Get up early enough to get your kids ready. Take the kids to Sunday school. Chat with friends over coffee. Worship and listen to the sermon. Pick up the kids and head to lunch at a local restaurant.
It’s a routine that is completely foreign to Christians, particularly in Asia, where in some countries outwardly expressing their faith can lead to arrest or worse.
An attempt to bridge that gap of understanding and gain a deeper appreciation of devotion to God is underway at a Birmingham, Ala., megachurch.
“Secret Church” is a program designed by Rev. David Platt of The Church at Brook Hills after first-hand visits to Asian countries where persecution and imprisonment of Christians for espousing their beliefs is common.
The service meets in marathon six-hour sessions to mirror the clandestine get-togethers which take place in other parts of the world in people’s homes. This is where another departure from the traditional Sunday morning structure takes place. The focuses of these services are concentrated Bible study and an effort to understand the intense desire of Christians elsewhere in the world to be enlivened with the Holy Spirit.
For example, in a Secret Church meeting last November, Platt exhorted the roughly 2,000 attendees to use the evening to be absorbed in spirituality, suggesting that some Christians’ lack of intensity in their beliefs may do more harm to the Gospel than the outside world.
It’s a pretty direct message for an intentional push toward a deeper relationship with God.
Jake Simonian of Brook Hiils’ Global Missions Department analogized what being part of a secret congregation might look and feel like.
“Imagine being masked and put in a car, you don’t know where you’re going under the cover of night and you end up in a house or apartment with fellow believers,” Simonian said.
Each meeting of Secret Church, which occurs on Friday evenings every few months, includes text and video information on how Christians are worshipping and exploring their faith in different places around the world.
“We also use these nights to educate people about what their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering through for their faith,” Simonian explained.
The underground “house church” movement is most well-known in China, and Simonian included North Korea, Sudan and India as other nations where worshipping behind closed doors is necessary.
“There are a lot of places around the where believers in the Lord are persecuted and oppressed,” Simonian said.
The program started at Brook Hills in November 2006 and has grown rapidly, drawing out-of-state visitors and church leaders interested in starting similar programs in their congregations, Simonian said.
One such congregation is at Harvard Avenue Baptist Church in Siloam Springs, Ark.
“We take for granted just having the Bible,” Rev. Tad Thompson told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “In a lot of these countries being baptized doesn’t mean a certificate or a pat on the back. It means you might lose your family, your job, or get arrested. But they follow through even though it’s costly to them.”
“Even over six hours, once we get halfway or two-thirds of the way through the night, it becomes obvious that what we’re doing is pretty small compared to the extent of what is happening elsewhere in the world,” Simonian added.
“I go to church every Sunday, and I own my own Bible and if I want to I can go to the Christian bookstore down the road to get something to read if I want. We hope this gives people a good appreciation of the lengths others have to go through just to express themselves.”
The next Secret Church meeting is Good Friday, April 10.
The Church at Brook Hills: http://www.brookhills.org/secretchurch/
Harvard Avenue Baptist Church: http://www.habc.net/