BENTONVILLE (BP) – As I drove by the school our church met in my son said to his friend "That's where our church meets." In protest the friend said "That's not a church that's a school."
Technically he was right. I glanced in the rearview mirror as my son explained in his 9-year-old way "I know it's a school but we use the building for our church to meet in." My son understood a simple truth that many adults forget: The building isn't the church; the people are.
That truth is so real when you are a portable church.
Every Sunday for five years as the sun came up we "set up church." And as most people were eating lunch we were packing it back up into the trailer again.
We wiped dried milk and crumbs out of plastic school cafeteria chairs and arranged them for worship. We unpacked audio equipment from the 8-foot trailer. In a narrow elementary hallway we unfolded pack-n-plays used for baby beds.
No special lighting. No stages. It was raw and creatively simple. Our makeshift church-in-a-trailer was labor-intensive but no labor was ever more fulfilling.
I'll never forget the Sunday morning a guy walked in straight from the woods after hunting. Dressed in camouflage he still had that hunting smell. We welcomed him as he said "I figure I'm dressed for church in a school." We made friends with a homosexual man who brought his partner to church because as he said "I'm not typical and you're not typical either."
For many who had given up on church we were a safe place. Somehow the walls of the school seemed more inviting than the bricks and steeples of a church building. We were reaching people.
As fulfilling as it was I also was scared with the reality of start-up churches that fail ringing in my mind. Would we be next?
Well over a decade ago we started the church. We didn't make any fastest-growing church magazine articles. We didn't hit mega-church status in record time. But we grew. And we are healthy. And we are reproducing ourselves and planting churches around the world.
But I miss the church trailer days.
The first Sunday in our own building felt good. No set up! Unexpectedly though it felt strange. For five years we didn't arrive at church but at a building and the church – the people – came together. We had been a team and a community that broke down barriers for the lost to feel at home. Now that we have a building we work at creatively reminding the people that our church building is just a toolbox and the work is "out there."
So if your church is still living out of a suitcase and setting up every Sunday don't overlook the blessings!
If your kids are young and you're wondering if they are missing "real church" take a look again. They are growing up learning to be the church. Step back breathe in and open your eyes to see what our creative God is doing.
Lori McDaniel (lorimcdaniel.org) serves as church initiatives manager with the International Mission Board mobilizing churches to participate in God's global mission. She and her husband Mike and three children were missionaries in Africa before returning to plant Grace Point Church in Bentonville where Mike is the lead pastor. This column first appeared at Flourish an online community for ministers' wives sponsored by the North American Mission Board.