A Christian Without A Church Is Still A Christian

When my family stopped going to church a few years ago, quite a few Christians told me (with some Bible quotes thrown in for good measure) that Christians were supposed to spend time together. My family was supposed to go to church anyway regardless of whether it in my area fit my family, my belief system or my understanding of God.

But I had been going to “church anyway” for too long. The last church we attended upheld our social and political beliefs, but the congregation was small and not as child-friendly as we needed at the time. Before and after leaving there, we found churches that were filled with beautiful, hand-raising praise music and young families, but I did not want to put a dime in the basket because I could not let my money go to the ministries used to judge and hurt other human beings.

A year ago, we finally gave up on finding a church and began to officially home-church, but I think we have home-churched our children their entire lives. My kids don’t know to ignore homeless people or to not say hello to crack addicts. We have ministered to many people who are often overlook as Christianity has taught us. Sometimes we go as a family and other times my children watch my husband or I go out to help others.

More importantly, I don’t introduce those suffering or struggling as LOOK WHO WE ARE HELPING. We don’t mock them behind their backs with self-pitying looks or smug notions of our ability to live better. When my kids ask why we give a dollar or sandwich or a ride, I explain in broad terms that we all have struggles including our own family. We are helping those who need help now just as people have helped us and will help us again someday.

We should all have home-churches. I’m not advocating everyone walk out on their Sunday places of worship, but Monday through Saturday should be church days, too.  I believe in ministering to the people who are here. I believe in living the compassion that is taught in the Bible. I believe that God is both personal and shared. Our homes must be our churches. Our neighborhoods. Our cities. Our countries. Our world.

I am no less a Christian, living a Christian life, because I am out caring for humanity on Sunday rather than sitting in a pew.

About the writer: Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in Philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, writer, and Christian liberal by 30. She spends most of her writing time on LateEnough.com, a humor blog except when it’s serious about life, parenting, marriage, culture, religion and politics. She has a muse of a husband, two young kids and a readership that gives her hope for humanity.

Review & Commentary

  • sharil

    I gave up long ago trying to find a church in my small rural community for the very same reasons that you have stated. I struggled with feeling that I was a bad parent because I didn’t expose my children to church. Now that my children are grown I realize that the influence they received at home was enough for them to become the kind, loving, charitable, accepting people that we all want are children to be. I believe that a person who lives their life in a Christ-like fashion is a far better person than one who goes to church faithfully but fails to live accordingly. I once worked for a woman who hounded her non-church going employees to go to attend. “It’s not enough just to be a good person. You HAVE to go to church too!” This same person used an employee training program that she pirated from someone else and she was known to regularly cheat employees on commissions. I quit after only a few months. I didn’t feel good about being associated with such a hypocrite. I’ve come to the conclusion that many of the people who feel the need to loudly declare their faith, do so because they are hiding something about themselves that they don’t want others to know.

    • Michael Kotyk

      I agree with what Sharil has seen completely because I’ve seen it for myself. I have no problem with the concept of church, itself, but I do have a problem with the hypocrites who infest it, who sit in judgement of their own brothers and sisters, and who refuse to help those same brothers and sisters when they fall down. I feel that if Jesus were to come back today He would be very disappointed in the ‘churches’ established in His name. They have more in common with the Pharisees than they do with Christ’s disciples.
      My wife and I, home-church, and I like that word immensely. When we moved to where we live now, we came into conflict with churches that practiced ‘bi-annual exorcisms’, had video preachers or services that were more rock concert than a focus on God, others ostracized certain members at social gatherings for the amount of money in their pocket, or preached a chauvinism that de-evolves our spouses and daughters from being ‘family’ to just ‘property’ to do our bidding. The church gossipers were happy to brag about the failings of their neighbors yet hid their own family skeletons from view.
      That is not the ‘change of heart’ that Jesus wanted from us. There are too many Christians in churches in ‘name only’ and not in ‘deed’ too. Their words and actions just do not equal each other.
      Jesus did not want buildings or statues in His name. He told His disciples bluntly that His church would be where two gather in His name. Well, since my wife and I are two, and our kids make 5, I’d say we qualify as a church in Jesus’s definition of it.

  • R

    I honor the author’s point. Going to church does not a Christian make. That said, I tend to not care for dichotomies. Instead, as a progressive Christian, I tend to embrace a both/and approach. Serving God’s people “out in the world” matters – a lot. However, participating in a local church is part of how I follow Jesus’ example (a regular synagogue-goer) … and it’s a very helpful boot-camp/home base to help me with my behavior out in the world. It provides a community for me to love and be loved by, to experience conflict with, and forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation; it helps me to grow in empathy and compassion; and to be better educated about the faith — all helping me to be a better Christian when I’m not in church.

