February 2007 Church Army - Mission
Twelve years ago I sat down with the people of my age in the church I went to, and we asked each other why none of our friends showed any inclination to come along to church with us.
The answer was blindingly obvious: if you’ve been to a nightclub until 3am on a Sunday morning, you simply aren’t going to get up early to come to church and sing hymns. It’s just not going to happen. It didn’t matter how brilliantly the service was presented – it would just never have any appeal.
Fortunately, we didn’t give up. Instead we asked: “If they won’t come to us and do what Christians do, what would it take for the Christians to go to them and do what they’d like to do?”
Out of that came an emerging Christian community that I led for several years. It met late on a Sunday night, not in a church, but in a room that was created to feel like the candle-lit chill-out area of a nightclub. We used the kind of music, visual imagery, ritual and reflection that we and our friends enjoyed in the rest of our lives.
And of the 40 people who eventually gathered, half had no other connection with a church.
We just did what seemed to work because we wanted our friends to have an inner life that was alive, doing them good, and pointing them to Jesus. But looking back, I realise that we had stumbled on two things that are vital to what is now called a ‘fresh expression’: we were not inside the church trying to suck people in, but going beyond the walls of the church to those who had not yet engaged with the Good News.
And we were creating a new Christian community that was not a copy of the old one, but relevant to the cultural needs of the people it was for.
Nowadays it isn’t clubbing that keeps me awake at night; it’s my anxieties about the growing size of my waist. That’s why I go to a gym, and the one I go to offers sessions of meditative relaxation, aromatherapy, astrology and crystal healing. You can get Hopi, Tai Chi, and Reiki.
I are wonder what would happen if I offered a weekly course of Christian meditation. I’d stake my life that people who go to the gym, but not to a church, would be prepared to give that a go. They try everything else!
It’s a fantastic opportunity to share faith. But unlike days gone by, when I would have seen it as softening people up to invite them to ‘proper’ church, I now ask myself, “If that group starts acknowledging the wonder of God in the world, and then praying for each other, and then learning together, isn’t it a proper church in its own right?” I guess it is!
The difference is that because the expression of church is so fresh, it would seem a natural thing to do for a group of people who have come to regard sitting in a pew to hear a sermon as unnatural.
Why has Church Army got me more excited right now than any other Christian organisation? Because they have set their sights on being good news for people whose lives have so far been completely untouched by the Christian Church. They are pioneers! They are not ‘Please come and be like us’ Christians; they are ‘We’d love to come and be with you’ Christians.
That’s how Church Army comes to have evangelists running a church that looks like a café, a church that looks like a skateboard park, a church that looks like drop-in for vulnerable people, a church that looks like a studio for children’s TV.
These are not gimmicks - they are worshipping, Bible studying, supporting communities, recognised by and accountable to their bishops as churches where brand new Christians will grow in their faith.
I want people to be glad to be alive. That’s the long and short of it! And I am convinced that an encounter with Jesus is transforming – not just for churchgoers, but for people who have no idea what happens inside the stained glass. I am really privileged to be part of an organisation that has a mission agenda which compels them to say: “We will go”, (rather than, “Please come to us”), and, “We will make disciples”, (rather than, “Please change and be like us”).
At its simplest, those are the two things that fresh expressions try to do. Go … and make disciples.
I’m sure I’ve heard that somewhere before. Or am I imagining it?
- Peter Graystone, is Church Army’s National Development Officer for Fresh Expressions of Christian Community and author of Praying, Giving and Receiving, Church Army’s new short reflective Lent resource booklet available at www.churcharmy.org.uk/lent
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