Thursday, September 15, 2005

Night Thoughts

Well, the jet-lag kicked in last night, with both hobbits waking up at around the time we went to bed (11:00 pm) and staying awake for the next several hours...
...after which I was more-or-less awake by 4:30 am, lying in the dark thinking thoughts. In particular, about a question I was asked the other day in Glasgow - one of those great questions asked at just the wrong time and place to be able to answer it - and which I imagine I'll get asked on more than one occasion here in Perth: "Why should churches change how they do church anyway?" [as an aside, I imagine extravert thought processes get a break whenever there aren't other people around; but does the introvert thought process ever shut down?!] Anyway, here are two reasons, for a start:

  • most churches revolve around Sunday services, or maybe Sunday services plus midweek meetings; these services are expressions of Christian sub-cultures that are 'simply obvious' to those who have grown up within it, and totally alien to the majority of the population in Western nations (does Western make any sort of sense in Australia?) who have no church background. Indeed, the sub-culture is so obvious, we don't even realise it is alien to others. These expressions are cultural, not inherently required - even those practices we can provide biblical precedent for, such as singing or teaching, are singing or teaching etc in a very particular and not inherent-to-Christian-faith cultural form. And these alien things that we do have created a huge barrier to anyone who might be considering following Jesus, that we require them to negotiate before they can do so along with us. Some simply won't; those who do tend to get cut-off from their previous relationships, rather than draw them in. It is essentially the same barrier that Paul kept coming up against, where Gentile converts to Christianity were pressurised into taking onboard Jewish cultural practices in order to be Christian. The early church faced the issue, and decided that Gentile converts did not need to Judaise. Neither should we require post-Christian converts to take on Christendom practices...
  • a wide range of polls by a wide range of bodies has highlighted the sad reality that the average regular church attender cannot claim to have received any input - and in particular, any teaching input - relevant to their experience in the workplace (on average, 70% of our waking hours). There is a false but very real dichotomy between church involvement and the rest of life. And if involvement in the life of the church community does not resource and equip for every part of life, relevance is not created or nurtured between them. This has huge implications for those within the church community - why should they stay? (and the reality is, more and more are leaving, for precisely this reason of perceived relevance) - and for those on the fringes of, or beyond, the church community - why would they want to join?

So, that's a starter on why churches should change (we could be more blunt, and summarise the situation as "change or die" - though those whose experience of church has been within relatively large and active congregations won't immediately see that). Who knows? I might get round to sharing some thoughts on how they might change...


  1. Surely churches have always been changing how they 'do''s only natural (it seems to me at least) that change will continue.

    There are some interesting thoughts about church evolution or church revolution at

    On the introvert/extrovert thing - tis a good question. As an introvert I know I spend an awful lot of time 'thinking about stuff'. But we're never wholly one of the other are we??? The introvert might shut down when it exhibits more extrovert tendancies, and when asleep, - I was gonna say when praying. I'm not sure though. Is praying introverted or extroverted....

    Hmmm, methinks I am wittering now.

  2. G'day, Phil (as they say over here),
    I tell you, we might have the dege when it comes to cricket right now, but these guys have the edge when it comes to weather...

    Yes, churches change, in a number of ways. One way is the constant changing of life, that doesn't actually amount to change at all - like skin, that is continuously being renewed but does not (fundamentally) alter in shape, clour, texture (though it does get less flexible with age).

    And then there is intentional change (whether evolutionary or revolutionary). And it is not so much that this doesn't happen, as that it has tended to happen within a flawed 'thinking-box.' So: for the last 50 years the church in the UK has, across all the mainstream denominations, been losing people at an incredible rate. Over most of that time, people have continued to join the church. It's not that people haven't joined, but that people have left the church at a rate of 2:1 against those who have joined. For every one who joins, two leave - and don't come back. Including those who join, and then leave. But, as far as I can make out, most of the changes that churches have embraced in an attempt to turn the situation around - changes like Alpha, and seeker-sensitive services, and (in some cases, at least) employing youth workers - have addressed getting people to join the church, rather than addressing the reasons why twice as many people leave...And that has got to be flawed change, produced by flawed thinking.