American Christianity is marked by activity at the church building. That is where we worship, study the Bible and have fellowship dinners (particularly Baptists). Our buildings are very important to us. Outreach to the lost often is centered on a “come to us” mentality. It may seem an overstatement to allege that our brand of Christianity is “spectator,” rather than participatory, but it certainly is applicable. Churches, from small to mega, focus on doing church at the church.
I do not want to be misunderstood. Church buildings and enjoying church life together are not wrong. Indeed, they are valuable tools for the work of the Kingdom. God’s people in even the most primitive settings long for a place to gather. But something is amiss when we see the church, rather than the world around us, as a primary focus for ministry. While evangelistic teaching and preaching in the church are very important, it does not require a rocket scientist to understand that a lost world will not be reached by spectators who merely gather in a building. Only as the spectators become participants in sharing the Good News of Jesus in the normal traffic patterns of life will the church penetrate the darkness.
My own experience in the local church has proven this to be true. The more Christians I could encourage to become active in praying and sharing their faith, the greater the impact of the church in reaching the lost.
This truth became even more evident as I had opportunity to visit the largest nation in East Asia and to see the dramatic growth of Christianity there. Despite persecution, imprisonment and huge governmental hurdles aimed at quashing the growth of Christianity, the church has seen exponential growth. Why? There are few spectators and many participants.
I was overwhelmed with the consistent, dynamic witness of believers in East Asia. Within minutes of being introduced, believers would share their testimony of how they came to know Christ. When visiting house churches, we were regularly thrown off schedule because people wanted to tell us how they had met Jesus.
But it did not stop there. They wanted us to know how many generations of believers had followed them. They were especially animated when telling how they prayed and witnessed to family members for years until they came to Christ. Their stories were marked by faith, persistence and powerful prayer.
As I listened, it became clear why the church in East Asia has seen such dramatic growth, even under an oppressive government. People who embrace faith in Christ do so at great cost. There are no “convenient” Christians, no church goers who attend just to improve their standing in the community or to help business. No, these folks become followers of Christ at great cost.
Most impressive was their powerful, consistent and daily witness to people around them about the Savior and His impact on their personal lives. As soon as new believers came to faith in Christ, they were challenged to find five people with whom to share their faith that very week. The multiplication process is at work in East Asia.
Gathering together, whether in a house or church building, is very important to them. Followers of Christ in East Asia want to get together to worship, study the Bible and be trained for even greater witness. But the driving force of their lives is the daily sharing of the Gospel with others, even though it is prohibited.
In America we have perfect freedom. Perhaps it is time for true believers to realize the church is a fueling station for daily witness. It is time for believers to flood the normal traffic patterns of our lives with dynamic and faithful witness of the transformational power of the Gospel. If the church does not move outside the building and believers do not move from spectator to participant in order to take the Gospel into our communities, the church in America will remain in decline. It is time to take to the streets.