Certainly, within my lifetime, I will not see the end of “club” churches. While they are adding to the collapse of Christianity in the West – primarily because most “club” churches are just awful, I am confident that their days are numbered. So, I thought I would contribute a word to at least help make them better.
What is a “club” church? It is a modal of organising our fellowships in such a way that they operate a bit like a ‘doctrinal Sunday club.’ Meeting on Sundays with a few extra social events during the week, people join them based on agreeing with their doctrine. These clubs often market themselves with a particular nuance such as a place where they make friends, study the word, have great worship, or are heavily involved in some social justice issue (In the UK, food banks for the poor seem to be popular.)
However, whatever their particular nuance in terms of their operations, they are in many ways like a social club. Not a mirror image, as real social clubs are legal entities that people go to every day to hang out, do activities and socialise, and tend to lack a clear ideological framework (though many Sunday club churches also lack that, as well). The point of the “club” church is that it is a place where people can belong to a community. The “club” church, most of which are not-for-profit, has an identity that is always in flux with a significant in-and-out crowd and is contended for on different issues.
Brothers and sisters in Christ…can we be honest with ourselves? Do we not also approach our churches with the idea of finding the best one; a church that meets our expectations of good preaching, powerful worship, and lively community, preferably filled with attractive people? We have brought consumerism into the Church and in that lay the rub. Most of our fellowships are weak with few congregants and willing but poorly practised volunteers, with wet, watered-down teaching, and competent but not inspired volunteer musicians. Then, add to that, Christians who are poorly established in the faith, grasping at the idea of ‘being a community’ but having no real-life experience, no actual point of reference to build upon, all of which is a recipe for disappointment, church shopping, and ultimately alienation from the Christian community.
Weirdly, given this scathing critique, you would think I would denounce the “club” church as something unchristian, which would be silly. It is Christian, just a modal of the church that increasingly conflicts with the realities that the body of Christ faces. The “club” church emerged out of a historical context in which Christians, at the time, were seeking, and still are seeking, ways to be relevant. I am not saying they are evil, or morally wrong; just that it is deeply, deeply flawed. We need the Benedict Option (go look it up) to help us regain the initiative, and I hope all of you who are reading this will take steps in that direction, even if you do not manage to fully actualise it.
However, I am also a realist and fully accept that I am not going to convince my people to get ahead of the curb (society is pushing us to the Benedict Option anyway). Accepting this, I want to offer some thoughts and reflections on how to make your “club” church better if you’re going to stick with such a modal. (perhaps share this article with your pastors).
THESIS 1: If your fellowship has less than 100 congregants, stop trying to imitate churches that are bigger than you. It is better to do something small and simple well than to try and do something complicated and ‘showy’ badly – it is just cringe-worthy.
THESIS 2: Stop with the gimmicks, large or small! If you are having to use gimmicks to make church ‘fun’ then you have not discipled your congregations properly. We come to Church to celebrate the Lord in our life, like a family coming together to celebrate a special event.
THESIS 3: If you are going to do “club” church, you need to be very strong in one of these areas; biblical teaching, worship, or community. You can not afford to be mediocre in all three – you will lose congregants. To be clear, I think you should be strong in teaching; remember though, what you are strong in will mean that is the kind of Christian you will attract, the one who values that kind of thing.
THESIS 4: Stop trying to force your congregation to be something it isn’t. For instance, trying to exhort people to be more vibrant in worship if they are not is chiefly what I mean here. The sincerity of worship is what is important.
THESIS 5: Accept that your one congregation can not do it all! Have a clear idea of the responsibilities of families, society, and congregations (and teach on it). In what capacity can families, society, and congregations work together whether it be in a local area, a whole nation, or the world (and teach on it). Trying to do everything on our own is killing us.
THESIS 6: Tackle the absence of teens and young people from our congregations. Fellowships in a geographical space should pool their youth and young people together ecumenically. Invest resources in them to build them up in the faith, rather than having 2 – 12 youth / young people being awkward together, in our congregation.
THESIS 7: Building on thesis six, congregations need to work together to build and create families within the Christian people – across regions of the country.
THESIS 8: Whatever you do – ask yourself, is it contrived, fake, cringe-worthy? So many off-putting moments in fellowships occur when leaders replace real sincerity and substance with some poorly thought-out ideas aimed at fun or entertainment.
THESIS 9: Recognise what is beyond your reach to achieve.
THESIS 10: Do all you can to break up – and break down – cliques in the church. Once your “club” takes off, I promise you, they will form, but try to recognise why. It’s not people being bad or ill-mannered for the most part. Rather, it is the result of only having a limited understanding of what it means to be a people of GOD, no education in hospitality, and only 30 minutes put into practice being a community, you end up seeking out the few people you already know.
I have many more ideas, but sadly time is against me in writing this article; plus ten is a good number to end on for us Christians, we do like a list of ten. So please, do share this article with the pastors you meet; and do take these points into your “club” churches if you are part of one – until we can truly be the body of Christ in consolidated geographical communities, we have to make our Sunday “club” church modal work.