In his talk titled “On the Missional Church” given in London late 2008, Mark Driscoll said:
The longer you wait to go to multiple services the more painful it will be because everyone will define the church by the number of people who can get together in one room at one time. You do not define the church by the number of people you can get together in one room at one time but by the number of people that are on mission regardless of when they are in the room and if they are ever in a room together. They may gather in different services, you could call them meetings.
I have a couple of thoughts on this.
- I don’t think I’d like to preach the same sermon twice back to back, let alone several times in one day. I realize I speak from inexperience and naive perception, but I think it would feel artificial to stir up a powerful emotion in the second preaching occasion that was spontaneously there in the first service. Now I don’t think one has to preach them all the same, but I just don’t think I’d like preaching the same sermon several times in one day/weekend. This is not an argument against multiple services, just my personal preference explicitly stated.
- I agree with Driscoll in not defining the church by the group of people at the “main meeting”of the church. First of all not all members of the church are there at the meeting who are still part of the “church.” Second of all a church is defined by regenerate people covenanted together to love one another and make disciples (which includes preaching, sacraments, evangelism, teaching, edification, service, leaders, etc.). I do get a bit nervous when we define the church by the Sunday morning gathering. Thirdly, there are people there at the gathering who are not regenerate (nor affirmed to be by the church) and are not members. They are not part of the church though they are part of the assembly (those assembled) and the congregation (those congregating) that particular morning.
- That being said, it is interesting and significant that the word “ekklesia” which is translated “church” is used for the assembly, those gathered at a particular place together. This point leans toward a single service/gathering.
- Practically speaking, I don’t think “tell it to the church” on the 3rd step of the discipline process means telling only those who made it to the particular gathering when it was told publicly. This seems to point to a definition the church beyond the Sunday gathering.
- Mark Dever defines the church: “The church is that collection of people who are hearing the Word of God, responding to it with their lives, and who have obeyed Jesus specific commands to be baptized and proclaim his death in the Lord’s Supper.” That collection of people seems to be those who hear, believe, and obey Christ (including the sacraments).
- Where I’m at now: I think that the gathered assembly is an important factor in thinking about one church service vs. multiple services. I do think however that a Baptist definition of a local church does not finally turn on whatever group is there for a single meeting but on a group who is covenanted together to love one another (which includes accountability and edification) and evangelize (preach and explain the gospel). I think the 9Marks school of thought might say it’s both, whereas at this point I think (I’m not sure!) that it turns on the latter and the former is a factor to seriously consider in deciding on multiple services.
- I think Driscoll’s definition here of a church as the number of people on mission is easily misunderstood. But I think I’d agree with him if he means what I said in #6 about who the group is. Driscoll has a fuller definition of the church here.
- I think just planting another autonomous church at a different time meeting in the same building is something to consider.