Christians first gathered in homes for worship, and that practice continued for almost three hundred years. There was no theater seating, no choir, no music band or orchestra. No platform, no pulpit, no priests.
Today, the closest resemblance to the first-century gatherings is found in what we call “home groups.” Our “church” buildings that resemble a theater or concert hall began in the days of Constantine, when Christianity became the national religion. Both the Jews and the pagans had their temple and priests, so everyone gladly adopted the same structure for Christian worship.
The Bible says we shouldn’t neglect our assembly of believers (Hebrews 10:25). The buildings haven’t changed as much as the frequency and length of time we meet. When I was a kid, a “revival” could go on for months, with services every day and twice on Sunday. They weren’t one-hour services, either. The evening service began at 7:30, always lasted until 10:00 p.m., and sometimes ran until midnight, giving kids only a few hours sleep before school the next morning. My, how times have changed.
In my work, I visit and speak at many churches. Sometimes when I look across a congregation, the band is playing and the leaders are singing. But the people are listening, not singing. After the song, the applause tells me this church is functioning much like a theater. People are being entertained.
I see other churches that seem to resemble a restaurant, where people come to be fed. Members grow fat on a steady diet in God’s Word, warming the church pew, doing little to help anyone else.
I’m sure God will meet anyone with a desire for him, no matter the place or style of worship. But I wonder if the ideal church would be best represented by a hospital, where only three types of people are present: visitors, patients, and servants.