At the moment, the church is going through a small revival in its thinking about how we present ourselves. Everyday someone draws my attention to an article that has the generic title “make your church look like this if you want to attract new people and grow”. The most recent one I read was posted by the most excellent Bishop of Buckingham Alan Wilson who posted it on Facebook as a “what do you think” discussion starter.
As some of you know I operate in the “Dario Gradi” school of ministry. Let me explain. Dario Grady was manager of Crewe Alexandra Football Club for over 25 years. In that time the highest the club ever reached was Division 1 (now known as the League Championship). He never managed at the highest level nor did his club ever reach the highest heights. Crewe is not where you go for managerial or playing glory but he was no failure. His teams played well, they worth watching in football terms and many star names got their start under Dario. Crewe may not be the most attractive place but they still need a manager.
I see churches the same way. My current post is not a road to fame and fortune but someone’s got to do it and while I’m here it allows me to be amazed at how God calls people to himself.
Over the last few years I’ve watched people sit down on the back row on a random Sunday (that is where they always start, though a couple have braved their way to the front) and I would have bet money I would never see them again. Yet to my surprise you can still find them turning up, happy to be there and happy to find their way towards the kingdom in either of my congregations.
I’ve been around for awhile and I’ve seen churches grow wildly and be the one “everyone” goes to. But I tell you, those church leaders work really hard trying to keep their congregations interested and up to date. When you try that hard to get the people who aren’t in church to like you, to have a gimmick or novel outlook that draws attention, most of the people who are attracted used to go to someone else’s’ church and will be prepared to leave yours the minute you’ve “lost it”.
When Bishop Alan put the article on his Facebook page I commented with what seemed to me to be the only sustainable marketing strategy the church could follow
or maybe we just do what we do over 2000 years, love each other, seem to be more together than we are apart and discover that Jesus becomes more and more real to people who don’t know him the more and more we look like him. To paraphrase Garrison Keillor talking about his brethren upbringing, “if we had spent as much time on love and compassion as we did on cards and dancing, the world might have become a better place”.
I hesitated before pushing the enter key fearing I sounded awfully pious. That fear often stops us from commenting on these great new ideas that inspire mostly diocesan growth officers, churches that feel guilty about their inability to attract large enough numbers and churches who feel stale if they don’t have a “new” angle for this year. We’re afraid of sounding simple and out of touch.
So you can imagine how encouraged I was by a recent Sunday lectionary reading where Jesus says something simple in the midst of some quite hard teaching
He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.” John 6:65
We like to think that if we were just this or just that then the people will come flooding in. Before Jesus started getting down to brass tacks lots of people loved to come and hear him. Then he got a bit weird and political and the numbers dropped. Then he got crucified and was left with only a handful of disciples. If it was a matter of marketing he would have had thousands following him.
Jesus tells a stark truth: the people who stick and stay (in high and low numbers) are the ones who didn’t come because of the gimmick; they came because they sensed that this is where they should be and where God might find them. God doesn’t care if your band or choir is great, you preacher excellent and your Sunday school is full. He cares that your church looks like Jesus when people decide to cross that threshold, to let the vicar in to discuss a funeral or baptism or when you all open your mouths and speak.
So if you feel you are attending or leading a church in the lower divisions simply because not many turn up or it all feels less than trendy, take heart. People come and stay where they feel they might meet the God who called them.