Don’t Go to Church, Be the Church

Don’t Go to Church, Be the Church

March 13, 2019 by

I came across this quote in an out-of-print 1979 book/pamphlet, but I love it:

“If the church is one family, the church buildings are our family home. We need to lose the concept of ‘going to church,’ with the congregation simply coming straight into the church building, and then out again with no real meeting. It is rather a matter of ‘being the church’; each one of us is a vital member of the Body of Christ—belonging, sharing, caring, meeting, talking, being together. This all needs the right sort of Family Home for its expression.” -Brian Morley (The Attractive Church by Kenneth White)

Instead of going to church, we should focus on being the church.

No Minor Distinction

Is it mere semantics? Sure. But isn’t that what pastors love to build sermons around? I don’t think ‘go’ vs. ‘be’ is a minor distinction.

Going to church implies a physical action, traveling to a specific location.

Being the church implies something more, actually embodying the idea of church.

  • Space: Going to church is location dependent, while being the church is location agnostic.
  • Time: Going to church requires a set time, while being the church is independent of any schedule.
  • Expectation: Going to church implies that traveling is all that’s required. Being the church requires something deeper.
  • Success: Going to church can be easily measured—did you make it or not? Being the church is a much more nebulous concept that’s hard to measure—it’s more of a journey than a destination.

Implications for the Church

I think this has interesting implications as we think about welcoming the wider community to our church:

  • Space: Today’s culture is less dependent on location and physical proximity than ever before. People work from home and telecommute. Video and online technologies allow people to participate from a distance. Online church is a thing. Also, attendance is dwindling, but that doesn’t have to mean the death of the church.
  • Time: Today’s culture is less dependent on schedule than ever before. Remember TV Guide? Once upon a time it wasn’t a channel that showed you what was on, it was a static schedule printed, bound, and shipped to your house (along with a stack of other dead trees). Now things are available on-demand—including church services.
  • Expectation: People are looking for deeper experiences. There are so many demands on our limited time that people often ruthlessly cut unnecessary things from their lives. If church doesn’t deliver, it’s likely to get skipped. It’s kind of ironic—you’d think asking people to just show up (the expectation of going to church) would be easier. The bar is lower. But I think people want a higher bar today. They want a sense of belonging.
  • Success: What’s it take to succeed? Are people inspired by doing the absolute minimum (showing up, i.e., going to church), or do they want to be challenged to do something more? While gamification is popular and simply going to church can be an easy checkmark, I think being the church is a more challenging prospect. It invites a much deeper consideration and involvement. Ultimately, it’s a lifetime journey: Anyone can go to church, but it takes a lot more to be the church.

Implications for Communication

I think this also has interesting implications for how we communicate and invite the wider community:

  • Attendance is less important. As Phil Bowdle talks about in Rethink Communication, even committed Christians are attending church less frequently these days. That should change how we communicate, but it should also change what we communicate. There’s an even greater need for churches to share inspiration, not just information.
  • People want to be challenged. Too often we ask too little of people. The lack of a call to action is a frequent marketing mistake. If you want people to do something, you have to ask. It’s OK to push people and demand a little more. The beauty of calling people to be the church is that it’s an ongoing call to action. Unlike an altar call that’s geared for specific people, being the church is a call that everyone can answer.
  • What about making it easy for guests? I’ll say this for going to church—it sets a nice, low bar for guests. All they have to do is show up. Done and done. While that might be nice for first-time guests and facilitate an easier first visit, I think getting them to stick around is going to require a greater ask—being the church.
  • Being is not doing. Another important implication is that encouraging people to be the church does not require lots of doing. A flurry of activity is not necessarily what it means to be the church. So don’t fall into the trap that embracing this idea means lots of Bible studies and service projects. It could mean that, but it could also mean something simpler and quieter (and we could all use a bit of that).
  • Afflict the comfortable. Pastors like to use the phrase, “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” when talking about sermons and the work of the Holy Spirit. I think being the church has an element of that. Sometimes those of us who have been going to church for a long time get too comfortable. We need to be challenged to be the church. As communicators, we can offer tangible ways for people to do that, whether it’s something simple like encouraging conversation or or more involved like pitching ways to be engaged.

Be the Church

As your church communicates—and especially as you talk about church—shift your mindset from going to being.

It’s a difference worth recognizing.


A big part of being the church is community. As communicators, it’s vital you have your own community to connect with. There are a lot of different options, including local and online meetups. Our Courageous Storytellers membership site includes a private Facebook group. Wherever you find it, find community.

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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One Response to “Don’t Go to Church, Be the Church”

  • Paul Steinbrueck
    March 14, 2019

    Good post, Kevin. I think what you’ve described is just the tip of the iceberg in the distinction between going to to church and being the church. “Going to church” gives the impression that church is something you experience or consume and then it’s over. We go to the movies, go to the park, go to the salon.

    “Being the church” means living out our faith in community by the power of the Holy Spirit every day. It’s a complete change in worldview, mindset, and lifestyle.

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