Mission post-collapse 2: ‘Doing Church’

Posted: July 16, 2014 by J in General

In the last post I identified five key realities of our existence, living after the collapse of church involvement in Australia. It’s time we addressed each of them. First was:

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.

This is especially true of Aussie males. Most of them would rather run a mile than go to church.

This is difficult for us evangelicals because our whole approach to church is ‘service-centred’. It all revolves around those two hours on a Sunday. If you come there, you can make friends, join in the church family, learn etc. The service is the way in.

But our neighbours feel that it is a way they would rather not take. It’s a hurdle they don’t want to jump. They’ve kind of voted with their feet haven’t they. Since they don’t want to ‘come to church’, they miss out on all the things a church family could offer them. And, from our point of view, we stay on the other side of that hurdle, urging our neighbours to jump it, but actually failing to reach them.

What can we do to respond to this? A few talented leaders can make church services so good that people are attracted. The best of our churches can draw in great staff who will do this pretty well and build a growing congregation. But the rest of us – the large majority – cannot really manage to make our services that stunning and inspirational. That approach is only going to work for a few. And even those few, there are still plenty of people out there who just won’t come no matter what, and we’ll never reach them through church services. Better services are not the main way forward to see this generation reached for Christ.

Here’s an alternative suggestion. How about we stop trying to get people to come to our church services? I’m suggesting moving right away from the whole ‘church as event’ model, where church is something we do. And toward a ‘church as body’ model, where the church is a community of people sharing their lives and faith. That’s what our theology tells us church is, right? How about we start living that, a bit?

Let’s defocus the ‘church service’, and let’s stop talking about ‘going to church’. Seriously. That language says church is an event. It’s not: it’s a body of people. So let’s stop saying it. And let’s stop living it.

Let’s give people other ways of getting involved with the church community, without having to attend a ‘service’. Can the whole process of coming to know Jesus and take part in fellowship with his people, can that all kick off before a person has come to a Sunday service? I can’t see why not…

At our church, we hardly ever invite anyone to come along to our Sunday service. We invite them to heaps of other stuff, though, usually in people’s homes. By the time they decide to come along to the Sunday worship service, they already know most of the people there, they already feel like part of the community.

Church services have become an obstacle, a blockage which hinders us and our neighbours from connecting. I’m not suggesting we can them. Let’s just de-centre them. If our neighbours don’t feel able to come, let’s make some other pathways for them.

Maybe the needs of mission are going to push us to fix up our dodgy approach to church life!

  1. Dave Binggeli says:

    I think i know where that photo’s from…

  2. Matt Steele says:

    Plenty of wisdom in this blog. And perhaps I’m feeling slightly over-sensitive since I’m sitting about 15m from that sign 🙂 but it sounds a bit like a silver bullet approach to me. There are still plenty of unbelievers and de-churched who are open to coming to a church service. I met a woman in our church car park yesterday who (clearly hadn’t noticed the sign!) specifically asked me if we have a service on Sunday and then expressed her interest in coming along with her boys. Interestingly that’s the reason for the sign – with the decline at St Alban’s so many people in Five Dock don’t know that there is still a church (community or event – or perhaps ‘community that gathers’) here. Of course that doesn’t mean we’re relying on the church service or any other single thing to draw people into our community to hear the gospel. And it doesn’t mean we’ve got it all sorted – I have no idea how to reach most of the blokes in Five Dock. And I’m sure we could learn heaps from the brilliant community stuff you’re doing. But I still reckon having a sign – and inviting some people to church – is a good idea.

    • J says:

      Apologies for any offence caused, Matt. It was not intended. I have removed the picture.

      • Matt Steele says:

        Thanks J – no offence taken. Like I said I think there’s a lot of insight in the points you made. We’re certainly trying – though still learning – to find ways to bring people into our church community who might not feel comfortable coming into a church service. I just don’t think it’s a zero sum game. I want to do both church community and church gathering well. That’s partly for theological reasons and partly for cultural ones – while there’s a large move away from church generally there are sub-cultures who are still open to coming. Having said that at St As we haven’t gone close to cracking the Roman Catholic sub-culture (50% of FD population!) and I’m pretty sure your community emphasis is a better way to connect with them than trying to convince them to enter a non-RC church building.

  3. J says:

    Never been quite sure what a zero sum game was – but I think we’re roughly on the same page, Matt. Perhaps we have a slightly different level of hopefulness about getting newcomers to a church service. But it’s a difference of degree I guess.

    Sounds like you’re doing great work there in a difficult-to-reach area. Keep it up!

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