“Where’s your building? Do you have an AWANA program?”
In one day, it became much easier to explain what Charlotte Awake does. Today, these were no longer the questions on people’s tongues. Now, suddenly, a new question elbows itself to the front of the concerns line: “Do you know how to be the church if we can’t meet in our building?”
On Sunday, March 15, 2020, churches in Charlotte closed, not because of inclement weather, or some nefarious doomsday government plot, or sinister terrorist attack on American soil, but by an unseen viral villain poised to invade our nation and infect us in apocalyptic proportions. Overstatement? Yes. Probably. But the threat was enough to close churches.
We have not experienced such global pandemics in our lifetimes (unless you remember 1918). Nor has the planet faced such worldwide pandemic since becoming globalized. Every one of us is now interconnected in an often unseen and complex matrix of relationships— endless networks of networks— as we jet across the globe in tubular Petrie dishes where we breathe each other’s air and catch each other’s sicknesses. The comforting myth of the independent and heroic individual is gone. The cold reality is that we not only catch the flu from others, but a well-placed cough or sneeze can interrupt the supply chains of industries across the world, causing financial markets to wretch.
But the kingdom of God does not close. Church doesn’t go away when we don’t attend the corporate gathering. God’s kingdom still welcomes disciples and sets captives free. We never close, and we don’t do spiritual take-out. So, if we cannot gather in large groups within our buildings, what are we to do? People question: “Why don’t we gather in smaller groups and be the organic church we preach about?” It’s the smart thing to do.
Coronavirus raindrops are falling, and the church finds itself looking for the nearest Ark to float above the Flood to continue the Lord’s kingdom purpose to make disciples no matter how deep the crisis or how high the waves of adversity.
It’s raining, and Charlotte Awake makes more sense. We’ve been building such an Ark to help the church be the church even without the buildings so we can thrive on the open ocean of globalization. When the crises are large enough, when the storms rage, we need a ship, not a building.
WHAT DO YOU PEOPLE DO?
What does Charlotte Awake do? We help the church continue its mission of making disciples in small and organically-rich environments that make disciples who make disciples and believing communities that multiply.
It’s not an issue of “big church” or “small church” worship. It’s not that “big church” or “small church” is wrong or ineffective. Instead, it’s an issue of making disciples one at a time in small enough environments to allow the “human element” to flourish regardless of the external storms or even persecution.
Relationships are key. The Body of Christ builds itself up in love through the complementary functioning of all its members (Ephesians 4:16). There are no economies of scale for mass-producing disciples because no two humans’ spiritual part numbers are the same. Every individual is unique, and the size of the group is directly proportional to the intimacy necessary to make and model disciples. Deep relationships form in small groups, not large worship services. Each venue has its place. Though we can worship God in any sized setting, the best place to grow disciples is where we can tell the color of another’s eyes.
At Charlotte Awake, we use a catchy conversation starter to explain what we do: “We multiply disciples by decluttering church— one heart at a time.”
“Decluttering church” needs further explanation. It means removing all the barriers that prevent people from knowing, following, and obeying Jesus. Through the years, the church, like a familiar home, can become cluttered with practices and traditions that might matter, but that can keep us from recognizing when Jesus Himself is outside knocking on the door to come in (Revelation 3:20).
We’re certainly not trying to gut the church or strip away 2,000 years of its history. What we are doing is helping the church restore the smaller environments in homes or public places where people can know each other, pray for each other, grow together, and invite others to know Jesus by seeing His love on display in His church.
It’s not rocket science, but sadly, in our highly technological, globalized world, we tend to make church rocket science. Rather than equipping our people to “go,” we ask the world to “come” to our services, concerts, and events because economies of scale allow us to be bigger, better, and grander— the bodacious cultural language of our country.
It’s no wonder that Americans “do church” with the same methods that we do everything from sporting events to sneakers. In America, bigger is always better. But when it comes to making disciples, even if we meet big, we must still handcraft disciples one heart at a time. There are no substitutes for intimate, vital communities of believers to make disciples who make disciples.
Charlotte Awake helps “declutter church” by training disciples to make other disciples in small, intimate gatherings just like they did in the early organic church. Our mission is to help the church prepare for and adjust to a coming cataclysmic flood of change. It’s a simple mission, but challenging— until coronavirus raindrops began to fall from the sky last weekend.
Authored by Dr. David F. Ingrassia, Pastor at Charlotte Awake