When does a gathering of people become more than a gathering? More specifically, when does a gathered group become a church? And who gets to define what a church should look like? How critical are committees and ordained staff in defining church?
According to scripture, when two or three are gathered Jesus is there. Not one word about a building committee, ordained bishops or youth ministry.
Have we made church too complicated?
At a practical level it makes sense to conduct ourselves decently and in order. It is empowering to have a set of rules. It also helps us to define who can be in and who is out.
The downside to tightly defined rules for what makes a church a church is that it leads to legalism. Jesus, the head of the church, was not known for being a legalist.
When we put the power to decide what makes a church a church in the hands of a committee, it is at best disempowering and at worst discouraging to new creative expressions of church.
Is there a downside to shifting the responsibility of defining church from conference (leadership) to the group requesting membership? I suspect this kind of shift would be empowering and freeing for everyone involved. Instead of having to insure that a procedure was followed, time would be spent listening to stories and figuring out how both sides can come together. Relationship would take precedence over procedure.
Having a more open approach to defining church has the potential to radically reshape denominations. This may make some people uncomfortable. That said I believe the benefits far outweigh the costs.