Friday, August 12, 2005

The Alt Church - Who/What Is It, and What Does It Mean?

A thought provoking article showed up in the local paper recently concerning the growing trend of people leaving the traditional church experience for their own, home-grown and individual churching. The article is titled “The Road Less Traveled” and discusses what is sometimes called the “Alt Church.” It may be described in this way:

Some Christians are forsaking familiar churches and cobbling together their own mix-and-match path to God. They worship on mountaintops and laptops, in business suits and tank tops. Most often, they worship in small, tightly knit groups and can be found across Colorado Springs any day of the week.

These Christians would say they’re not so much “unchurched” as “alternativechurched.” They don’t think they need trained clergy or large congregations to find the face of God: All they need is desire and faith. George Barna, evangelical Christianity’s most respected researcher, says these alt-churched Christians will change Christianity forever — and force some churches out of business.

My knee-jerk reaction when this kind of issue is raised is to categorize the personalized Christian as someone who is simply lazy and too disgruntled to be happy anywhere but inside their own head. But the stats and information conveyed through the article put a different perspective on it for me. Here are a few excerpts:

Others are radically spiritual. Barna’s research organization, the California-based Barna Group, suggests that many of these alt-churched Christians pray more, give more money to charity and know their Bible better than their church-attending counterparts.

And again:

“These are what we would classify as the most spiritually minded and spiritually passionate people around,” said Thom Black, Barna’s partner.

So this is not your “Creaster” crowd suddenly becoming statistically significant. They appear to be sincere and spiritually active Christians who have simply decided to detach themselves from the body of Christ to one degree or another. And lest you think this is a dwindling trend, Barna has done some pretty extensive research, is publishing a book on the subject, and has some interesting things to project.

Barna suggests this group, which he calls “revolutionaries,” will experience staggering growth. Although about 70 percent of American Christians saw the church as their “primary means of spiritual experience and expression” in 2000, Barna estimates that number will drop to as low as 30 percent by 2025. Another 30 to 35 percent will find a spiritual home in smaller faith-based communities such as house churches; still another 30 to 35 percent will get spiritual nourishment from Christian books, movies and concerts.

One prescient pastor was quoted:

“When the home-schooling movement was gathering steam, I used to joke that the next step toward Christian isolationism was to home church ourselves,” said Ed Rowell of Tri-Lakes Chapel. “I’m not joking anymore.”

I like that thought in this context-a worry about “Christian isolationism.” Most of us evangelicals hail from an ecclesiastical tradition in which the primary reaction to dislike of our surroundings is to circle the wagons-we cut ourselves off from the culture at large.

The same pastor went on to say:

“Evangelism has so stressed the individual aspect of salvation that we have become neglectful of the communal aspect of what the Bible calls sanctification, or spiritual maturity,” Rowell said. “We’ve changed from a ‘we’ theology to a ‘me’ theology. Being a follower of Christ is personal, but it is not private.”

I am going to write up some thoughts on this, but I would love your input. Are you an Alt Churcher? Do you have the drive to disassociate yourself from the church community? If so, what considerations brought you to this point?


Eric "the" Lind said...

I imagine that a member of the Catholic or Orthodox churches would say that this is a trend that has been occuring for 500 or 1000 years. The Protestant movement was, in effect, if not initial intent, a move away from a massively centralized church towards a far more personalized and de-centralized one. How many Protestant denominations exist in the world, all with different takes on theology, liturgy, worship, etc.?

That being said, I think the alt-church is missing a fundamental element of Christianity - fellowship. Acts 2:42-47 describes the earliest church this way:

42They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

If we truly want to get back in touch with the original way of being Christians, then we must have fellowship with other believers. It doesn't have to be incense and Latin, but I'm pretty sure it needs to be more than an "e-church" or communing with God on a hike.

Tim Van Tongeren said...

How does this idea relate to small groups?

jorn52ofdf said...
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Amanda Mc said...

The alt-church has everything to do with small groups. How much more authentic can true worship be when people gather together in intimate settings to worship God in their own unique way? What is so negative about authentic worship in a corporate setting, even if its small? The early Church was just that.

This is what scares me...

"George Barna, evangelical Christianity’s most respected researcher, says these alt-churched Christians will change Christianity forever — and force some churches out of business."


I hope this movement does change Christianity forever. Churches shouldn't be in "business" in the first place. Isn't that what the Reformation was all about ; ).

Perhaps the alt-churched have it right. All I know is that I can't wait to see what God truly intended the Church to be. I have a feeling we are way off.

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