Dr. James Emery White

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Family or Store?

On Halloween, a member of our church’s staff came to our door to trick-or-treat with her three kids.

It was their 17th straight year.

Her oldest son is taller than me and stopped dressing up long ago. In fact, he drove the family to our house.

The daughter is probably on her last year (she dressed as Katniss Everdeen – that should be a hint).

The youngest may have a couple more years in him. Tops.

Their mother has been a part of the church for even longer – twenty-two years, to be exact. She was actually at Meck’s very first service on October 4, 1992, and was the very first person to become a Christian through our services.

For whatever reason, it made me think of two different ways of viewing a church: a family or a store.

If church is a family, then you relate to it as a son or daughter, mother or father, brother or sister. Deeply biblical ideas, I might add. When the Bible talks about Christian community, these are the metaphors it falls back on.

If a church is a store, then you are nothing more than a consumer. There is a retail outlet and a customer, a provider and a receiver.

It strikes me that these are the two ways that people can view a church.

Family...or store.

If it’s a family, they stick with it. Work through it. Stay in it. There are deep blood ties. It’s not about what you get, but what you give.

If it’s a store, then it’s a consumer decision. Who has the best prices? Most convenience? Quickest access? 

The great danger, of course, is when churches intentionally posture themselves as “stores” in competition with other “stores”. This is not only biblically misguided, it is theologically heretical.

And will not serve in the long run.

Open the front door wide, to be sure, but never fail to remember that who you are at your most foundational level is “family.”

And make sure you help people become that family.

James Emery White

 

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

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