Attend and congregate—here are two simple verbs that are often used to describe what the church is or what one does in relation to church. Is the church a place we go to or something we are a part of?
Do you go to (attend) church or does your church gather (congregate) regularly at a particular place and time?
Now before you dismiss this post as splitting of hairs, stick with me a minute or two. I think the difference is more than semantics. The difference between the church as people or place is crucial.
If the church is a place that one attends, then how we get people to come to it becomes a real question. It deals with marketing and consumption. We want to give our attendees a great experience, a good product, so that they will become faithful customers/attenders. Is this not what we are all about in the church these days--attracting customers? Loyal customers who stay with us year after year. Even more so, we want customers who will become salespeople, like your classic pyramid scheme. This is just one of the many pitfalls of redefining church as a place we attend.
Now, if the church is a congregation that we are a part of, then it would make sense that we should gather periodically. We need to gather to refresh our relationships with one another. Just like families gather; we gather not to become family, but to stay current, to stay in touch and enjoy each other’s company. But the church is more than a family. We are the body of Christ. This means we share in his vision and mission. So we also need to gather to discuss how to work together in that mission and to celebrate the reason we are one in the first place. This is often called worship. We gather to sing, shout, rejoice, and learn so that we can represent him better and better within our spheres of influence.
So what does this have to do with diversity? Well, if church is something we attend, then it really doesn’t matter where we attend. We can pick the consumer experience that best caters to our own personal likes and needs. This view of the church results in a segregated church.
If on the other hand, the church is something supernatural that we belong to by the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives, then I don’t get to choose who I congregate with. The reasons "I am in Chris"t should dominate the choices I make in who I congregate with- namely, to represent him well in the world as his body extended to each other and our community. This view of the church drives us towards diversity.