“And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?” (Luke 18:7)

I visited a place called International House of Prayer in Kansas City last week. IHOP for short … yeah, like the pancake house, everybody gets the joke.

Here’s the interesting thing about IHOP -they pray …  twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. They’ve been doing it, non-stop, since 1999.

IHOP does more than just pray, although the phrase, ‘just pray’, says a lot more about what we think of our faith than I’d like to admit. Most churches, if you could call IHOP a church, do a lot more than just pray. It may be more accurate to say that they do a lot instead of pray … or a lot rather than pray.

IHOP does a lot, but what they do is pray. That’s what they’re known for – prayer and worship – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There’s a church in my town known for its annual ethnic food festival. It’s a pretty good festival too; everybody comes out. But is that really the thing a church wants to be known for?

IHOP has a ministry school, they’ve got a children’s program, they’ve got city evangelism and world evangelism, they’ve got a great bookstore and they’ve even got a coffee shop complete with WIFI. But what their known for is prayer. I don’t know if they’ve got an annual ethnic food festival … probably not … I didn’t ask.

Last Friday I stopped in at the IHOP prayer room – the 24/7 part of IHOP’s ministry. It’s a room that seats few hundred people. When I showed up at about noon, there were maybe a hundred people inside. There was a worship team (a band and singers) on the stage, and a sound board and video camera set up in the middle of the room. IHOP doesn’t limit 24/7 prayer and worship to their Kansas City Missions Base; they stream 24/7 prayer and worship from the prayer room via the internet and, in some countries, on GOD TV.

What I saw in the prayer room was people, young and old – mostly young – praying, reading, writing on laptops. It seemed to be a place of prayer, worship, study and reflection. Imagine that, a place where people can go 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to pray, worship, read the Bible, write out their thoughts, and be with God. Something like that could catch on.

Oh yeah, IHOP has weekly services too. Friday evening, Saturday evening, and three services on Sunday – just like a regular church.

Let me stop right now and clear something up – I don’t think IHOP calls itself a ‘church.’ It’s me throwing around that nomenclature.

IHOP sees their Kansas City facility as a ‘Missions Base’ and the big building a few miles down the road as the IHOPU (university) campus; it is, incidentally, also the place where ‘Forerunner Christian Fellowship’ meets and where IHOP can hold public meetings that won’t fit in the facilities at the ‘Missions Base.’ I don’t remember them ever referring to either facility as a ‘church.’

I’m guessing it’s because they understand the difference between a building and a church. During the Friday night teaching session I heard the word ‘church’ a lot; but it was always in reference to God’s people, usually on a national or global scale.

On a national scale, the church in America didn’t fare too well. Most of it, according to IHOP’s director, Mike Bickle, is compromised – it’s lost its first love. It’s more interested in comfort, money and prestige than getting to know its God.

On a global scale the church is the bride of Christ, being prepared for the day it meets its Bridegroom.

Forerunner Christian Fellowship, the part of IHOP’s ministry that functions as a ‘church,’ is a local (Kansas City) body of believers; it considers itself a part of the church on a national scale and on a global scale. It may act independently as a local body of believers, but it knows it’s not independent of the ‘church’ in America or the ‘church’ globally. And it seeks to impact the world on all three levels. What it’s not, is a building that people visit once a week to connect with God or their religious tradition.

The truth of this struck me while I was making plans to come for a visit. I had some publishing business to attend to on Friday and since it was close to the weekend, I tossed around the idea of staying on through Sunday so we could attend services. I wanted to know more about what made IHOP tick and I figured attending what I assumed would be the main event, Sunday service, would give me a pretty good picture of what they were about.

I went to their website www.ihop.org to check out when and where Sunday services were held. It took me a while to find the information. There’s a lot going on there … seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day … and Sunday is just one seventh of that.

We didn’t stay in town for Sunday service, but we did go to the Friday evening teaching session. I’ve got to admit, the Friday evening teaching session had a lot more worship than any Sunday service I’ve been to in a long, long time. That’s what makes me think Sunday service isn’t IHOP’s main event … it’s all the main event …24/7.

Mike Bickle wants to see 100,000 more IHOPs around the globe. He’s not interested in starting a franchise, or a network, or an association; it doesn’t work that way. And IHOP doesn’t replace the church – it can’t. IHOP is a ministry, a place to pray and worship and to be equipped to bring the good news of God to the world. The church is people.

A lot of us see the church as an organization (a ministry), or a location (a place to pray and worship) or a school (equipping us to bring the good news of God to the world). We don’t necessarily see the church as us. It’s kind of subtle, but I need you to understand the difference.

Organizations or locations or schools we build to serve our needs as the church, are just tools. Organizations, locations and schools will all burn down or turn to dust in time. The church won’t, because the church isn’t an organization or a location or a school. It’s everyone who believes in Jesus and counts Him as personal savior. It’s you and me and the believers in the Baptist church next door … and the Pentecostal church down the street … and the Catholic church across town … and the underground church in China … and those believers who went before us and are now gone from us … and the believers who are yet to be born and those who haven’t believed yet but will. All of us, each of us, are the body and bride of Christ – the church.

Being a member of the organization or present at the location or a graduate of the school doesn’t make you a part to the church. Only knowing Jesus, believing in him as the Son of God and the one who laid down his life so that you could live and who you lay down your life for in return makes you a part of the church. Everything else is something else.

I think Mike Bickle and the folks at IHOP get that. Maybe we could use 100,000 more IHOPs in the world.