MT 4: From Doing Church to Being Church

Missional Transformation is a process where believers align themselves (passions, desires, behaviors, habits) with the missionary purpose of Jesus.

Missional Transformation requires significant shifts in the way you participate with Christ and His kingdom.

Shift 4: From “Doing Church” to “Being Church”

One of the church planters I’ve been coaching recently stated, “I can ‘do church’ – we’re good ‘church doers.’” Yet all that’s been changing as he’s been discovering how to really “be the church.”

In his book Revolution, George Barna notes, “We are not called to go to church. We are called to be the church.” (p 39) America is full of Christians that are really good at going to church and doing church. In fact, you don’t have to attend a church for very long to discover what behaviors are expected when you attend. You can quickly learn how to “do church” – what time to arrive, what to bring with you, when to stand, when to sing, when to listen, when to take notes and when to leave Week after week, month after month, year after year, Christians everywhere are “doing church” for an hour or so on Sunday. Many Christians would tell you that this church experience is one of the most meaningful times in their week. To create meaningful church experiences for an hour or so on Sunday, pastors and church staff members devote an enormous amount of time and energy so they can be prepared to “do church” each weekend. Time is spent to study and prepare sermons, to select and rehearse music, to print bulletins, to schedule ushers and greeters, to recruit and train children’s workers, to prepare lessons from Sunday School curriculum, to provide coffee and refreshments, to pray for spiritual impact, to invite friends and neighbors and to clean restrooms

If churches don’t have hymnals and they use video screens instead, additional time is spent in preparing the multi-media support for songs, announcements, and a variety of videos. If a church has video-venues or multiple locations, further preparation is required for each place that people gather to worship.

The focus of all of these activities is to be prepared to “do church” together with other believers. Every week Christians are authentically worshipping God and being taught His Word and learning what it means to be a fully-devoted follower of Jesus. This is happening around the world.

However, for some Christians, “doing church” has little impact on the rest of their week. In Lost in America, the authors state, “Sometimes behavior by those who profess Christ is actually worse than those who don’t. For example, despite increased concern about national morality, Christians continue to have a higher likelihood of getting divorced than do non-Christians. Even atheists are less likely to become divorced than are Christians.” (pp. 34-35)

What difference does it make that hours and hours are invested by paid clergy and volunteers so that church members and visitors can “do church” every Sunday? Is “doing church” once each week really what Jesus had in mind for His followers? When Jesus said, “I will build My church” did He envision the church as a place to go or something to do? Not at all.

Church is not something to “do.” The church is something to “be.” Missional Transformation requires a shift from “doing church” to “being church.” While what happens on Sunday is important, it is not the primary expression of the church. Being the church daily for the sake of the world is what matters most.

The best way to start being the church is to first understand what the church is – and what the church is for. As N.T. Wright describes, “The church is first and foremost a community, a collection of people who belong to one another because they belong to God, the God we know in and through Jesus.” (Simply Christian, p. 210) He then describes what the church is for – “The church exists for two closely correlated purposes: to worship God and to work for his kingdom in the world. You can and must worship, and work for God’s kingdom, in private and in ways unique to yourself, but if the kingdom is to go forward, rather than around and around in circles, we must work together as well as apart.” (p. 211)

The church gathered is powerful! Yet doing church on Sundays is not why the church exists. Being the church together in community requires a lifestyle of worship and witness that extends beyond “doing church” corporately on Sundays. Being the church is daily! It includes worshipping together, serving together, loving together, learning and growing together, praying together, engaging culture together, being salt and light together, and so much more.

Being the church doesn’t stop when you drive away from the church building or meeting place. Being the church doesn’t stop when you walk into your home or get to work. Being the church doesn’t stop ever. Once you belong to God through faith in His Son, you always belong to His church.

Being the church extends beyond those who are members of your local church family or t hose who attend your church each weekend. Being the church recognizes that the kingdom of God is bigger than those who believe and behave just like you. Missional Transformation results in valuing the rich diversity that exists in the kingdom of God. You’re comfortable with the whole body of Christ, not just your local part.

Shane Claiborne tells his story of how a group of Christians in North Philly began to be the church instead of just going to church.

The body of Christ was alive, no longer trapped in stained glass windows or books of systematic theology. The body of Christ was literal, living, hungry, thirsty, bleeding. Church was no longer something we did for an hour on Sunday, and church was not a building with a steeple. As Don Everts says in his book Jesus with Dirty Feet, “Referring to the church as a building is like referring to people as two-by-fours.” She came to life. The church became something we are – an organism, not an organization. Church became so fresh and vibrant, it was like we had brought something back to life.” (The Irresistible Revolution, p. 62)

Missional Transformation is about being the church rather than simply doing church

  • Being the church is 24/7, not just an hour on Sunday.
  • Being the church happens all over the place, not just in a sanctuary.
  • Being the church happens in diversity, not just with people that look and act like you.
  • Being the church happens whenever and wherever Christians are, not just on your church campus.
  • Being the church happens daily!

