Friday, 22 January 2016

Church vs Supermarket

The Church in the UK has a bit of a challenge on it's hands. In the rural parishes, attendance has dropped - and the clergy now have broader areas to cover. Our local parish priest has seven Churches to look after, and naturally cannot be present at every service.

I'm sad to say that the traditional parish service doesn't 'do it' for me any more - but more on that shortly.

Several years ago, I suggested that we shut some of the Churches every Sunday, build a rota where services were held in three different Churches every week. I believed this would increase the congregation numbers, generate more energy, and make the services both busier and more attractive to those who didn't come so often.

The problem? People typically won't travel to Church (so I'm told).  I'd like to point out that the greatest distance between the buildings is 6.2 miles, and the average is 2.8. Now I've seen how busy the supermarkets are at the weekend, and people are more than willing to travel six or seven miles to get there........grrrrr. Draw your own conclusions.

I said earlier that the traditional parish service doesn't 'do it' for me any more - and you may be thinking that's quite a rude thing to say, so let me clarify. I wholeheartedly believe that different service styles serve the needs of different people - as a family we've been to Catholic services, evangelical services, rural services, Cathedral services, services in the USA and even a service at the Queen's Free Chapel in the grounds of Windsor Castle.

(Don't get excited by that last one, everybody is welcome there on a Sunday - Britain really is a great place to live)

Everyone needs to find their 'fit'. As a family we were seeking a more spiritual experience than we were feeling at our local parish church, and on returning from a visit to the US and a Sunday service at a Baptist Church near Gatlinburg TN (the one in the picture). We started to look around for something similar, but significantly closer to home.

We found that the Church of England are trying something new nearby, called 'Fresh Expressions' - one of a loose network that's growing fast. 

In the case of our local Church (here's the 'about us' link), four years ago it was a small group of people meeting at a local school that's now grown into over 350 people in a new Church building with a cafe that acts as a community centre, and activities happening all week long.

So why do we travel five 'arduous' miles to Church on a Sunday? What's different for us?Here are some things that spring to mind.

  • Live music - who doesn't like to see and hear several guitarists, a few singers, a keyboard player, a bass player and a drummer belt out some modern hymns?
  • Informality - you never know who's going to stand up and give a sermon, read a notice or present a reading. Some people sing, some don't. Some sit, some stand.
  • The children enjoy it, and are welcome - we have four of them so that makes a difference. 
  • Spirituality. This is a place where if everyone is enjoying a particular song, the band will just 'go round again' - if a reading demands further attention, discussion will ensure. We always leave feeling better than when we arrived.
  • Cake (or bacon sandwiches) - after every service there's food and drink, and everyone stays for a chat. 
  • Community support, and a diverse welcome. Literally everyone is welcome through the doors and it's a great place to make new friends.
  • Being late really doesn't matter. Services on a Sunday start at 10:30(ish) people trickle in for about half an hour after that and nobody minds.
  • Lack of guilt. If we miss a service, we don't feel bad - really. We go because it's fun and spiritually fulfilling. If we choose to do something else on a Sunday - so be it.

So why am I writing this dramatically 'off-topic' blog?

Well, it's not really off topic if you think about it. As a family, we're attracted to a culture that fits us, in an environment that engages us. In this respect the Church we go to on a Sunday (at the moment) reflects everybody's workplace desires. In the case of the average person, it's a lot easier to 'switch Church' than to 'switch job' - but the principal remains the same. 

You'll get a lot more out of life if you find somewhere that recognises your gifts and rewards you at a fundamental level. It's easier to find a culture that fits you, but it's possible to change the culture you're in too - and that change starts with you.

If you're looking for something different for your faith - try a new Church. 

If you're looking for more workplace fulfilment, try working with those around you on improving engagement and culture.

But for crying out loud, don't give the excuse that you're willing to drive to a supermarket, but not travel to a Church that fits you better. I guarantee you'll feel better after a Church service than an hour pushing your trolley up and down a supermarket aisle.


Looking for more? I love this this entertaining (and funny) clip from the Vineyard Church in North Grand Rapids, Michigan. Spend two minutes of your time. "Girly men" indeed......

And if I could trouble you to follow ECB on Twitter, that would be fab :-)