Church Losing the Institution, Following Jesus

Church is no longer going to be a once-a-week Sunday morning experience, says a megachurch pastor. And gone will be the days when church titles and affiliations matter.

"I think we're in a new era in the Church," said the Rev. Robert A. Schuller, senior pastor of the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif. "And that era is 'denominationless.'"

Already, Americans have come years into waning membership across mainline denominations and an increasing thirst for something less institutional, something closer to a relationship with God and Jesus Christ.

So what's church going to look like in the near future?

"I think the Church is actually going to reflect what Jesus Christ has envisioned the Church being since day one – a body of believers, not necessarily congregated in a specific location, but those who have a sincere faith and a heart and love for Jesus Christ, who are committed to him, and worship God and worship the tri-nature of the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ in unique ways that is yet to be determined," commented Schuller in an interview with The Christian Post.

Schuller leads a mega congregation that is part of the Reformed Church in America. But the church his father, the Rev. Robert H. Schuller, built is anything but traditional in the denomination's sense and communicates across the globe that it's a church to the world, a church literally without walls. The Crystal Cathedral is made of 10,000 windows.

In the past, denominations played a larger role, providing spiritual resources, governance and organization for local churches. That's not necessarily the case anymore, said Schuller. Although denominations still are an important function for churches today, their role is shifting. And Schuller believes denominations will be unifying.

The shift in the role of denominations comes as studies find a lack of denominational loyalty among today's churchgoers. LifeWay Research revealed earlier this year that 54 percent of people who switch churches change denominations.

Younger Americans today are also less prone to follow their parents to church.

"I don't think there's strong allegiance to denomination. And I think that's appropriate and right," Schuller observed. "I think our allegiance needs to be to Jesus Christ. And the denominations are there to serve the body of Jesus Christ."

Mark Batterson, innovative leader and pastor of National Community Church in Washington, also emphasizes the importance of following Jesus over an institution.

"What Jesus was about was inviting people to follow him on a spiritual journey and that's a little different deal," he has said.

A Gallup Poll in June found that Americans have less confidence in organized religion. Only 46 percent said they have a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in church/organized religion which was one percentage short of being the lowest in Gallup's history since 1973.

"I would say that [the drop is] because organized religion is organized and it's religious," Batterson said.

Among teens, many are not as interested in learning the traditions of their faith or listening to religious teachings as much as they are in making a connection with God and seeking a better understanding of what they believe, a recent Barna study showed. Most teens prefer a church that teaches how their faith should influence everyday decisions and lifestyle rather than one that teaches the traditions and background of their faith.

And as churches begin to break institutional walls and increasingly reflect the body of Jesus Christ, Schuller sees the Church becoming a 24-hour experience.

"[Church] is going to be experiential and lived out in daily lives," he stated. "If people ask me 'Where's your church?' I'll often say 'What time of the day is it?' This is a good illustration of my point. So, okay it's 9:00 Wednesday. Elder John is over at his store selling suits. So part of the church is over there. Sister Mary's just getting back from dropping her kids off at school, so that part of the church is over there.

"I can go with every member of the church and say that's where the church is," Schuller said.

"I'm talking about where the church of Jesus Christ is recognized not as an institution, not as a building, but is recognized as the individuals that make up the body of Jesus Christ, living by faith and caring for one another and loving one another," he stressed.