We’ve all heard the alarms: an entire generation of “nones” and “dones” have supposedly left the church. There are good reasons for this exodus. The church is full of problems, now on display for all to see online. Everywhere we click, there’s another op-ed telling us how church has failed, how church leaders have lost touch with their congregants, and how technology and parachurch ministries will finally free us from the physical confines of our gathering places and the dysfunctions of our mismatched families.
I get where they’re coming from. Growing up in youth group, I was isolated from anyone not my own age. I grew so used to church being tailor-made for my tastes that when I started going to a Christian college, I couldn’t abide the worship service of any church I set foot in. Even after college, things got tougher as I experienced my share of heartbreak at the hands of those who were supposed to shepherd my soul. I was ostracized, fired, and overlooked—all in the local church context. And in every case, it was brutally difficult to stay. I was ready to give up on the local church.
But Jesus didn’t give up on me. Over time, I developed a love for the church not out of my desire to be better, but out of my need. Even when church people failed me, other pastors, elders, deacons, and fellow congregants reminded me through their words, actions, and presence that Jesus was near. My local church was not merely a responsibility; it was where Jesus lived. It was home.
When Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it,” he isn’t confirming individual value so much as he is drawing us to recognize our collective reality. Rather than giving his readers permission to pursue lives of rugged individualism, Paul calls them readers to actively embrace one another—not philosophically, or through enlightened editorials, but through concrete actions. Like presence. Like dinner. Like handshakes and hugs. Like awkward conversations over a cup of stale foyer coffee.
If these actions seem mundanely human, it’s because the church is made of human beings, foibles and all. In the early church (as documented in Acts and the Epistles), we see that humanity play out in scenes of dischord. Jesus knew that those who made up his body would be flawed characters on an unstable stage, a shifting world where the scenery would change based on not only the time, but also the place.
The local church, however, is not a man-made institution, subject to destructive critique or periodic reevaluation. In fact, it is one of the few institutions on this earth that transcends market forces or cultural shifts. When the church is challenged, it thrives. When it’s crushed, it multiplies. The local church is not an option for believers to entertain; it’s a home for which we long and to which we unavoidably belong.
There’s no question that the church is imperfect, and not just trivially. Wolves lurk at its doors, and sometimes in its pulpits. We hear the alarms clearly. But beneath, above, and all around them, we also hear the church’s steady hymn.
At Christianity Today, and especially through The Local Church, we want to show you the full picture of church communities; not just their blemish, but also their beauty. We hope to convey their inevitabilities, possibilities, and realities with love and hope for what God is doing for the world through his body.
In every local church community there is comedy and tragedy, companionship and loneliness, conflict and love. On this side of Christ’s return, it will always be so. But God still uses congregations to reach the world, sanctify one another, and work out his divine plan of redemption.
It may not always be easy. Those within Christ’s body may refine us and challenge us, or they may tempt us and even drive us away.
But he always calls us home.