What should church look like?

Architect's plans for St. Lydia's new meeting space.

Architect’s plans for St. Lydia’s new meeting space.

The first time Chris and I committed to start a church, we thought long and hard about what we wanted this new church to be like. Both of us grew up in traditional churches. We both knew some version of various church meetings, committees, Sunday school classes and youth groups etc. We both knew that this is NOT what we wanted.

We also were both captured by the realization that when Jesus died and was raised again, He became the first born in a new family. We were called to share our lives as fellow partakers of the New Covenant. We were called to care for each other, support each other and help each other grow as followers of Jesus. This is what Chris and I really wanted – church as the people of God walking in this world together.

But, in practical terms, what should that look like? What did that mean for worship? Teaching? Outreach? Discipleship? For meeting space? We set out to explore what the New Testament said about being an authentic people, walking through life together. We discovered many things along the way; made many mistakes, built many lasting and deep friendships and saw many changed lives. We enjoyed church!

A lot of things have changed in the past 40 years. We live in a very different world, with very different needs and different temptations. The world has changed, church has changed, we have changed, but the quest to follow Jesus as an authentic people living in committed relationships still drives us. It still drives many believers. We still must be willing to explore what that looks like for us today and be willing to follow Him into the future.

I recently read an article about a church plant in Brooklyn, NY that is a wonderful model of exploring what it means to be a church. Here is the link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-emily-m-d-scott/weve-seen-megachurch-but-_b_5474319.html and I encourage you to check it out. (The picture at the beginning of this article is the architect’s view of their new church space!)

Here is a short excerpt:

“Theologically, we’ve discovered that building big community happens on a small scale: 30 people around dinner tables, sharing a meal they’ve made together.
St. Lydia’s, the five-year-old church where I am the founding pastor, is a Dinner Church. This means that we gather each week to share what we call a “sacred meal:” a worship service that takes place around the table.”

I am not advocating that we abandon what God has given us, and become dinner churches. That would be a mistake. I am suggesting however, that we must continue to faithfully explore what church should look like today. After all, we still want to walk in this world as the people of God, loving Him, caring for each other and serving the world around us. This is what church should look like.

How has God been leading you? We’d love to walk that journey together.

15 comments for “What should church look like?

  1. August 20, 2014 at 9:55 am

    It comes as a great surprise that the Scriptures themselves say that God does not dwell
    in a temple made with human hands. If God does not dwell in a temple made with human
    hands and if human history in relationship to the gods – whoever they worshiped as God
    or whatever idea they had as to who God was – if that were keenly associated and
    routinely attached to the notion of a building, then how does a person have a different
    view of this when history is so plainly in favor of the term “House of God or church ” meaning a
    temple in which a deity of that particular people or civilization is worshiped? That poses
    a very interesting question to me because if God doesn’t dwell in temples made with
    hands then what is the house of God or does He even have a house? Now some would
    say, “The house of God is actually God dwelling in us,” and they’re very proud of the
    fact that they’re understanding of the house of God is that it’s not made of brick and
    mortar but it’s made of people. But they limit the understanding of the house of God, to
    God dwelling in individuals by His Spirit. That represents a more advanced view than The House of God – The Family in Heaven and on Earth
    house of God from antiquity where buildings were dedicated to the worship of a deity but
    even that notion falls short, the idea that God lives in us though true, it falls short of the
    proper definition of the house of God. It is in fact an aspect of the house of God but it is
    not indeed what the house of God is, in it’s more complete understanding.
    The word “house” you see is more like an old or ancient family that lives in an area for
    many generations. For example, in Germany one of the ancient houses of Germany is the
    House of Hanover. In England, a similar ancient family is the House of Windsor. People
    in the American Southwest and in Latin America are familiar with the ancient houses or
    Aragon or Castile. So people with last names like “Castile” and “Aragon” are from very
    famous, ancient, Spanish houses. So what then is a house? A house is an ancient family,
    it may actually have castles and land but that’s not what the house is, that’s what the
    house has, it’s not who the house is. A house then is a family that is multi-generational.
    So what establishes noble houses is the fact that for many generations they may collect
    wealth of various kinds. We speak for example of the “crown jewels” of the House of
    Windsor, rare and beautiful jewels acquired over the many centuries by the ruling
    monarchs who have sat upon the throne. And we speak also of large amounts of money
    and land and possessions, fine collections of art and the like associated with these ancient
    noble houses. Some of these houses of course shape history and have produced monarchs
    and nobles of great significance in the history of entire nations, indeed entire continents.
    The house of God is the most ancient of all houses; the house of God is the family of
    God in time and space. It was the original family, it was the original house. How did the
    house of God get to be in the earth? And in what sense is the family of God in the earth?
    Well a family of course presupposes, at a minimum, a father and children of that father. This is none than the House of God at this new season .

  2. August 16, 2014 at 2:40 am

    The dinner church sounds interesting, and at least a way to break out from simply having traditional services in buildings where ther is very limited recognition of the body of Christ functioning.However if the expressing of churchdid not extend beyond meetingb together for a meal on a regular basis it would still fall far short of the accurate representation that God would desire of Himself by His people on the earth.For example it would provide only very limited opportunity for many of the things that God encourages us to do and be to one another. Things like serving, encouraging ,admonishing,caring all contained in the reality of genuine community or sharing blife together.Of course the primary instruction is to love one another as He has also loved us and that has miriad expressions.

