on each week’s questions.
Several years ago, a group of twenty-or-so young adults realized that they liked worshiping in pretty buildings, but didn’t think paying for an expensive building could be ethically justified. Desperate to recreate the spiritual power of praying in a beautiful environment, they decided to use a cathedral decorated by the Lord himself, hiking to beautiful lakes and meadows every Saturday night to worship under the stars. They are currently trying to plan a daytime meeting in a more accessible (but still magnificent) location in order to be more accessible.
Eastburg Episcopalian Church
Like some churches you may have heard of, Eastburg is very concerned that people might go to hell, and their primary ministry is loud public preaching (often accompanied with loudspeakers and posters) telling people they’re bound for hell and demanding that they repent. Perhaps more uniquely, Eastburg focuses exclusively on Jesus’s hellfire language, so they only protest against rich people who don’t give to the poor, abusive church leaders, and people who call their friends foolish. John MacArthur has several restraining orders against them.
A highly charismatic group of ex-Catholics, Living Water believes in the sacramental power of holy water to change hearts and save souls. When I say they believe in it, I mean that they really believe in it. They intentionally bought land near the city’s central water filtration plant: by some estimates, forty percent of the entire city’s water supply right by the church. They perform all traditional Christian rites to bless the water, so now once a week nearly half the city’s water supply is replaced by holy water, which they pray week after week will somehow redeem the city. The Catholic Church (and many other groups) keep asking them to stop, but it isn’t technically illegal.1
Word of Power
A congregation of bohemian artsy types, Word of Power is a reaction against overly intellectual reductions of scripture. The church follows a standard liturgical calendar, but each week one member is in charge of the “sermon”, which takes the form of a work of art wrestling with the week’s readings in some way. Past “sermons” have included raps, dances, paintings, spoken word poems, dramatic readings, and more. One week the reading was included “Jesus wept”, and a man just stood and wept loudly for twenty minutes, inviting the congregation to engage with Jesus’s misery in its full, messy ugliness instead of a stylized beautiful pining. Another week, the reading was about the Israelite genocide of Canaan and seven individuals read first-hand accounts of modern-day genocides and raised troubling questions about why such an awful story is portrayed as God-ordained in our holy book. Still another week, several actors who’d read a theory that the book of Job was originally a play performed it as such, getting through the entire book and its dramatic arc (and wildly varied set of characters) in a single sitting. Surprisingly, some of the most moving sermons didn’t come from “artists” in the traditional sense. The week they studied Luke’s “the person with two shirts should give to the one with none” passage, a data scientist presented a spreadsheet in which she went through every item in her home, what it had cost her, and what the money could have meant to somebody it needed it more, repeating after every row a single haunting refrain: “what you did not do for the least of these, you did not do for me”
I have no idea whether or not this is actually illegal. It seems pretty sketchy, though.