March 4, 2005 Volume 18, Number 24
Church sets challenge for involvement
Purge Sundays" aim to send non-committed elsewhere
By Patricia Paddey | Ontario Correspondent
OAKVILLE, ONThe Meeting House, a Brethren In Christ multi-site congregation that calls itself a "church for people who aren't into church," regularly invites those who don't want to make a demonstrable commitment to their church to "get out."
Known to church staff by the tongue-in-cheek label "purge Sundays," the invitation "to get in or get out" is viewed as a mechanism to address "Christian tourism."
Teaching pastor Bruxy Cavey admits "purge Sundays" were his idea. "Evangelical Christians can be a trendy bunch, always looking for the good deal and where the action is," he explains. "The more we have grown as a church, the more we have attracted tourists who come to check us out and will attend for some time, but never consider The Meeting House their home church. We don't think that's healthy for themto be a voyeur on church life, rather than a healthy, active, committed participant in church life.
"So we started to ask them to leave."
Started in 1986, The Meeting House began to experience rapid growth in 1998. Development pastor Rich Birch told ChristianWeek last fall that thousands of new people visit the church each year. Birch said at the time that over half of the congregation of 2,000 (spread over four sites) was made up of people who had not yet committed themselves to Christ, or who had done so only within the last two years.
Since Cavey arrived in 1996, "purge Sundays" have been held once or twice a year, devoting the teaching time to challenging people to turn from being church "consumers" to being "contributors." A typical purge sermon (or mini-series of two to three sermons) walks listeners through the biblical basis of what normative Christian life in community should look like.
Then people are asked to make a choiceto get fully committed to being integrated into normal church lifeor to find another church where they'll be able to do that.
Cavey says that just showing up on Sunday morning "is anything but integrated." Rather, being integrated at The Meeting House means being committed to a fellowship of Christians through a home church or cell group, through which individuals can practically live out and exercise the teachings they are learning on Sunday.
"We don't consider anyone attending The Meeting House if they're not attending [a] home church," Cavey says, adding, "that's our fundamental DNA. It's our non-negotiable."
But there's more. People are expected to demonstrate their commitment to being Christ-followers through volunteer service, and to the church through being a part of helping to make the church vision happen.
"We encourage them not to come back to The Meeting House if they're going to continue to be a passive observer," says Cavey.
There are exceptions, however. If someone is spiritually seeking, and as of yet uncommitted in their decision as to whether they want to follow Jesus, then they are invited to sit back, listen, ask their questions and learn.
"Christians especially have a hard time getting it," says Cavey. "There's definitely a negative correlation between the longer someone has attended church, the harder it is for them to believe we actually mean it."
"We'll have people come up afterwards and say, 'If you keep talking like that, I just might not show up.' And we'll say, 'Well, that's the point. We really believe this.'"
Staff at The Meeting House insist they're simply addressing the same hypocrisy factor that Jesus addressed, where people are not living out the teachings of Jesus in community, but prefer to be spiritually entertained.
"Purge Sundays" can be seen as a logical extension of The Meeting House Manifesto, a 43-page document available in hard copy at the church itself and on the church website (www.themeetinghouse.ca). The Manifesto, says Cavey, is a short form way of helping people understand the church's reason for being. It clearly states there are two categories of people the church hopes will not regularly participate in their community: those who attend with no real commitment to act on truth, and those attending two church communities at the same time.
When asked, Cavey admits he might play a part in The Meeting House being a "tourist attraction," and says his long-haired, blue jean-clad persona is likely "a piece of the puzzle" of what makes his church attractive to curiosity seekers. "I think people come to The Meeting House for all the wrong reasons," he says. "And that's okay.
"Our job is to help them stay for the right reasons."