Why Have a Church?

Some of the weird, angering, funny things that have happened to me religiously have led me to ask the question, Why do people even have a church? It seems I am not the only one asking this question. A relatively recent survey found that Millenials are leaving the church at rate greater than their similarly situated generations in the past. 26% of Millennials claim no religious affiliation. This is six percent more than my generation at that time and 13% more than the generation before mine. Only 18% say they attend church weekly, down 3% from the generation before them and down 8% from the generation before that. What is odd about Millennials is that the traditional private indicators of spirituality are still relatively high. 40% say religion is important to them, 41% say they pray daily and 53% are certain God exists. So it seems that young people are walking away from the church, but they are not walking away from God. This begs the question what the role of the church is. In my study I have found four things that I think a church is supposed to do (I am sure there are more, but this is what I found).

1. Spread the gospel - The original need for a church existed only because the apostles followed the leading of the Holy Spirit and accomplished their mission. The Great Commission, given by Christ Himself was to go into all the world and make disciples and teach them the lessons Christ taught them. It seems to me that this is the primary purpose of a church.

2. Community - The church was to be a community of believers. In Acts 6:1-6 we see an example of a problem in that community (the inequitable treatment of Greek Jews). But we also see that the problem is creatively solved in order to keep the community together. Acts 2:44-47 shows us an example of the community in harmony, sharing with one another and sacrificing for one another.

3. Break down barriers - There was a problem in the church of Galatia. Judaizers came to the church, attempting to cajole the new Gentile Christians to follow all the laws of Judaism. They began to cause dissension, dividing the fledging church into the good (those who would follow the many laws of the Pharisees) and the bad (anyone who would not). This division led Paul to write, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." The church exists not to divide, but to unite. Not only God to his fallen creation, but each of us with each other. There should not be division within the walls of the church.

4. Tradition - The church exists to both break and uphold tradition. For example, we see the apostles break with tradition at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, allowing Gentiles to be freed from most Jewish rules. But in 1 Cor. 11, Paul upholds certain traditions, even while attacking Gnostic tradition.

As I stated before, I am sure there are more things that churches were established to do. I don't know about you and your faith tradition, but I readily admit that many of the churches I have known have not seemed to be focused on many of these factors, if any at all. But maybe I'm wrong, or at the very least living a particularly singular existence. I might be among a vocal minority whose churches have not fulfilled these four requirements. Maybe many of you are attending churches that work well for the purposes of founding a church. However, if your church is like the ones I have known, then you know it is time for a change. The only question is what will we do about it?

Jason Hines is an attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at Adventist University of Health Sciences. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesight.Blogspot.com.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7522

It starts at the grass roots. Every year (or in some cases, every 2 years), church members have the opportunity to choose new officers: elders, deacons, etc. They should take this responsibility seriously and choose leaders who are committed to the mission of the church–as outlined by Jesus and His apostles, not by a modern corporate or business model. If the nominating committee has not chosen leaders of that caliber, one can approach the committee and voice their concerns.

Failing that, once should seek out like minded members and go to work, fulfilling the gospel commission to the best of their ability in their own sphere of influence.

We’re called to be salt and light wherever we are. We can do that even in a church which is not fulfilling its mission, especially if we focus more on the needs of those about us than we do on our own “felt needs.” I get tired of hearing the complaint that the church is not meeting someone’s needs. If we try to meet the legitimate needs of those around us, we won’t be so concerned about our own perceived needs. However, the person who comes to church expecting to get their spiritual “fix” every Sabbath, without having spent the week engaging in daily prayer and Bible study, will probably go away dissatisfied, no matter how well the church is fulfilling its mission.


There are several churches with young pastors that don’t seem to be lacking for young congregants. Maybe this is key. Jesus wasn’t a 68-year-old man clinging to a paycheck.

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You forgot the most important factor, the need for the minister to be understanding, patient and “broad minded.”