    • Roger Wolsey

      whoops forgot to type out my name! : )

  • Charis Varnadore

    Just this week, after nearly two decades, I gave up being defensive about not attending church. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to find a community that was both comfortable and challenging. Unfortunatel, I live in a small place on the coast of SC, and there are no churches, no communities as such in this area. I completely identify with your article… Charis

  • Amber (@ApparentlyAmber)

    An article I recently read said that being an active Christian included sharing your faith with other people. I think you’re doing just that. With your family. You’re not just pondering in the woods alone. You’re out with your people…doing.

  • Marion

    My family was not religious at all, yet I came to a strong awareness of God’s presence and a desire to follow the teachings of Jesus at just over 12 years of age. I had no Christian friends or aquaintances and wanted to join a church in order to meet and spend time with others on the same journey. Over 20 years I met various people and found several opportunities to join a church. In each case that I attended or attempted to attend, something prevented its happening or continuation. At one point I even asked a priest if I could attend his church and he advise against it!! I was 28 at that point! I did not give up my faith or daily conversation and prayers to God, but I did wonder why I was unsuccessful in gaining membership into a church. At about 30 years of age I decided to no longer try. I was disillusioned with the church. Shortly after, events occurred which found me invited and welcomed into a church. When I got there I discovered that there were no perfect people, none holier than thou and all sorts of challenges for me as I rubbed up against the many different personalities of those I came to know through our common calling – lots of learning about how to persevere with Christians who were also human and sinners, like me. I have now been a fairly regular church goer for nearly 20 years, have experienced a number of different types of church. I agree that I am in “church” even when with 2 or 3 others together in any place, as well as when I have attended modern services, that include commercialisation and thousands of worshippers in one place, as well as when I join the silence of contemplatives, city, country, well known denominations, less structured gatherings. For me church is a kind of school, to learn. To learn about what has been written and spoken in the scriptures, to reflect on my own doings and thoughts, as well as those of others, to be prompted to action, encouraged and challenged. Also to continue to learn about my need of God as much as the needs of others and how I can awaken others to the presence of God through my words and actions. But it is never perfect and that is probably the most important thing I have learned. It helps me to stay compassionate towards others, especially the poor, whether they be poor in Spirit (even in churches) or resources or some other way. I now feel that 20 years being unable to find a church and just walking with God was an important formative experience for me. When I finally found a church home to begin my experience as being part of a church, I was surprised at how ordinary it was. Not as I might have idealised. I saw a sign out the front of a church once: We are not full of hypocrites, there is still room for more! I totally agree that there are big problems in churches, which in particular do not reflect the teachings of Jesus. But didn’t he come to save the sick and those in need of help and healing?

  • Chris

    Thank you, Alex, for putting home churches into perspective for me. My Roman Catholic church told me a few years ago that the family is the smallest unit of church. I have long-since believed that we should live out our Christian salvation throughout our lives, and not just on Sundays.
    I am thankful that you did not deem institutional churches (as I call them) and home churches as mutually exclusive, but, rather, simply emphasized the importance of home churches. Now, I can use the term “home church” when discussing family-level ministry with other families in my institutional church.
    I’m a young, single man who just doesn’t get any emotional benefits from church services, and my own study of theology and Christian living is vastly different from the entry-level stuff many pastors preach. For a long time, I have struggled with feeling like I am the only Christian who doesn’t like “going to church” and who doesn’t think “going to church” is important.

    My problem with institutional churches aren’t about hypocrites, per se. Rather, it’s about people who are “fired up” about “going to church” but who seem disturbingly apathetic about living out their faith during the week.

    • scott

      Chris, your experience mirrors mine. I liken a lot of churches to a bus ride. However, once on the bus you find out that it only drives 10 miles an hr ! Will it get you where you need to go (to your full potential in Christ) ? Well, maybe, but if so, veeeeeeery slooooooooowly, and a lot of driving in circles.
      I want to follow Christ ! I want to reach my full potential in faith, works, knowledge , and love ! I do think Christ wants us to be part of the vine (other believers) , and not walk alone, but I don’t think that necessarily means in an institutional church.
      I’m acutely aware that we’re only temporary visitors in this three dimensional plane, and I don’t want to die here unless I’m doing His work – I don’t want to live here unless it’s doing His work ! He is THAT awesome .

  • Samantha

    I stopped going to church when i was around 4 because the church was too far away and it was quite inconvenient for a young girl and her family to wake up extra early in the morning on a Sunday to be ready for a 45 minute car ride to the church.
    Me and one of my friends never really discussed christianity until this year. (AGE 11) I was asking her if she could come over to my place for a sleepover and she said she couldn’t because she had church.
    I told her that i stopped going to church when i was really young. But then she said: “Wait, you’re christian!?” So I told her I was. She then said: “No you’re not. If you don’t go to church then TECHNICALLY you’re not a christian.” I got a bit wound up by the way she was telling me what I SUPPOSEDLY was; or was not, in this case. So I said: “Just because I don’t go to church anymore it doesn’t mean that I’m not still a follower of God.” She then repeated what she said earlier. Now here’s my question: IS IT A SIN TO CALL SOMEONE WHOSE CHRISTIAN, NOT A CHRISTIAN?

