Could it be that there are 3 primary ways to do church? If so, the first way — maybe the default way — is to run it like a hospice unit; a place to take care of people who are dying.
Sound extreme? Maybe. But as Jon Foreman reminds us in a powerful and pointed song, we’re all dying. So, in a very real sense, we all need some version of hospice; we need to prepare to die. Some churches do this pretty well. They take care of their members (aged or otherwise), providing support, encouragement, and regular service times.
My dad served in ministry his entire working life; his final work was in this category, as he served for nearly 20 years as a nursing home chaplain. He faithfully loved the people, and was there for them in their final years of life — all while making sure to have services every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night. I love my dad, and I’m proud of how well he served the folks at the Christian Old People’s Home (seriously, that’s what it was called). Especially in a place with that kind of name, there’s a place for church-as-hospice-care.
But outside of caring for aging persons and aging churches, clearly the New Testament church is called to be more — which leads us to the 2nd way to do church: as a hospital. In this model, a church isn’t just concerned about caring for its own; it strives to care for others, too. It wants to reach hurting and broken people. It seeks to be a place where the sin-sick can find healing. It welcomes any who are ready to find wholeness in Jesus and in his church. This church sees how important it is to be a hospital.
So, it innovates and creates in ways to make outsiders feel welcome. It tries new things; it thinks about outsiders in how it plans the service; it finds new ways to do church. Now, we may not always agree on methods and means, but we can all agree that a healthy church is going to consider those outside of faith, and ways their church might reach them. It might be on Sunday mornings, but it also might be support groups, student ministry, marriage support, counseling ministry, and a variety of other ways to say, and show: we are here for the hurting.
Again, this is a vital part of what it means to be the Church. But I think there’s one more step a healthy, biblical church needs to make. And it’s to be a mobile clinic. This is where the church isn’t content to care for its own, though it does that. And it’s not okay with simply having hurting people find their way to the hospital on Sundays or special days. It seeks out folks where they are; it goes to them. It takes the love and mercy and compassion and this-is-for-everyone heart of Jesus out to where the people are. It goes to the prisons and the clinics, the streets and parks and coffee shops; and yes, to the nursing homes and the hospitals. It empowers people not simply to come to church, but to go and take the church to their homes and neighborhoods, their workplaces and schools. Church-as-mobile-clinic sees its calling as one that cannot — must not — be contained by a building or by a day of the week. This kind of church can’t be contained.
So, what kind of church is your church? Better yet: what kind of church are you?