This was going to be a well thought out article about how to “do” church better, but instead it’s a stupid article about how pointless anything like that is.
Our church is planting a congregation (note: not a church, a congregation i.e. a morning service in a different place – don’t ask…) and I’m involved in it. During a meeting we were having recently we got on to how and whether we should change our style to reflect the fact that we are hoping to attract new people, some of whom will have been put off church, and some of whom won’t have any experience of church at all.
I felt it was pretty obvious we should make some adjustments, but some others weren’t even convinced of that, thinking that we should trust the power of God’s word (and presumably his Spirit?). I think the flaw in that argument is the idea that somehow we’re speaking God’s word in the perfect way at the moment. Anyway, that’s a side rant.
So we talked about a few things e.g. changing the sermon topics from reasonably obscure bits of Moses’ life to something more directly applicable to the central Christian message (is this link a good one? Has anyone got a better one?). This is complicated because we want the two congregations to remain one church, and so the argument is that we are more unified if we both share the same sermons. Anyway, I digress again. The outcome was that we would send off a little group of people from this big meeting to discuss ways we might change our services – to be more newbie-friendly, or just to make them better. I volunteered to be in that group.
I thought I was such a dynamic independent-thinking radical figure that we couldn’t fail to have superb ideas with me there.
I forgot that the whole exercise is utterly futile.
Let’s look at some possible ideas in turn:
1. Dump church and become some kind of “cell church” or other newfangled thing.
Futile because: no-one in the church would agree to it, it’s pretty unbiblical to only meet in small groups – the church in Acts met together often and it was very important to their communication with God, small groups can go off on mad ideas very easily, some mad people would get control of groups and become megalomaniacs, throwing out established stuff and starting again is fundamentally bad because it leads to, and displays, unfounded arrogance.
2. Don’t sing in church because it’s weird for newcomers.
Futile because: no-one in the church would agree to it, it’s hard enough to worship anyway without taking away a way some people manage it, everything else we do in church is weird too – are we going to get rid of everything?
3. Replace services with “coffee mornings” every few weeks, with talks followed by discussion groups over coffee.
Futile because: some people in the church will think it’s heretical to have something not immediately recognisable as church on a Sunday morning, we’ll get out of step with the other service’s sermons, how would we persuade anyone to come, it wouldn’t offer anything to the people who are already Christians.
4. Get people up the front more often to do testimonies, songs, drama, notices about good causes etc.
Futile because: the usual suspects would still be the only people who went up the front, this wouldn’t feel any more inclusive anyway because of the jargon we all share, drama is always just plain rubbish, someone might want to do a dance.
5. Try and make sermons more accessible by explaining things and giving the central Christian message every week
Futile because: sermons are weird and intimidating no matter how understandable they are, people won’t be able to do it, twisting the sermon to mention how you become a Christian every week will be unnatural and make you sound either confused or like a salesman.
6. Explain songs before singing them
Futile because: the explanation will contain more jargon than the song, people will forget, we’ll get out of the habit in no time, people can’t explain things properly.
We ended up deciding to suggest 3, 4, 5 and 6 to the next main meeting, and I tried my best to contribute to ideas, but that’s all we could come up with between us, and as you can see by my helpful annotations I think they’re all completely futile. No-one wants anything to change, and no-one is capable of changing even if they wanted to.
So we’re going to carry on having a little version of the services we had in the other congregation, and we’re going to expect people to arrive and love it by magic. And I guess God can do that magic if he wants. We’re certainly not going to do any ourselves.
Haven’t got the imagination.