"Isn't the church irrelevant?"
In a culture that is becoming increasingly secular in nature, this is a sentiment of many people. So, how should we respond when we hear it expressed out loud?
I’d begin where the secular thinker begins — with the idea that religion is irrelevant until there’s a crisis. We could call this the 9/11 effect when the entire country saw an increase of interest in religion for a short period after the crisis of 9/11.
The LA Times just ran an article about a recent school shooting, but the article focused on how local churches and places of faith became the instantaneous central meeting points for those touched by the crisis. The journalist behind the article, Sandy Banks, wrote, “I was struck, watching coverage of the shooting’s aftermath last week, by how many Saugus students referenced 'God' and 'prayer' in their interviews. It didn’t come off like a 'thoughts and prayers' cliché; more like a spontaneous expression of confidence in God.”
From a secular standpoint, the church is relevant because where else in culture can you find a group of people who are willing to show up on a moments notice to do what needs to be done? We only have to remember the devastation of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina to recall that Christians showed up in droves to help. Things like that only happen because churches are organized groups of people who are following Jesus, which is also an apologetic for people who don't like organized religion. If we (the church) weren't organized we couldn't get things done.
This coming Sunday, our own church begins the annual Angel Tree campaign where we buy Christmas gifts for children on behalf of their incarcerated parents. This is a national campaign involving churches all over the country. That would be impossible without the organized church.
Now, for the Christian this should display for us the biblical understanding of the church, which is a body (like a group representation of Jesus Himself) that brings salt and light to those around them -- the community. Yes, we should be doing this individually in our lives, but we're missing the point if we don't understand the greater impact we have together.
This is why local churches are not only relevant, but vital to communities.