Shaping church for the non church likers – why not ask people?

I like yoghurt. I do. Its a small confession, but I each quite a lot of it. Especially the fruity corner, or light toffee ones. I even like the natural yoghurt, or greek and honey stuff. As I was eating a particular type of yoghurt the other day, one where it was greek in style, and had a layer of fruit on top, it struck me about how many varieties there are, and how many times the combination of fruit puree has moved from a side compartment, to below the yoghurt, to above it, and that the product designers must be running out of options soon, i mean, how many different ways are there to rearrange yoghurt (low/fat/greek/flavoured) with fruit , and yet carefully marketed and publicised and on offer – ill buy it every time.

I bet the product designers for that particular yoghurt company have a field day soon they be trying to put the fruit in the middle, or line it up vertically. Just anything so it can have a new name, a new catch, a new variety, and convince yoghurt lovers like me to continue to appreciate their yoghurty goodness.

Do you think they ever ask people who dont like yoghurt, what kind of yoghurt would you like to eat?  – thats probably not their main customer – oh no- thatll be the yoghurt lover like me, keep them happy- and for the unconvinced of the fruit variety- stick a load of chocolate in it, in small flakes, thatll soften the low-fat blow that is creamy yoghurt.

There doesnt seem to be a day go by without one of those – why dont people go to church type articles, or why are (especially millenials) leaving the church (this was todays;  http://millennialpastor.net/2015/07/03/on-being-an-iphone-pastor-for-a-typewriter-church/). Yet without being too obvious about it – has anyone actually asked people who dont go to church why don’t they go? And what type of church might they like to be part of?

Can we have some actual research please into this? not just some guess work based on sociology, or generalisations of generationisms- (millenials, Gen x/y etc) , whether they are well attested theories of social demographics. Yes we can structure churches in the most perfect way for a certain generalisation of a generation – but does the average generalisation of person actually exist within walking distance of the local church?  I know – why doesnt each church do a survey of people who live in the 1 mile radius around it and find out what people would like to go to in their local church, or why they dont go – and then seek to address these local concerns, relationships, needs and interests. Every context is different, and church needs to learn and listen from the current non-church likers in their community. The danger of the generationalisms is that we provide material for an ideal generation type – not real people, in real communities.

What might be peoples responses? i dont actually know – why dont you ask people?

One way to get people to start liking yoghurt would be to have an event where people come to a yoghurt tasting show where the yoghurt is especially creamy, more fruity or chocololatey – or its just a tiny bit of yogurt on a chocolate bar – that way people get to see a special yoghurt, and hear from the yoghurty evangelist about the benefits of yoghurt in their lives. It wouldnt help if they were allergic, or lactose intolerant, or if they knew that they wouldnt like yoghurt so why even go to the event anyway. But isnt that what we often do – try and work out a way of rearranging or attractifying the substance of church – with no connection with people who have made a judgement about it already. Unlike us, They dont like church.

But have we given up on them too easily or given them the excuses- stating that sunday trading, sunday papers and sunday football is all in the way – well it might be – so if the people who we need to act towards have changed their sunday habits – then who needs to adapt to change?

There’s much research to say (see Phil Rankin 2007, or Passmore 2013) and we have found in conversations on detached, that young people are open to thinking about Spiritual things, and develop faith in local contextual communities, and that they dont grow up hating God or being completely antagonistic to church. But has any one actually asked/surveyed people (adults) about what they think about church, what theyd like about church (if they went to one) and what would encourage them to be part of one? and lets base the future shape of the church, and the connections people have of it in actual, in real life terms, not suppositions- until then we can re-allign the fruit and the yoghurt as much as we want to, but if we don’t know if people like yoghurt or not, and why theyre not already buying yoghurt,  then it seems a futile strategy. Well not be able to get people to like church if we dont know why they dont like it in the first place. Seems obvious doesnt it?

In ‘Church beyond the fourth wall’ Lugi (2012) states that “critical reflection on guest responses can produce creative methods of contextualising the story, relational connection with guests, thereby removing any unnecessary barriers to ecclesial mission” and i ask does the church engage with actual critical reflection with its guests, its supposed audience, and if it did- would that cause reflection internally to adapt, not dumb down, the method of audience participation into the performative drama?

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