What will it take for Christians everywhere to stop simply doing church and start being the church?

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Dave DeVries

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Dr. Dave DeVries is a coach, trainer, author and founder of Missional Challenge. He is passionate about coaching and training church planters and missional leaders. With 30+ years of church planting and leadership development experience, Dave brings his passion and encouragement to those he trains and coaches.
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10 replies
  1. Adam Gonnerman
    Adam Gonnerman says:

    Excellent post. The difficulty I think many disciples experience is in know HOW to BE a Christian at the workplace and at home. I’m an ordained minister and did mission service in Brazil. Now I work for a cell phone company in New Jersey and am seeing first hand the difficulty of putting our good words into practice. People need to see others BEING followers of Christ “out” in the world in order to do it. Perhaps…just perhaps…God will use this experience to help me learn and then show others the way to live missionally every blessed day.

  2. Audrey
    Audrey says:

    So encouraging to read this blog!! Shortly after moving to WA state, we were part of a church where we learned that church is not something you “do”, rather the church is who we ARE if we are in Christ. So many people have church as a little corner of their lives–it’s something they do once a week and then they go on with the rest of their lives. Rather, you see the absolute awesome calling of God when you understand that we ARE the church, HIS body. Thanks for sharing this!

    (By chance, are you the Dave DeVries from LAB?-Just curious).

  3. DaveDV
    DaveDV says:

    Adam – it’s all about being “Jesus” to everyone we meet – and that’s really hard at work. Let your light shine, brother!

  4. DaveDV
    DaveDV says:

    Audrey –
    You are so blessed to be part of a church that has taught you that church is not something you “do” but rather who you ARE! Spread the news…

    Also – I checked your profile but it doesn’t say anything about you…

    LAB class of 1983

  5. Rick Dugan
    Rick Dugan says:

    Please forgive me for jumping off on a bit of a rabbit trail based on one paragraph from an otherwise excellent post. As a divorced Christian I can say that divorce statistics and situations are more complex than usually credited. I see authors citing high rates of divorce among Christians as evidence of the weak state of the Church. I’ve seen the comparison to athiests many times.

    Divorce rates tend to be higher among less educated and lower income people. Compared to athiests, conservative Christians (especially Pentecostals, among whom the divorce rate is highest) tend to fall into this category. This is a factor that is usually left out of the analysis when someone is trying to make a point about the Church.

    Second, if the Church is a refuge for broken people then you will tend to find more divorced people there than in the population at large. At least I hope so. While there is a high rate of divorce among Christians, most divorced Christians end up not going to church. It’s not a safe place for us. Trust me. I’ve been there. We are the Samaritans of the evangelical world. Unclean. Forever.

    Third, divorce is really, really complicated. Over the years, people pick up baggage that they don’t know how to get rid of. Sometimes that makes it hard if not impossible for them to relate to others – especially those closest to them. It’s not just about a low view of marriage or disobedience to Jesus.

    IMO, missional churches recognize that we’re not here to defend morality but proclaim grace. That’s really all we have to offer. Because divorced people are easily identifiable, we should be careful about publicly using them as an example of what is wrong with the Church.

  6. DaveDV
    DaveDV says:

    Thanks Rick for sharing your perspective. Your experience helps to give value to being a people of GRACE.

    It’s not necessary for me to site specific issues like divorce to make the point that going to church often has had little impact on people’s lives.

    And of course, I praise God for lives that have been changed through meaningful worship experiences and the power of God’s Word that is being preached.

  7. Rick Dugan
    Rick Dugan says:

    Thanks, Dave. I remember sitting with a small group of about 25 pastors and listening as the speaker talked (with anger and disgust) about the high level of divorce in the church. Everyone – including the speaker – knew that I am divorced. I just wished I could disintegrate into the floor.

    Jesus tells us we are to teach people to obey all that he commanded. He commands us to love one another. Basically, all we need to do is to help people – by faith in Christ – put the welfare of others before their own.

  8. Bob Carder
    Bob Carder says:

    In answer to your last question, you really don’t want to hear my answer.

    All of God’s broken people and those (all of us) ravaged by sin are never forgotten when we are part of the community instead of just doing church. The Church that really is the Church reaches a world that needs a Church. A church that only does church rarely “if ever” becomes the Church that shows the world who Jesus really is where people live, work and play.

    Dave, this is one of those, “You’re hitting on all cylinder posts!”

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