Is Jesus at the centre?

Here’s an article I have recently had published in ‘The Congregationalist’ magazine.

Is Church too ‘Sunday-centric’?

Newark Congregational Church held a church visioning day in September to help us look at ways the church could develop its work within the local community. A number of strands have been identified to look at in more detail, including worship, communications, the church’s ‘welcome’ and the role of one of our weekday groups, ‘Friday Focus’.

The background is that, in common with many churches I’m sure, attendance at our Sunday worship is at best static and probably declining, with an increasing average age of those attending. We’d love there to be twice as many people in church on a Sunday morning, but is this the only model of church growth?

I think the majority of the church membership sees the church like this: Picture1Regular Sunday worship dominates our thought processes, with other church activities on the periphery and much less significant. Attendance at Sunday worship is what determines whether the church is succeeding or failing. In this model it doesn’t matter how effective other activities are in raising awareness of the Christian message, in provoking spiritual conversations or in undertaking charitable work in the local community – falling Sunday Worship numbers equals a failing church.

Let’s consider some of the other activities promoted and/or led by Newark Congregational Church:

 

Activity Brief Description Ave. attendance Non-attenders at Regular Sunday worship
Café Church An informal Sunday worship style with breakfast and interaction 15 5
Film Club Discussions about moral and ethical issues arising from mainstream films 12 7
Bible Book Club A discussion group looking in depth at a book of popular theology 10 7
Pub Theology Discussions about theology and philosophy in a pub. For people of all faiths and none. 10 8
Just Sing! Community Choir singing a range of music, a proportion of which is Christian. 50 47

In comparison Regular Sunday worship has an average attendance of around 15-20 people, with only an occasional attendance by a ‘non-regular.’

It can be seen that the potential for outreach from these additional activities outweighs that of regular Sunday worship quite significantly. There is a degree of cross-fertilisation between the extra activities, with some people attending 2 or 3 of these events. With the exception of Café Church all these initiatives have been developed in the last 5 years. I think that there is a good case for arguing that because of this Newark is a growing, not a declining church.

Perhaps it’s time to look again at our assumptions about our model of church. Perhaps we should see things more like this:

Picture4

In this model regular Sunday worship takes its place as one of a range of ways by which people associated with the church can come closer to the life and example of Jesus Christ. Some of those attending may be completely unaware that this is happening, but when you discuss the film ‘Paddington’ you learn about helping refugees; when you sing in a choir concert that raises over £1000 for a child support charity you are demonstrating love for your neighbour; when you join in a discussion with pagans and atheists at a Pub Theology session you are proclaiming a Christian world view. These may be just tentative first steps in discipleship, and some may not make any more steps. But equally there is a chance that some will.

Many of these activities meet people where they are through things they are interested in – film, books, singing or beer! It doesn’t require them to come to our way of doing things in a pattern of worship dating back centuries which uses a main means of communication (the sermon) that is antithetical to modern ways of living and obtaining information.

There will always be a place for Sunday worship services. But the future of growing Christian communities may well rest with recognising that the medium as well as the message is important if we are to successfully convey the Good News to 21st century people.

 

I’d be interested to receive any comments and responses.

Mark

 

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