  • Tom

    Regarding what the author says, I think Christians can “spend time together” without going to church, and “political beliefs” is not what that’s about. I think two or three can gather together in his name anywhere anytime. I think getting together in homes to communicate about God and scripture is good. I don’t go to church because I disagree with church doctrine. I believe scripture but not the creeds established by Rome. I think the “body of Christ” is independent of the church. The word “church” is not even in scripture. It’s an intentional mistranslation of the Greek “ekklesia,” literally “out-called,” correctly translated “ecclesia.” That refers to those of us called out of the world to be in the body of Christ. We aren’t required to meet on a particular day of the week in a particular building to worship God, and we aren’t required to tithe. If you think you need to tithe, you also ought to obey the other 612 commandments of the law because you must be a Jew. Everyday is a holy day to worship God in spirit and truth, and it doesn’t matter where you are. You sure don’t have to worry about what building you’re in because you’re the temple of God.

  • SallyA

    Good article, Alex, thank you! Because as Jesus followers we don’t throw out the ten commandments but expand them by the love of God written on our hearts, we don’t have to keep the Sat. Shabbat. But we do, as your article shows, as followers of Jesus bring every day, M-S, 7 days a week, into the reality of the reign of God within and all around us as He taught. Functionally I don’t like the paid clergy aspect of mainly Sunday-only churches, and what their focus on buildings and salaries does to set apart those in charge from those who worship and serve as volunteers.

    Church defined from the original Koine Greek has richly nuanced meanings nothing like a church building with tithing requirements but instead suggests those of us who are the called out ones, given power to follow God’s reign, not man’s. Most if not all people qualify for some sort of 12-step program. In those groups, for fun and for free (except nominal giving, a dollar or so per meeting to pay rent usually at a church building!), I find other Jesus followers (some who do like and attend churches) who tend to become my friends. The non-Jesus followers sometimes find my example something they want to have, and they become Jesus followers instead of Buddhists or secularists or people who found the group to be their “power greater than themselves.” Oddly those in the last category seem often to have more in common with what Jesus seemed to recommend about the ‘called out ones’ (translated into English from the Latin translations of the Roman Catholic era before sola scriptura and Protestantism) than do the modern churches I’ve attempted to find a home in.

    For me the institutional church doesn’t work. If it does work for others, so be it. Jesus knows what’s in our hearts, and we can’t hide our truth from Him.

    Outside churches I’m free to have my own understanding, based on the Hebrew and Aramaic familiar to Jesus and likely used by Him, of the feminine set-apart Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) as understood in some practices of Messianic Judaism. Outside Christian theory based only on the Bible as translated into English (variously from non-English texts that vary in part) I found Messianic Jews who gave me their Hebrew scriptural basis from the Hebrew Bible for not accepting Holy Spirit as He (English) or neuter (Greek, pneuma, which would be It if we read Greek) but She. Understanding the Ruach HaKodesh as She (along with our Abba Father and Jesus Christ) thereby saves me the postmodern feminist Christian efforts to reconfigure He/She/Mother/Father words in other contexts seeking the correcting of the over-focus on maleness in post-Roman Catholic Christianity that differs from what Jesus did and said when in His Jewishness He necessarily spoke about Ruach HaKodesh — and He also allowed a woman (Matthew and Mark’s gospel) to anoint His head, a Jewish priestly function (as Moses had under Torah anointed the heads of Aaronic priests) for the post-Torah egalitarian priesthood of believers Jesus intended to usher in. I like (and it’s also consistent with the ministry of Jesus and His nature as fully human and fully divine) that Jesus is the only begotten Son of our heavenly Father, born onto earth in human form as the baby of a human mother, Mary, whom He loved and directed care for, even at the foot of His cross. Mary doesn’t need in my post-Protestant DNA to be prayed to or envisioned as the Mother of God. But not to follow Jesus in seeing Ruach HaKodesh as feminine and She in my experience leads Christian male leaders to over-privilege Him-ness and act as if their unstated limited beliefs about females are what Mark Driscoll has thankfully signaled openly as the poisonous fruits of the Churchianity male supremacy tree in thinking of God as exclusively male for a male-privileged club
    — e.g., recent news of Driscoll describing women as “penis homes” for men, with Paulinian epistles twisted out of their historical context in the questionable English translations to support the theory.

    It is not easy to get as close as possible to what Jesus taught, and takes some study outside of churches, but with what empires and institutions have done to hide the truth from us, it’s well worth the effort.

  • roy

    you don’t like it when your brothers and sisters judge others, why Do You Judge Them?