If you’re old enough (?) you’ll no doubt have noticed the catalogue of changes in our UK culture during the past 30 or so years. (Just think back to the ‘flares’ you wore in the 70’s!). Mission-shaped Church (a report by the C of E’s Mission & Public Affairs Council, 2004) highlights various social, cultural and spiritual changes in the UK since the 1970’s. More recently, the charity, Tearfund, produced some sobering statistics on Church attendance in the UK (2007), which showed that 60% of the population of the UK are now ‘closed’ to the idea of attending church. In other words, they don’t intend coming to your church or mine - no matter how good the music, preaching, coffee or ‘fellowship’ is.
This poses a challenge for many of us – as often our main model of church is an ‘attractional’ one. That is we try to attract people to our services on the basis of our ‘worship’ (usually meaning our musical style and the songs we sing and tend not to sing) and the programmes we offer (such as children’s and youth work). When we operate in a purely ‘attractional’ way, we overlook the 60% who report that they are ‘closed’ to coming to church. Not only this, but those churches who are ‘challenged’ in terms of personnel and finance find that they can’t ‘compete’ in the attractional marketplace.
Recently, we held the first of our WEBA Mobilising Small Churches events. The Regional Team are inviting our churches with fewer than 40 members to reflect with us on how such cultural changes have made an impact upon our smaller churches and how we might wisely respond to this situation. We have already asked the question, ‘Whose church is it, anyway?’ And as we make our way on this journey we’ll reflect upon and ask, ‘If those 60% of people won’t come to us – how can we ‘go!’ (remember that Jesus word!) to them?’ What might it look like to explore a different model of being church – one that is more incarnational (living among the people)? How can we learn to do life alongside those people Jesus calls us to love (our ‘neighbours’)? And what does it look like in 2010 to love our neighbours and to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ where you live/work/socialise and where I live/work/socialise? In Matthew 5 (The Message) Jesus says to his disciples, "Let me tell you why you are here. You're here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavours of this earth… You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colours in the world.”
What might that look like for our smaller churches as they move towards 2011? And what might it look like for your church…and your life…and my life?
By the way…the invitation is still open for leaders of our smaller churches to join us on this important journey.
Alisdair Longwill, Regional Minister