Youth Clubs, Community Centres, Pubs, Clubs, Parks, Libraries – all closed, reduced or only provide targetted services in the last 7 years.
If im being generous I would say that all of these spaces were spaces of gathering for people not just in families, but across families, where young people held discussions with youth workers, where exchange of opinions occurs in the community centres, and maybe even in the pubs and libraries, these were places for conversation about the topics of the day, and they still do exist in some areas. Conversations where people might disagree, conversations where people might be challenged. If i was to be critical, id say that these places only perpetuated the gathering of people who were of a similar view, but at least in the space there could be conversational reflection and challenge. Most of these spaces have been reduced, and replaced by the coffee shop, the coffee shop where people who already like each other go and drink coffee with each other, so families or friends. There may only be fleeting interactions with those outside the family unit or friendship group and often, depending on the culture, its not necessarily welcomed.
Churches have become places akin to the coffee shop than the community centre, the cosy place to spend with friends , the social group of people who generally in most places are of people of a similar mindset. And if im brutal, the environment or culture of church is rarely the environment to have heated discussion, more pastoral and polite than political. Though to be fair sunday church isn’t for that. It’s for praise. For displaying a new reality. For worship.
Along with praise. Churches have become good at protest. Marches this week are testament to it, marches for poverty before also, and social media has created communities of faith to gather and organise. It’s been needed and a statement of desiring change. The problem with only protest and praise is that is not in public. It’s only amongst people of the same mind the same protest. There’s nothing, absolutely nothing wrong with praise, and protesting is definitely needed. Outside the echo chamber of the church and social media of similar types are churches creating opportunities of engagement?
At a recent conference on detached youthwork Graeme Tiffany, a community educator, showed how in community groups and gatherings people begin to have their opinions changed in groups. Psychologists have produced evidence to say that people start to question opinions and even fact in groups when one or two in the group give a different view. This was all done in forums, community gatherings and debates that Graeme was facilitating in community centres and groups.
The Brexit vote might have been a wake up call. If theres one word that occurs its that churches need to engage with people it doesnt know and might not agree with. If there have been a demise of public spaces of conversation, might it be that local churches create opportunities for community education. Places of conversation, places to tell and share stories, places to question, converse and share opinions. It could be that once a month a church holds a local debate on an issue, safety, education, ethics, future, and there are deliberately people of different opinions, presenting viewpoints, discussions in the open public for structured and safe conversations. During which new realities are being realised as people think, share and converse.
In a way on an evangelism point there’s no point trying to talk about Jesus if the church isn’t hosting conversations about anything. In a way also it’s not to change peoples minds or opinions but to learn and engage, but to create space and trust the space. The church is to be a community building project (Vanhoozer, 2014) and it starts by creating spaces for engagement.not for its own sake but for the good of local communities the common good. The church groups that have coffee mornings and drop ins in community spaces are doing more for people in terms of social improvement, reduced loneliness, conversational skills and also spiritual awareness. Just by having open shared space.
If church only invites people to the praise thing, or being involved in the protest thing, it maintains the dynamic that church is only in private or with its own. Engagement and involvement in community education might be how churches become agents of common good, of human flourishing and give others the opportunity to join in with kingdom building.
Vanhoozer, Kevin, 2014 Faith Speaking Understanding, p174-5