My son a “millennial” was attending his local church regularly with his family. He was even a sabbath school teacher but because he was taught to be an independent thinker, incorporated this in their discussions. Young members and former members flocked to his group but the church minister heard about his group and disliked the idea. He put a squash at it but had no courage to tell my son himself. He had to delegate someone to tell my son who since then has stop going to that church and now gets together with a set of “old foggies” weekly to discuss spiritual matters.



"However, if your church is like the ones I have known, then you know it is time for a change. The only question is what will we do about it?

“After all is said and done…more is said than done.”

Now I know that answering a global question with a global truism doesn’t address specifics of a question of the “How To?”. What I think is that Christians need to understand that “church” cannot possibly meet all of their spiritual and social needs. Nor should it…some things have to be left up to us to fulfill and is ultimately our responsibility.

Conversely, we humans are social creatures and tend to want/need to be around others who share our beliefs, etc. However, church doesn’t have to be a building or a particular time or place in order to worship God or share our Christian beliefs. The “Church” is the whole community of Christian believers and our “mission” is to share our faith with the whole world.

We have made our beliefs into a “religious club” that has created an unfortunate dynamic of “Us vs. Them”. There can be no true evangelism when we are simply trying to baptize new members into the way that we believe.


the better question would be "Why have a denomination? ". tom Z


Many members have no idea WHAT TO DO other than attend Sabbath and be there for 2 hours and go home.
The Christian Life is a VOCATION. Members need to be taught a Vocation. But first they have to learn HOW to Discern what Vocation is for them. And then how to perform the Vocation.
The SDA church has NO Vocation Discernment and Training program. This is why there are so many dead churches.
We are NO LONGER The Church of Christ Jesus.
We are a Denomination. This is NOT the same.
We do not just disseminate Jesus Christ, Belief in the God of Heaven, and then Baptize in the name of the Holy Spirit. Promote the Red Letter Words of Jesus.
To become a Seventh day Adventist branch of the 25,000 Christian denominations one has to subscribe to the Rules and Regulations of SDAism. Many of these are more than what is in the Gospels.
True, many of them ARE “good”. But Rules and Regulations are MORE than just “good”.
Maybe we need to become The Church of Christ Jesus.

Good but, as you recognize, incomplete iteration. In fact, the first function listed (The Great Commission, as you describe it) is what is known as a “pious lie” (that is a deliberate falsehood for the spreading of belief in the messages and grandeur of the “glory of God”)perhaps written up by an early church father of the catholic(i.e. Universal)persuasion. The original gospel of Mark ends at chapter 16, verse 8. This datum is WIDELY known to theologians.

There is no need for a church to spread the gospel. We now have over 54% of people in developing countries using smart phones and smartphone ownership rates in emerging and developing nations are rising at an extraordinary rate, (see here) Indeed, in central Africa people can read about the gospel, listen to sermons, study biblical greek, etc… You think God needs a church? A denomination?

Christ did not come to build a church and before you call me out. Matt 16:18, ἐκκλησία, is an assembly or later community or gathering of believers.

Christ came to establish the Kingdom. Indeed in Luke 4:18-19 he states:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to give the Messianic proclamation of the gospel to those who are impotent, hopelessly dependent and totally impoverished; To heal the wounds of those who have been physically, mentally and emotionally beaten down and broken; He, the Spirit, has sent me for the purpose of proclaiming far and wide, release and cancellation of obligation to those held captive in misery; and provide recovery of sight to those who cannot see; and send out as free those, who at the hands of others, are oppressed, weakened, downtrodden, and broken like shards of smashed pottery; To proclaim the anticipated and welcomed time of the Lord’s Jubilee Kingdom.” Luke 4: 18-19*

Christ then said, Today --not 1844 --not any day now, he said, emphatically, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” So why have a church? So we can can live in the kingdom principles of Luke 4:18-19 together. That is the why. The how is found in Acts 2:42-47. But that is another sermon.


