Whose Church Is It, Anyway?

Would You Worship Here?

Would You Worship Here?

My Wacky Little Church Fantasy: Jesus Church

This nutty idea is running through my head. It started in the fellowship hall at Trabuco Canyon Community Church*. Last Sunday, after service, I stood, sipping coffee from a paper cup and nibbling on a miniature lemon and poppyseed scone, chatting with Grace and Cheryl, two sisters in Christ. The topic turned to church music.

I love the hymns, too, I heard a familiar voice–my voice–say. But I’m pretty sure that worship should be about what pleases God, not what pleases me.

My wise friends nodded, emboldening me. I have this idea, I said, about how we get back to focusing on that point that we come here to worship God, not to indulge ourselves in enjoyment of  our own favorite songs/sermon topics/verses.

They looked at me, silent, lips parted, waiting for me to continue. And so I lay it out for them, right there in the fellowship hall.

Here’s the plan:

1. We eliminate “denominations.” Jesus is Jesus. God is God. Agreement on the truth of the Gospel is really all we need in common.

2. We establish an ideal church size (I favor 200, and since this is my fantasy, we’ll run with that number).

3. Assuming about 20 percent of the population attends church regularly (estimates are all  over the board. I chose this number as an example), we divide the nation, city by city, town by town, hamlet by hamlet,  into parishes that are intended to contain about 1,000 people–because 20 percent of 1,000 is 200–my imagined ideal church size.

4. If you wish to attend church, you go to the Jesus Church for your parish–your neighborhood church. That’s it. No Lutherans. No Presbyterians. No Catholics. No Baptists. No any-other-flavor-of-distinctive-congregation you can think of. Just people who love Jesus and live in the same neighborhood.

The benefits:

1. You know the people sitting in the pew behind you, because they’re your neighbors. Those cross-cutting social ties (which is just fancy academic talk for knowing people from more than one shared relationship: Our kids attend the same school and we shop at the same supermarket, say) make it mighty hard to hide or pretend at church. The Jesus Church encourages, or even extracts, authenticity.

2. As a congregation, you know your community’s needs because you all live there. You know who’s hungry. You know who’s hurting. The Jesus Church promotes meaningful, local missions. 

3. Most importantly of all, because you don’t choose the church you attend, the focus naturally moves away from church as commodity. No congregation needs a sales pitch because there’s no selection to be made. Like school attendance back in the olden days, your address determines which Jesus Church you attend. Churches that aren’t competing in a membership marketplace are freed to focus on serving God. 

But but but . . . 

I can hear you from here. Baptism requires immersion, and those folks down at the First United Church of Distorted Sacraments, well, they, they–they sprinkle.

The church on the corner is Methodist. We’re Congregationalists. 

They serve communion to anyone who comes forward. Worse yet, they call it The Lord’s Supper.

They sing hymns. I prefer a praise band. 

Their Sunday services last exactly an hour. I need a 90-minute service to really feel close to God. 

Their pastor strays from the Gospel! 

All these complaints are founded on that unspoken assumption: Church is about what want. 

And maybe, if we remember Whose church it is, we could trust Him to unite us despite these tensions and differences. 

My vision for the Jesus Church is that we wriggle out from under the notion that we choose a church that suits us. We take the church we get and we work together with all the other broken humans trying to walk in faith and we find a way to do it together. 

Because it isn’t about us. It’s all about Him. 

And I’m pretty sure that if we entrust His church to Him, He’ll handle the hurdles. 


One big drawback bridles my enthusiasm for the Jesus Church. Maybe it’s something to consider on another day. But I’ll put it out there, all the same:

How would neighborhood churches impact diversity? In a model like this, is diversity more important? Less important? Essential? A non-issue?

I don’t have an answer. Not now. I don’t even have an answer if you ask me Are you serious?!?!

I do think, though, that the simple question Whose church is it? might be a pretty good starting point for a discussion of how to decommoditize the American church. 

And you? What do you think?

I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.

Matthew 16:18 (NASB)

* Nothing  about Trabuco Canyon Community Church led me to these thoughts, I should add. I just happened to be there when the instigating conversation took place.



  1. Those are very good ideas, Sheila. My ideal church size is closer to 100, but the idea of something local and small really appeals to me. Maybe we could have rotating worship styles. That way God would get the best from everyone at some point, right? Jesus got baptized in a river. I got baptized in a river. I like it that way, but I am open to most suggestions short of a water balloon fight. We could meld some of the terminology together and get things like “the Lord’s communion”. We could call sacraments “really good things” or something like that. As for diversity, I don’t think we should start church busing. But maybe this would be a catalyst for some of us to move to other areas so that we could share church with all of God’s children. I could move to an Asian community. An Asian family could move to a Hispanic community. Just kinda mix the whole thing up, you know? These are important thoughts to ponder. And I choose you to head up this initiative. 🙂

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Carolyn. I love the idea of moving for the express purpose of creating more diverse congregations! (Or fellowships, or parishes, or whatever).

      But I think Jesus should head it up.

  2. What a fantasy! I love it. I’d get behind it.

  3. One day, one day–we truly will be the Jesus Church. I struggle with many of the things your proposal seeks to overcome especially, I think, that the church I drive 20 minutes to attend doesn’t serve the community in which it is located. And then there’s the thing about neighborhood churches not addressing issues of diversity. Again, I look forward to an eternity where I praise God surrounded by those of every tribe, language, and tongue.

    I like to believe that all the mess–all the disagreement, all the in-fighting, all the ways we disagree with one another are means God is using to grow us up into the Jesus Church–preparing us to be His perfect bride. If I offend my brothers and sisters (and, honestly, there’s just no if involved in that statement) then we have to really work at and practice those things like repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation and, in so doing, demonstrate to the world that those are real things which are possible in Christ.

  4. Now for my dream. Call it “gathering together.”

    First the thankful worship and singing, then people could open their picnic baskets and share a little meal together. After eating, draw names for groups to do bible reading. Then dessert and visiting.

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