    • Mark McGrath
      Mark McGrath
      August 17, 2014 at 10:06 am

      I completely agree John. We can, in fact, completely overhaul our “meeting” and totally miss the mark on the more important aspects of being the people of God. And, on the flip side, it is possible to have a more traditional type of meeting and still live in all those key characteristics that make us church.

      One of the challenges we face as the culture continues to evolve and create huge differences in the way people live and work, is to minimize the disconnect between what we believe and what we actually do with that. Is there more value in challenging the traditional approaches because they don’t honestly reflect our values, or in keeping them because they provide us a island of the familiar in the sea of constant change? Is there even one right answer for all of us?

      From my perspective, the key is to keep calling ourselves to be living those things you name as the key to being church. But it stills leaves me wondering – what would that look like?

  3. August 5, 2014 at 9:53 am

    Hi Mark ! Duane and I serve at a similar model, its been life more abundantly from the first day.Deeper relationships, and with that we focus on filling real needs . It feels like we stepped out of the doldrums into the current.People who are drawn off the street by laughter and food,partake of love and the gospel.

    • Mark McGrath
      Mark McGrath
      August 8, 2014 at 9:43 am


      So cool. Where are you guys located. I’d love to catch up.

  4. August 3, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    DINNER CHURCH! Count me in!
    So long as there’s a great Italian chef!

  5. Mark McGrath
    Mark McGrath
    July 31, 2014 at 8:00 pm


    That sounds very exciting indeed. We need to explore ways we can obey what God is saying to us, with others and not be afraid to have it look a little different. If it is detox, enjoy!

  6. July 26, 2014 at 9:50 am

    Great Post! Is there a share button for social media?

    • Mark McGrath
      Mark McGrath
      July 28, 2014 at 5:04 pm

      Thanks PJ. I find it fascinating. Not sure about the share button, that is Keith’s expertise, but we will follow up! Hope the trip to SL is going well!

    • Keith
      July 28, 2014 at 5:51 pm

      Hey PJ! Welcome to the conversation! In the future we’ll add some social media buttons but we haven’t done that yet. What did you like about Mark’s post?

  7. Keith
    July 22, 2014 at 4:50 am

    Your thought about established churches not being able to fully adopt this model had me thinking through the night. I think there’s a difference between committing to an idea like Dinner Church as the local assembly you are committing to and adopting the concept as a ministry within a bigger, established church. In one case its the end, it’s what you are committed to building; in the other it is a means to an end – the end being a larger congregation on Sunday morning. Am I being too cynical?

    • Mark McGrath
      Mark McGrath
      July 28, 2014 at 5:20 pm

      Keith, not sure your thoughts here are cynical at all, you seem to highlight a fairly common approach to things. But there is a huge difference between using something like dinner church as a growth tool for some Sunday service, like a coffee house might be used, and employing the strategy because it reflects what you believe the church should be about in the first place.

      I don’t think we have to believe that any church over 30 people is being unbiblical, but any church that is not working hard to find ways to move the congregation into deeper, meaningful committed relationships is missing the mark by a lot. I could understand the concept of wanting some of these smaller dinner fellowships, under connected leadership, to gather for worship and some teaching occasionally, but it isn’t a requirement. When you and I talk about ways to “do church” differently, with a model of interpersonal ministry, deeper meaningful relationship and a sense of real togetherness, I think this offers us some practical insights. Do you agree?

      • keith
        July 28, 2014 at 9:20 pm

        I do agree! We actually in a pre-church plant situation with friends we have made here in PA. We are all reading some books about different ways of “doing church” so we are gathering for a meal on Monday nights and sharing what we are learning. So I guess it’s a pre-“Dinner Church”. There is no shortage of sharing and so far the group is committed to give everyone a chance to share their hearts. Our preparation in coming feels lacking but we are learning together and able to talk about these things.

        Maybe we are just detoxing form the years of feeling like we had to do church in a certain way. In my heart it seems exciting and full of promise. We’ll have to see how the Lord leads and how we respond.

        I was undone after reading Pagan Christianity and Reimagining Church both by Frank Viola.

        Hey Mark! I love you!

  8. Keith
    July 19, 2014 at 5:03 am

    Thanks for sharing. Great post. Great in that it helps us to think outside of the box of our experience and tradition. It’s hard to reimagine what church could be when each week you find “your” seat and watch what is happening up front. How people sit probably speaks volumes to to goals and priorities.

    So Mark, what do they do besides eat and fellowship? How do they spend their time? How is this more like the early church than what happens typically on a Sunday morning?

    • Mark McGrath
      Mark McGrath
      July 21, 2014 at 8:02 am

      Keith, I don’t really know much more about the church than the article reveals. What I liked about it was that this group was making a serious attempt to allow what they believe about being called as a committed community of believers to affect what they do when they gather for worship. I like that. It seems too easy to simply let our traditional expectations about church meetings drive us rather than ask ourselves, “How do we demonstrate what is really important to us when we gather?”

      When the tables at the Monday night meeting are filled, they start a Tuesday night meeting. This way no gathering gets larger than 30-50 people. They have worship, communion, sharing and personal times of encouragement and prayer. Besides being driven by the economics of renting space in an expensive area, it also reflects their values. I don’t think established churches could fully adopt this model, but it might provide an interesting approach for outreach, church planting and even discipleship groups. All of us would benefit from actively thinking about letting what we do when we meet reflect what is important to us. I think each church might find different answers to that question, and that, it seems to me, is very much like the early church.

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