As the darkened stage gave way to flashing lights and rousing music, the worship band emerged, urging the congregation to stand up to worship Jesus.
People rose to their feet, clapping and dancing along with the band. I stood among the worshippers, my hands lifted in the air. Ensconced inside a state-of-the-art auditorium equipped with advanced surround sound to absorb any outside noises, and music pulsating from the stage, I was immersed. By the time the auditorium lights dimmed, I felt like I had entered a sacred space.
My family and I had been attending this church for 17 years, watching its metamorphosis from a medium-sized church to the megachurch it is now, with various campuses operating locally and internationally.
I love the church’s modern building, complete with a trendy cafe serving barista-made coffee before and after services, and immaculately dressed volunteers welcoming guests with big smiles as they file past the church doors.
For the longest time, I was convinced modern megachurches were the best way to do church. Even more than electrifying Sunday praise music, delicious coffee and warm greetings, a large church meant that there was a large pool of volunteers to rely on to carry out community work. It meant there were also financial resources to host Christian conferences headed by renowned speakers, drawing in large crowds to hear the gospel and inviting staggering numbers of people to salvation.
Furthermore, I thought the church’s modern amenities was a great way to dissolve the stereotype non-Christians held about church life—that it was about kneeling at cold, hard pews, clutching onto weather-beaten Bibles and hymnals, and people mostly over the age of 60 holding narrow, outdated views on life.I did not know it then, but I had subconsciously formed a specific view of how a church should feel and operate, and it would become an unhealthy standard I would hold other churches to.
Why Was I Attending Church?
A number of years ago, I moved to a smaller town for a job opportunity. Faced with limited options, I had no choice but to attend a small church that was close to my flat. The church had a modest band, and the worship was not accompanied by the throbbing lights I had grown accustomed to.
I remember feeling rather disillusioned when I discovered I was one of the youngest among the churchgoers. Refreshments after the service were instant coffee served in brown Pyrex mugs, and supermarket-variety biscuits laid out on a large white plate. The stark contrast between the refreshments available at my previous church and the current one was enough to make me yearn for the sophisticated, polished ways of my home church.
Before long, my attendance took a plunge as I was not motivated to attend church. Aside from the small music team, sermons, and refreshments, the town I had moved to was a strong farming community. Coming from a megachurch in a big city, I felt unable to connect with the other church attendees who were used to the rural life.
I did attend church occasionally, but most of the time, I stayed home and streamed videos of my favorite pastors. I missed my old church but due to work commitments, it was another two years before I made it back.
When I finally did make it back to my home church, it had grown even more over the time I was away, and as I was no longer serving in church, I had lost touch with the majority of the people. Very soon, I blended in with the furnishings; I was unseen and unheard, and it didn’t take me long to realize I felt invisible within the church.
The warm, welcoming ushers I had once loved felt a little practiced—smiles were too bright, handshakes too formal. Hanging around the bustling cafe with barista-made coffee after service is fine—if you have people to hang out with.
This little episode made me ponder on my real reason for attending church. Was I just looking to my weekly fix of coffee, bright lights, and thumping music? I have found experiences to be fleeting, where I would feel great during worship, but once the lights fade and the band packs up, I didn’t have anything concrete to hold on to get me through life’s difficulties. I wanted something more than an electrifying Sunday worship.
What Church Is Really All About
I’ve come to believe that God does not favor a church with a shiny auditorium more than He does a smaller church with its humble facilities.
The main purpose of church is for worshippers to gather and learn more about God, and to encourage one another. Acts 2:42 records that the early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).
In light of that verse, I reconsidered the small church I had reluctantly been a part of for the previous two years, and I realized that I had been discontented because I was superficially comparing it to larger churches. God brought to mind the times He was present at the Sunday lunches in the pastor’s home, and the evening visits with the pastor’s wife. I even remembered my cell group in a new light. At one meeting in particular, I found myself in tears, stressed from the pressures I faced at work. During these hard times, I didn’t need a posh building to find God, or His people. Because God is not found in a grand structure—but wherever worshippers gather.
After yet another move for work, a friend recently invited me to his church, and it’s a medium-sized one, with its service held out of a school hall. In the past, I would have immediately compared it to my old church. But this time, I appreciated the service for what it was, with its down-to-earth pastors and attendees who hung around after church to enjoy fellowship over lunch.
The difference this time was that I had come with a desire to genuinely worship God, with or without the flashy stage and the posh environment. I wanted to foster a strong relationship with church members. And on top of it all, I wanted to grow spiritually as a Christian. In the past, I was feeding off feel-good sermons, and I was coasting on relationships built on a veneer of polite smiles and hugs. But I wanted more than just a grand auditorium, an impressive band, and a host of well-dressed ushers.
I have come to look at a church based on healthier standards such as: are the pastors living up to God’s Word? Are their teachings biblically-sound? Are the sermons in line with Scripture? Importantly, are the sermons more than just a feel-good Sunday message—do they encourage me to grow and develop to be a mature Christian? What are the church’s small groups like? How is the church serving their community?
I know it can very easy to judge a church based on its building. For example, a big beautiful church could be seen as a healthy, growing one, and a church worshipping out of a rented community hall could be mistaken as a church that isn’t flourishing. But for me, I have learned to take a step back and think, if a church is to be stripped of all its furnishings, will their core still shine for God?
Focusing on trivial matters such as the auditoriums and the refreshments robbed me of the joy of truly seeking God, and helped me realize that I was in many ways, idolizing the lifestyle the church offered, when I should be putting God at the center of it. But thankfully, God has taught me to see that no matter the size of a church, what matters most is that a church is focused on Him and His teachings.
And that’s what church is really all about.