Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Bread on water or pearls before swine?

That's one of the challenges that so often faces us when it comes to being and doing church.

How do we decide where (and upon what) to spend our cash in our attempts to 'build the kingdom'?

Do we plant new churches and engage in Fresh Expressions (FE) or do we invest in people?

I engage with people who are keen to try new things and some of them are wonderful, other quite weird and other are just plain wacky; yet each idea needs to be considered not just with human eyes, business plans and the like but with spiritual eyes too.

For me, whilst I know it is important, money is neither prime mover or reason for binning something, what I would have us think about are:

i. impact on the community,

ii. impact on the church, and (most important until last)

iii. The calling (what does God want you to be doing?)

I have seen stuff tried and failed majestically, sinking like the Titanic without the benefit of deckchair or band and yet it has been a success. How can that be (I hear you mumble)? Well, from the ashes has come a bunch of people who have bonded and risen from the depths to engage with something else that will be a success because adversity brings one of three things:

Increased resolve and coherence

Despair and dispersion

Confusion and apathy

The key to knowing the where (and what) of any church plant, FE or church engagement is to ask a few questions - a social audit or walk around your patch with a missioner or someone who will bring fresh eyes will pay dividends in helping understand what is needed.

For instance I often find people who have decided to start doing Messy Church just yards from another church who are doing the same thing. What is called for here is partnership but no, each does it's own thing and this not only dilutes the audience but, in one notable case, brought animosity (they're trying to pinch our people!') and caused despair (all set up and no one comes doesn't leave you with a spring in your step, does it?).

We need to be speaking of kingdom rather than 'our church' - seek to do what we can in partnership (especially in smaller locations where the population and place is small, limiting those we can reach) where we can - doing what we do alone where this is not possible.

When a church began a parent and toddler group in the centre of our town they were advised that such a work 'never' brings new people in. Their response was, 'Perhaps not, but we provide something that is needed and build relationships,' and that was a start - the issue was that that neither clergy or church members tried to engage with the people who came. For those who came, the people who ran the group were 'church' and the rest were strangers (and strange) and remained that, even after a visit to a service.

I meet, or hear of, people who are doing great stuff; things that the community really lacks and has need of. The problem is that when we seek to meet them, whose name do we do it in and what is the desired outcome?

It's not good enough to do stuff anonymously for fear that using the name of Jesus or using the word 'church' or 'God' or 'Christian' or any other perceived weakness or threat, will scupper or limit the work.  We go out in the name of Jesus the Christ the name above all names and if we can't, then we need to ask ourselves what we meet for and why we're considering looking at engaging with the community.

I have asked this and my (perhaps cynical and wrong) assessment of some of the responses is this:

1. If we tell them we are Christians they will think we're 'scalp hunting' 
but what, and how, we do what we're doing will some scupper, or confirm, that.

2. If we don't tell them we're Christians we can influence them more
because they think we are the same as them (and when they find we've 'conned' them - what will they think!

3. We don't label ourselves because we want to be socially active rather than do gooder Christians
for me there are two questions here:
so are you Christians in a secular project? if so, excellent - we need Christians in politics, secular projects and the like. My next question is, 'This is a secular project or partnership with a secular group, isn't it?' (And if it's not then surely you're denying Christ?
are you merely people who gather together and do good stuff using the church building as a base? Where does Christ, the Gospel and our call to 'go into all the world . . .teach them to obey, sit with you?

So much more buzzing in brain but after this seven minute splurge (I feel better now) I know I'm leaving you with questions, challenges and perhaps some guidance and thought-provoking stuff for me in return.

Happy Wednesday - visits, service writing, tenebrae to print and Holy Week to contemplate (and then lunch :-) )



Anonymous said...

Easy for you to consider these things when you have a thriving church and an active team to do the work. Those of us who struggle every day don't have the luxury of planting fresh expression or doing messy church.

If you want to see what church is really like why don't you try somewhere that isn't easy and where people don't want to do anything. Where getting them to come is a major triumph in fact.

One day, when you're older, you might understand what I'm speaking of and find you've become what most of us are: tired, pressurised, frustrated.

I assume you never will

Soup D said...

Writing as the wife of the author, I feel I have to address the comments of 'Anonymous'.

We live and work in an estate church in a UPA in a town that is notorious for lack of aspiration and engagement and which scores below the national average for educational attainment on the IMD. We are surrounded by the de-churched and un-churched. Our local population regard anything that looks 'organised' with suspicion (even the Children's Centre next door to us struggles to get any engagement; most of those who use it drive onto the estate from other areas!) Drug use is on the rise, and therefore so is crime. Single-parent and multiple partner families are the norm.

We have an ASA of less than 40, with sporadic attendance that means our recent levels have been in the high 20s. Many of the congregation are over 50 (including my husband who will soon celebrate his 60th birthday, but I'm sure he appreciates your assumption that he is younger). The majority of the children and young people are our own four children.

We have a small core of committed and active members but still the majority of the work falls to us; the community engagement relies heavily on us despite efforts to encourage others to get involved.

Try somewhere that isn't easy and where people don't want to do anything - we are!

Thriving church? No. Active team? No. Lots of hard work? Yes. Tiredness and frustration? Yes! .. but also a God who inspires, strengthens and sustains us.

Peter O said...

Gosh, the number of assumptions in that comment. Chip. Shoulder. You should really talk to someone about your resentments.

DrJ said...

The answer I first thought of to anonymous turns out not to be applicable in this particular case, but I will still give it as I am sure that it is applicable in other situations: It is the invitation to consider, in the case of a thriving church with and active team, how it came to be in that position?

Soup D said...

Thank you DrJ for that consideration - although we do not attain to the lofty heights assumed by anonymous, we are slowly building a core of active members and hope one day to be able to boast such :)