Cranach has linked to a very interesting article in “Modern Reformation” about “home churches.” He includes the following excerpt:

In a fairly recent study, Willow Creek-a pioneer megachurch-discovered that its most active and mature members are the most likely to be dissatisfied with their own personal growth and the level of teaching and worship that they are receiving. From this, the leadership concluded that as people mature in their faith, they need the church less. After all, the main purpose of the church is to provide a platform for ministry and service opportunities to individuals rather than a means of grace. As people grow, therefore, they need the church less. We need to help believers to become “self-feeders,” the study concluded.

How far can this trajectory take us? Evangelical marketer George Barna gives us a good indication. Like the recent Willow Creek study, Barna concludes that what individual believers do on their own is more important than what the church does for them. Barna, however, takes Finney’s legacy to the next logical step. A leading marketing consultant to megachurches as well as the Disney Corporation, he has recently gone so far as to suggest that the days of the institutional church are over. Barna celebrates a rising demographic of what he calls “Revolutionaries”-”millions of believers” who “have moved beyond the established church and chosen to be the church instead.” Since “being the church” is a matter of individual choice and effort, all people need are resources for their own work of personal and social transformation. “Based on our research,” Barna relates, “I have projected that by the year 2010, 10 to 20 percent of Americans will derive all their spiritual input (and output) through the Internet.” Who needs the church when you have an iPod? Like any service provider, the church needs to figure out what business it’s in, says Barna:

“Ours is not the business of organized religion, corporate worship, or Bible teaching. If we dedicate ourselves to such a business we will be left by the wayside as the culture moves forward. Those are fragments of a larger purpose to which we have been called by God’s Word. We are in the business of life transformation.”

Of course, Barna does not believe that Christians should abandon all religious practices, but the only ones he still thinks are essential are those that can be done by individuals in private, or at most in families or informal public gatherings. But by eliminating the public means of grace, Barna (like Willow Creek) directs us away from God’s lavish feast to a self-serve buffet.

Wow! There was certainly a time when Christians had to gather in small groups, inside their homes for private services. This came out of necessity because public worship had been banned. This came in a time when confessing Christ as Lord meant you were likely to end up on a burning cross in a Roman-constructed arena.

Now, apparently Christians don’t want to be bothered with all the hassles that come with public worship. We just want to be left alone to do it ourselves . . . and eventually to die by ourselves . . . for all eternity.

This passage was also revealing:

“In just a few years,” Barna predicts, “we will see that millions of people will never travel physically to a church, but will instead roam the Internet in search of meaningful spiritual experiences.” (7) After all, he adds, the heart of Jesus’ ministry was “the development of people’s character.” (8) “If we rise to the challenge,” says Barna, America will witness a “moral resurgence,” new leadership, and the Christian message “will regain respect” in our culture. (9) Intimate worship, says Barna, does “not require a ‘worship service,'” just a personal commitment to the Bible, prayer, and discipleship. (10) His book concludes with the warning of the last judgment: “What report of your commitment to practical, holy, life-transforming service will you be able to give Him?” (11) The Revolutionaries have found that in order to pursue an authentic faith they had to abandon the church. (12)

“Roaming the internet in search of meaningful spiritual experiences.” I have no doubt that what Barna predicts will come to pass. But, “roaming the internet” will not be able to replace Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, or the Word. Of course, if you think the heart of Christ ministry was “development of people’s character,”I guess you would think this sort of Church of Self sounds great.