By Rick Chromey
I love the church. I love going to church. I love hanging around church people. I love experiencing church stuff—from camps to conferences to cantatas. I love that I grew up in church within earshot of the saints and under the watchful eyes of the “brethren,” many of them little old ladies with blue hair, quaint dresses, and perfect attendance pins. I love the smell of a hardwood pew, the taste of church coffee, and the sound of steeple bells. I can still sing the first and last stanza of many hymns, including favorites like “Revive Us Again,” “Love Lifted Me,” and “When We All Get to Heaven.”
If the church doors were open, my grandparents were there (with me in tow). Sunday morning. Sunday night. Wednesday night. My church used to hold an annual revival to inspire faith in both the unconverted and believer. I never missed a service, nor a Bible study, special event, or “singspiration.” I learned the lingo, absorbed traditions, discovered church politics, participated in conversations, and embraced the faith. It’s no wonder my preachers became mentors. Many still are.
I grew up in a Restoration Movement church that taught and modeled biblical Christianity. My church wasn’t like many of today’s churches. Outside of Vacation Bible School, church camp, and Sunday school, we had no children’s ministry. The youth group met in private homes. Baptisms were reserved for older kids (12-plus) and no one took Communion without baptism.
Every first Sunday we lingered after church for a fellowship dinner boasting casseroles, breads, soups, and desserts whose memory still makes my mouth water. Then we played, chatted, debated, and learned the rest of the afternoon. Many even stayed until evening services reconvened.
Our preacher was the only paid employee. All other “staff” positions—Sunday school superintendent, secretary, janitor, and youth leader—were volunteer.
Children and youth were highly involved and actively leading. I washed Communion cups as a preschooler. I passed offering trays as a child. I led worship, preached in nursing homes, designed the church newsletter, and took Communion to shut-ins in adolescence. It’s no wonder I gravitated toward the pastorate.
My church didn’t need a youth minister, because we excelled in making ministers of the youth. We weren’t segregated. We weren’t overlooked. The best teachers taught us.
I grew up in a small church in a small town in a small state (Lewistown, Montana). Youth group activities were fellowship-driven: fifth quarters, secret destinations, lock-ins, and campouts. Youth ministry happened in homes.
I learned early, through my church experience, that numbers don’t matter. What matters is people, and you never count people as much as make people count. Everyone could participate. Sing a special song. Give a testimony. Paint a picture. Share an announcement. Play an instrument. We all had a place and space.
I also love the church because my church loved me. And I was hardly a lovable kid. My troubled childhood produced an angry, bitter, mean, and hurtful soul. But I wasn’t alone. My junior boys class once covenanted to force our teachers to quit and proved, sadly, quite successful. A series of teachers tried (and failed) to handle us.
Then the new preacher’s wife (Donna) took the challenge. But she refused to leave, despite the pain we inflicted or trouble we caused. One day I asked Donna why she stayed. She just pointed to the cross and said, “because Jesus didn’t quit on me and I’m not quitting on you.” Suddenly everything changed. Donna was Jesus incarnate for this troubled kid, and she loved me without condition, shame, blame, or gimmick.
Today, as the director of leadership for a major missionary training organization, I’m privileged to experience worship all over the world. I’ve particularly been drawn to the African church for its focus on community, ritual, metaphor, and sacrifice.
In Tanzania, for example, the church expects everyone to give. Every person has something to present, so the offering becomes an active experience (like a dance) where everyone “offers” something: money, fruit, tools, even animals. After the service, the nonmonetary items are auctioned, and the proceeds fund members who need special financial assistance.
We Need a Reboot
American church statistics reveal stagnation and decline. Many churches today, including once influential bodies, now struggle to attract, engage, and disciple postmodern generations (currently anyone under 55 years old). Some futurists see dark days ahead for U.S. congregations, but I don’t. We just need to reboot our original DNA.
The modern church is culturally defined by “space and time” (we “go” to church on Sunday mornings). In stark contrast, the early church gathered every day—sometimes every hour—along roads, from morning to midnight. The DNA of the early church was also clear. They gathered to learn the apostle’s doctrine, pray, fellowship, and participate in the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:42). This is the blueprint for biblical gatherings. Interactive. Experiential. Participation. Prayerful. Disciple-focused. Communal. Insightful. Spiritual.
I love the church because no matter how culture changes or history moves or life happens, the blueprint doesn’t. The culture, times, media, and political forces may evolve, but Jesus doesn’t. As long as we keep the original DNA (Acts 2:42) in view, the church will always be alive and well on planet earth!
Rick Chromey serves as director of leadership and online training programs for KidZ At Heart, International, in Mesa, Arizona. He has empowered children’s ministry leaders to lead, teachers to teach, and trainers to train for more than three decades. His website is www.rickchromey.com.