“The task of the church is to present Christ, not extend Christendom” (Vanhoozer 2014)
Over the weekend I’ve been back in East Devon for a short break. We as a family hadn’t been back since we left two years ago so it was an opportunity to catch up with people. And make the most of a glorious weekend and grab a few days off.
We took for granted that WiFi would be sketchy not to mention 3 or 4G, realising that we would only manage to get snippets of olympic catch up from the car radio. I know I shouldn’t have done but checking social media on sunday and it seemed that the conversation exercising christians was that of an article (another one) on church growth in the guardian newspaper. This one focussed on the growth of a small number of churches in predominantly urban areas. Contrasting them to the ‘plodding ‘ nature of ‘mainstream’ Anglicanism.
I had just read the article, when I walked past the above church, at Salcombe regis, on the way to the local beach. In a tiny community of less than 200 people just outside Sidmouth. It has 4 services a week. And it’s noticeboard is full of activities. It looks like it’s the only place this community gathers. It’s the only space it can. The church is needed here by the community. Then I thought, in terms of church growth how many people does this church need to have going to it to compare with 750 ppl in Birmingham. 750 out of 1,100,000 = 0.006. This means that in Salcombe regis. As long as the vicar turns up, and 1 person every 4 weeks does then it’s reached a greater amount of the local population. Sounds ridiculous. But it depends on what the numbers mean. And represent.
And thats the problem. Numbers on their own don’t mean anything. And since when did the christian faith mean attending church anyway?
It would be easy to ask whether the ‘growing’ churches are new growth or transfer growth..
Or if they are ‘invite into/gathering ‘ growth or indigineuos growth in local community from scratch growth.
Or if longitudinal studies could determine long term discipleship into vocational leadership or social action beyond atendancies.
But in reality. All these articles do is show numbers.
The task of the church is to present Christ in the world, in appropriate ways in a variety of places. Will small churches in rural spots do this. Yes and that’s where church is needed the most, as a hope carrier, as a last place left where the rest of the world has retreated to the city, the Internet, or the large tesco. Not especially in Salcombe regis which has tourism as a trade, but the traditional swathes of the north east in which the church is the only community gathering point left now that even the pubs are shutting.
Is the church needed to provide the same hope in the city, yes of course. And both are needed to work together.
Both are needed because both have got the business of mission to do. But it’s not a business that is measurable by numbers. But by being present in the community, in the city, listening and walking with people.
If Birmingham is anything like Hartlepool, and in many ways it isn’t. .then it’s not the shiny church (and many shiny churches have tried) or the soggy church (and there are plenty of these.. see wealands bells article) that will transform the city. But the engaging and understanding church that meets with God with people and stays in the margins. It’ll be the sojourning church that presents Christ to the few and disciples in the so called poor areas. No guardian article will shine a light on that one.