Is this you? Pioneering something new

29 Aug 2021 by Rev Andrew Smith in: Letters, Thoughts, News

Is this you? – Pioneering something new

From Rev Andrew Smith
Presbytery Minister - Congregation Futures

I’m wondering whether any of the following is true of you:

· You have a nagging sense that there must be a way to be church differently that would resonate with your friends, neighbours, family and work colleagues who are not part of a church.

· You’ve heard stories of others having a go at being church differently, so you know there are possible alternatives.

· You are wondering whether there are others in your congregation or neighbouring congregations who are thinking the same as you.

If this is you, you are not alone. People like this are sometimes described as being pioneers. They are pioneering new ways of being church. These are the kind of people for whom David Male wrote his book – How to Pioneer (Even if you Haven’t a Clue).

Having that nagging sense that there must be a way to be church differently doesn’t necessarily mean that your think the way your congregation is being church is wrong or that folk of your congregation are not good people. Rather, you are noticing that this way of being church fits really nicely for the people who are coming along, but there are bunches of people for whom it probably is not a good fit.

David Male had noticed this about the congregations he had been part of. He puts it this way:

“This great community was set up to look after us and to provide what we wanted, not necessarily what we needed. But there was very little sense of the church being there for people who did not regularly attend it, or the church being part of God’s mission to this local community. Of course we talked about encouraging others to join us, and even sometimes did mission events. But I realised that the underlying message was that this was for us – do come and join us but you will have to fit in with us. If you can do this then you are very welcome.”

Hmmm. Does any of this ring true for you? I’ve got to say that I feel very comfortable in conventional forms of church. It is what I have grown up with, and it makes sense to me. Even though I think it is great, and think others should come along so they too can be part of it, it is probably not a fit for them. It is for people like me. There are far more people out of church than in church. This is a big clue about who are churches are for.

I recently listened to a description of how unfitting church can be for most people. It is part of an interview with Pioneer Minister Sue Butler in which she shares her story of pioneering a Fresh Expression over the past 10 years. You can watch the interview at fx practitioner Sue Butler shares her story of pioneering a Fresh Expression over the past 10 years - YouTube . Here is what Sue says about how bad the fit can be. Be warned, she doesn’t pull any punches:

“We ask [newcomers] to sit in straight rows and hard pews, close their eyes and talk to someone they can’t see – which is plain weird, sing songs – rarely done apart from football matches, listen to a monologue, and then we serve up nasty coffee, cheap biscuits and put a dish beside the biscuits saying for your donations. It’s quite frankly insulting and does not bear much resemblance to the church of Acts 2:42”

Hearing stories of people having a go at being church differently (like Sue’s story) helps us know there are possible alternatives. For David Male, a turning point in his journey of pioneering something new came when he read a headline in his local newspaper that 53% of people in his town

had no contact whatsoever with any religious institution. Then he heard about a church that was specifically trying to connect with those outside the Church and had committed to make this their priority. This inspired him to try something.

But this is very hard to do by yourself. You need others who are thinking the same as you. But more than that, you really need people who say, ‘Let’s do something together to make this a reality.

Is this you?

If this has sparked your interest, I encourage you to come along and hear more in a zoom session with Rev Christine Palmer on Wednesday 1st of September, 7:30-8:45pm, Meeting ID: 965 9477 7859. See the separate item in these notices for more information about the session.