Right, listen, this is a bit random (in the modern parlance) and unthought out, so think along with me…
Yesterday I took some friends to my church. They wanted to come, no force or bribery was involved, and it was an OK experience, lots learned by me seeing their reaction. I’m really really glad they came, but it has created a whole new pulse of thought, and I’m excited by it.
Is the era of the church building, the assembly of a hundred disparate souls, now gone? I kind of think it may be. I sort of think. I think that I think. That’s why I say ‘think along with me’. Help me to reason this out.
The old church model has failed. I’m sorry if that pierces your heart like a sharp and burning spear, but that’s how it seems to me. It’s failed in this corner of the world anyway. Our little church is thriving but there are many many around that are dying. The church abutting ours has few services and a handful of ancient people attending… other churches in the town are the same…. many are sold off, family homes or B&Bs….. only ours and one other are growing and vibrant and community minded. Old people die and the church dies with them, because they haven’t passed on a faith and trust and a love for God to the next generation.
And even the church buildings confirm this truth. The one we use is no longer fit for purpose – it was designed and built before there was a need for three or four action-packed weekly meetings for young people, before there was a need for good sound systems and video links, rooms for Junior Church, a large and practical kitchen, a social space, a creche, car parking, food banks, and all the rest of the stuff of the 21st Century.
People have moved on. The church hasn’t. God remains the same, but our language and customs and expectations, they all change and the church has to change with them. We have to keep to our central, unchangeable and vital truth, Jesus, but our songs and meetings, our ministries … come on folks…. they HAVE to change.
Coming back from Worship yesterday, I realised that my house has to be my church. The pavement has to be my church. When people sit at my table and pour out their hearts – this already is church. This is church. Church can happen at tea time, it can reach into the wee small hours of the night, time doesn’t matter, only prayer and people and need matter, and they are everywhere, and they are all the time.
I’m not arguing against fellowship – I’m all for it, my fellows in the same ship – but I want it to be real. I want it to be us sitting together and finding the form of worship and teaching and sharing that God develops in us. Organic. Today. Not a form that suited people fifty years ago and is now stuttering and stumbling towards some minor changes that don’t suit everyone, pleasing some and dismaying others, an uncomfortable compromise for everyone. I want church to be you and me, at my table, at my fireside, on the beach, discovering God together…
Am I talking about house groups? We have house groups in my church already. So, what the hell am I going on about?
My non-church friends yesterday had such fresh eyes on the area (they love it) and my friends (they love them) and the church…. It was just refreshing and a bit startling to see my world through their eyes. And the thoughts I have are exciting, not critical or dis-satisfied, but challenging and adventurous. I believe that the church as we know it has to change. It has to become less institutional and more personal. It has to return to the church of the book of Acts.
Wow. I want to be part of that. I really really want to be part of that.
Small groups, active groups, non exclusive, sifting and changing, living and existing because we love each other and will reach out to the people around us. Under one umbrella maybe? Under one teaching? With a common understanding and a shared creed, with a sort of cellular structure? Is that possible? Or would we begin to join up again, once a week, or once a month and so return to a version of what we have now? Looking to others for leadership, creating new problems of rules and legality and form and ritual and expectation?
OK, let me step back. Return to the earlier thought; My house has to be my church. The pavement has to be my church. When people sit at my table and pour out their hearts – this already is church. This is church.
And I just need to remember that. My life is church. I need to stop inviting people to my church and invite them to Jesus, right here, right HERE where we are.
Thank God for the God who is with us. Wherever.
I’m thinking. Shush. Can you hear the cogs turning?