Mission post-collapse 4: Church as a subculture

Posted: July 26, 2014 by J in Bible, Mission

Here’s the third and fourth of the five realities of church life and mission after the collapse (see previous posts):

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.

Conversions are in the ones and twos, not the one and two hundreds, aren’t they. We don’t have many adult baptisms going on. In terms of Jesus’ call to his disciples to be ‘fishers of men’, it seems we’re using rods, not nets.

Since this is the reality, it’s time we owned up to it. We often talk about the importance of doing mission. We desperately need to change the discourse, and start talking about learning to do missionIt’s been a long time since our mission was effective. Let’s say so, and talk openly about finding ways forward.

The great danger is that we might just do more of the same, and that things might go on as they are. Because the way things are is collapsed.

4. Our church people mainly know church people. This flows naturally from reality no.3, above. We’ve been in the church all our lives. Our friends are other church people. Our doctor and perhaps our accountant are church people. Our kids are likely at a church school. We 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. To put it bluntly, to our neighbours we seem odd.

And ordinary Aussies are unattractive to us! We feel a defensiveness toward the world around us. It just doesn’t feel safe out there. Much safer in here, with the home boys we know and can trust. Lets hope our kids grow up with youth group friends.

This is not surprising. We’ve suffered a collapse. Our society has turned its back on us. We feel hurt. We feel ignored and rejected. We resent their indifference. We turn inward for comfort. We become insular and protective.

No.4 also causes  no.3, as our lack of relationships with ordinary people limits the extent of our witness. We can’t reach people for Jesus if we don’t know them!

I don’t have a silver bullet for this, and in fact it’s really hard to bust out of being a subculture once you are one. It’s hard to even want to change. But I can say that our modern approach of running networked  churches, based on affinity and peer groups, has entrenched the problem. If your church is a deliberately a collection of people who have a lot in common, who are similar to each other – well, who are the people you have most in common with? Other Christians. If your church encourages you to hang out with the people who you feel most comfortable with, well, who do you feel most comfortable with? Other Christians! If your network and your peer group and your church are all roughly the same people, that’s always going to drift towards a situation where everyone you know is a church person. The stronger your church does community, the worse the problem will get. All your time gets absorbed in the church network.

The only way forward that I think has much of a chance is to go back – back to doing local church. Teach our people to reach out to their actual neighbours, regardless of similarity or difference. To show friendship across cultural barriers. To expose ourselves to the ‘ordinary’ people who live next door. To make connections with whoever is living there. Develop a church vision to take responsibility for mission in your neighbourhood.

In short, we need the discipline of the parish system to force us to reach out beyond our comfort zone.

It won’t be quick, it won’t be glamorous or easy. But gradually we’ll make friends and connections. We will have the chance to influence people for Jesus. And gradually the culture gap will narrow, so that we evangelicals stop being such a weird sect.

Not just local church, but local mission-vision, has got to be a key to addressing our post-collapse insular Christian subculture.

  1. Jim Crosweller says:

    Hey J,
    I think there is enormous merit in your point regarding the discipline of the parish system. Amen. We are looking to build a community platform on which we can engage with more local people in Maroubra. Hard work! So many misfires and rejection! You know this well enough. enjoying the posts.

    • J says:

      Hard work indeed. Sounds like you have a great vision for the ministry at Maroubra, Jim. Trial and error – it has to be that way I reckon. Press on!

      Rejection truly is hard. If I was writing this series from the point of view of ‘ministers’ and church workers, I might have included depression and anxiety in my top five realities. They are so widespread. It’s not easy to lead the remnant after the collapse.

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