Mission after the collapse

Posted: July 6, 2014 by J in Church

[The+Pianist+Warsaw+Polanski.png]When my parents were young, many of their neighbours went to church. And most kids in Sydney went to Sunday school. The Sunday schools were bursting at the seems across Sydney. In those days, the church had the ear of the people.

Since then, church attendance has collapsed. The Sunday Schools are largely gone, or else tiny. Many Christians prefer the secure feeling of belonging to something big, so they cluster together in large congregations. But this merely hides the reality that overall numbers have declined drastically. Consider this graph from the NCLS website.


Our society has largely abandoned Christian church involvement. The trend has been steady and still continues.  It didn’t come as a surprise, it didn’t happen over ten years: it happened over sixty years. Most people my age (forty-somethings) have lived their whole lives with minimal church connection. Their children know little or nothing about Christian faith. We now live in a pretty-much unchurched nation.

We may be hoping that society at large are missing us, but if so, they’re not showing many signs of regret. The regret seems to be largely on our side.

This puts us in a challenging new situation when we attempt mission in Sydney. We are doing mission in a ‘post-collapse’ environment. Consider some of the harsh realities:

1. Coming to church is not the default setting for many people any more. In fact it feels like a strange and foreign place. So they need some compelling reason to come along. But we Protestants have (clearly) not been successful, overall, at providing compelling reasons. So they stay comfortably away.

2. Much of our traditional message seems to have become meaningless to ordinary Aussies. We have on the whole offered a message of justification. This answers this question, “how can I find a gracious God and have my sins forgiven?” Or to put it more crudely, ‘How can I get to heaven?’ At this point in our society’s history, people in general are not asking these questions. We are offering a remedy for an illness they are not aware of. We find ourselves trying to sell both the malady and the cure, but we get little traction. Aussies have many concerns that trouble their minds – but it is hard for ‘getting right with God’ to rise up into their top ten.

3. Many people in our churches are at least second generation Christians. I.e. their parents (and maybe their grandparents) had a church connection. We are not used to seeing conversions, especially not adult conversions.

4. Our church people mainly know church people. They’ve been in the church all their lives. Their friends are other church people. Their doctor and perhaps their accountant are church people. Their kids are likely at a church school. Our people have few real connections with non-Christian people. We’re talking definite sub-culture. Our churches have developed ways of thinking and talking and relating and viewing the world, which feel weird to outsiders. In other words there’s a cultural barrier making church involvement seem unattractive to ordinary Aussies.

5. Rampant individualism means even some Christian believers prefer to stay away. The idea that you can do God stuff on your own without the church, is deeply ingrained in our culture – thanks (probably) to Protestant theology and its secular twin, the cult of the individual. It’s a fairly common thing to find people with a Christian faith who have no church connection, and don’t want one. They can do faith on their own.


This is the reality of the post-collapse landscape. It’s time we faced it. Part of facing it is to talk about it, and to name it with its proper name. Collapse is not too strong a word for what has happened.

If we are to reach Sydney for Christ, it is this Sydney we are going to have to reach, not the Sydney our grandparents grew up in. Much has changed. We are going to have to figure out how to operate post-collapse.

And we will get little help from our American brothers. They didn’t have the collapse. Their churches are still overflowing. They haven’t got a clue about what to do in a post-collapse setting. We can bring in US gurus, it’s not going to make any difference. We’d better stop looking to them for solutions.

So here’s my question: what do we do about the five points of collapsism, cited above?

I’d welcome suggestions about even just one of them…    🙂

Or perhaps you might like to add something to the picture of post-collapse Sydney, some important aspect that I’ve missed.


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