Portable Church

By Lori McDaniel

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 boy next to him 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 9-year-old 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 5 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 an 8 ft trailer with audio equipment. We unfolded pack- n’ plays used for baby beds in a narrow elementary hallway. No special lighting. No stages. It was raw and creatively simple.

Our make-shift-church-in-a-trailer was labor intensive, but the labor was never 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 in as he said, “What the hell, I figure I’m dressed for church in a school.” We made friends with a homosexual man who brought his partner to church because 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 was also scared. The statistic that 2 out of 3 start up churches failed, rang in my mind. Would we fail?

It was 11 years ago this month that we started a church. We didn’t make any fastest-growing-new-start-up-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 we were in our own building, felt good. No set up!

Unexpectedly, though, it felt strange. For 5 years we didn’t arrive at church, we arrived 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 you’re 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, breath in, and open your eyes to see what God is creatively doing through you.

Published January 1, 2012

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Lori McDaniel

Lori and her husband, Mike McDaniel, and their 3 children were missionaries in Africa before returning to plant Grace Point Church in Bentonville, AR where Mike is Lead Pastor. Lori serves as a Global Mission Catalyst with the IMB, mobilizing churches and leading women to participate in God’s global mission. Lori shares how everyday life can be a life on mission at lorimcdaniel.org.