"We can do that even in a church which is not fulfilling its mission, especially if we focus more on the needs of those about us than we do on our own “felt needs.I get tired of hearing the complaint that the church is not meeting someone’s needs. If we try to meet the legitimate needs of those around us, we won’t be so concerned about our own perceived needs.” (Blc Birder)
There is an underlying assumption in this statement that the community is more important than the individual. That I, as someone dissatisfied with the church as an organisation and its members should- Love the community, other, but ignore my own needs, because they are “felt” "perceived’ and not “legitimate”. In my opinion this goes contrary to the teachings of the Bible. The Bible recognizes the legitimacy of and advocates for individuals and their needs as well as those of the church as a body. Luke 12:31 describes the procedures for love and service - “Love your neighbour as yourself.” It does not say, serve others and ignore you, but that we must respond to ourselves and others equally. After all if we don’t have compassion, love, empathy for the self, we cannot demonstrate it to others. The Bible is filled with stories of individuals as well as those of the church community. Each story illustrates that God loves and cares for all.
There are those who have tried the advice of serve others and forget your “perceived needs”, and have left the church bitter and unhappy- this is not God’s plan for his membership. Personally, I am tired of hearing people say about my dissatisfaction “suck it up” “think of the Church”. God cares about me as an individual, that is why the text say he is not willing that ANY should perish.

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I concur with your 4 suggestions, however I would like to add that, the corporate approach to church service is not Biblical and does make things difficult for members’involvement and influence, particularly for the youth. However, my views or inputs do not necessarily refer specifically to the SDA but to the christian church in a general sense because I believe that these challenges exist across the christian community of believers.

I have come across both adults and youth who complain that:

  1. Church leadership has created a huge gulf between them and the youth (corporate ladder/bureaucracy/red-tape). For me, the church should be led by a collective of elders, dividing responsibilities among themselves, and who are servant leaders rather than what we commonly observe, ie churches run by a single person lording over others. Church leadership should be headed by Christ and be held accountable by those they serve, not the other way round.
  2. The Church is out of touch with modern realities society and the youth in particular face;
  3. The church might have a vision and mission but this tends to be the version of leadership and not understood and shared by all members. A shared vision fosters enrolment and commitment rather than compliance!
  4. The church tends to allow the same leadership to hold office for too long (eg lifetime in some cases), which promotes deadwood and outdated ideas to be a stumbling block to change, including innovation, transformation, diversity, etc. Many traditional churches struggle to remain relevant as a result. In the corporate world this is sometimes termed the “executive risk” and as such companies make sure that the proportion of the old guard,as it were, is kept below a certain percentage to allow for new ideas, strategies, direction, etc.
  5. Favouritism and nepotism a common phenomenon;
  6. Corruption rampant and indifference to it; etc

So, the youth in particular tend to be less tolerant of such a rigid environment.


one thing not directly mentioned here, but that i’ve come to value probably above all else when it comes to the local church, is what i think of as the mutual group ministry of complimentary gifts…i don’t think any one person, however brilliant, has all the gifts the holy spirit has distributed in the church…if we stay away, not only is it the case that we ourselves don’t benefit from someone else’s ministry who may have a gift we lack, and that we may not have expected or even anticipated…but it is also the case that someone else, who may have benefited by the gift or gifts the holy spirit has given us that they lack, won’t receive that benefit…every church member really is involved in one another’s salvation…we can’t get out of that responsibility and privilege…

and much of the time, the mutual group ministry of complimentary gifts in a church is all unexpected…the pastor may have unknowingly preached a sermon taylor-made for me…or someone providing special music or a prayer may have touched my heart or illuminated my thinking in a way that genuinely strengthens my faith…someone’s comment in sabbath school may suddenly clarify a point that i’ve grappled with for a long time…it’s through the little, often surprising, things that the value of church community is indelibly etched over time…if we ourselves are open to the reality that god may be working through the people we meet, whether they know it or not, church attendance and membership can be an incredible blessing…