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Can believers worship anywhere — even in places that aren’t churches?

Weekly Q&A

Can believers worship anywhere — even in places that aren’t churches?
Posted on June 18, 2019  - By Dr. Scott Shiffer

I belong to the Brethren denomination; as we are a very small community in numbers, so are our churches. We typically don’t own/build a church for ourselves. We rent it out. I have, therefore, seen our churches at business office buildings, hotel conference rooms, as well as in specific church buildings/areas. My question is: can believers gather to worship God anywhere — that is, even in places that aren’t designated churches? If yes, what is to stop us from renting out Seventh Day Adventist churches, Hindu temples or mosques for our worship services, given that in the Bible, there is no record of Jesus ever breaking bread or worshipping at pagan or Roman temples?

The church is made up of all believers, past, present and future. In the earliest days of the New Testament church, groups often met in homes. Typically, the homes belonged to wealthier members of the congregation. Those members usually had a larger courtyard that would accommodate more people, so it made sense to meet at those houses. It is important to note that some of these “house churches” had several hundred members. By the second century, we know that specific buildings were being constructed for churches.

There are believers in some places, even to this day, who cannot afford or are not allowed to have actual church buildings. These believers must meet in non-designated churches.

In America, many small churches of various denominations meet in schools, coffee shops, office buildings, and even movie theatres. I believe that Scripture clearly teaches that the church is made up of people (Acts 20:28, 1 Corinthians 10:32) and that any time they gather together for the purpose of public worship that God accepts that worship, regardless of the physical location (Matthew 18:20). This is also true outside of America where people gather together at non-designated churches. God is more concerned with the inclination of our hearts than the physical buildings in which we meet.

Churches often like to build buildings because that allows them to design a space that is conducive to worship. The structure is intended to help people prepare to meet with one another in fellowship in worship, praise, and discipleship. So, regardless of where a group meets, the worship should be conducted in a manner that cultivates an attitude of worship.

While God is more concerned with our hearts than the buildings in which we meet, churches should choose places that will not be a stumbling block to members of their community

Christian liberty with a caveat

I think another question of relevance here is, “Are there any places where churches should not meet?”

In the New Testament, Paul talks about having the ability to eat meat sacrificed to idols but warns that knowingly eating meat sacrificed in honour of a false god might cause some Christians to stumble and might weigh on a person’s conscience.

In the same way, worshipping in a place where other religions meet together for worship or meeting in a place known for embracing sinful practices could become a stumbling block to some Christians. While we believe that worship of a false god has no real power, knowing what goes on in those kinds of worship services may cause concern amongst some church members.

For this reason, it is recommended that churches choose to meet in places where members of the community will not likely struggle with reconciling the church’s time in a building with other events that regularly transpire in the same building while the church is not occupying the space.

If your church rents a building, uses a school, hotel conference room, theatre, coffee shop, etc., keep in mind the importance of drawing people into worship while you are together. If you meet in a traditional church building, your concern should be the same.

Regardless of your location, the time should be spent providing spiritual nourishment, discipleship, and corporate worship.

Dr. Scott Shiffer

About Dr. Scott Shiffer

Dr. Scott Shiffer has a Ph.D. in Christian Theology from the B.H. Carroll Theological Institute and has been teaching religion classes since 2006. He leads Faith and Culture Now, an organization to help believers think biblically about culture in America. Scott has given numerous presentations, including one at Oxford. He has spoken at church retreats, youth retreats, conferences, and has taught discipleship classes for many years. Scott is married and has four children. He has a heart for helping believers draw closer to God and for aiding them as they are faced with new challenges every day.



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