Signs of life or evidence of death?

Photo by Mike B on

We want there to be signs of life, signs of hope.  It’s hard to give the message that there are none and hard to receive such a touch message too.  Our temptation is to keep looking for glimmers of hope. This is true when we are talking about churches. It is hard to tell a group of church members that the church is dying and that the best course of action is probably to allow it.

And it is hard, I think to hear and accept the message that much of the UK church, as we know it is also dying.  Now, when we talk about the UK church, it is not a homogenous entity and so, there are encouraging signs in some quarters. This includes geographically with significant signs of growth and church multiplication in London.  It is also about strands and streams.  Recent surveys suggest that some networks including FIEC and New Frontiers have been bucking the trend and growing. Though how much of that is about new people coming to faith and how much of it is about the reconfiguration of church life remains open to question.

My article about Champing was really about this theme.  It is hard when a building no longer hosts a congregation and when all the data points to general decline to hear it. And I want to suggest gently that one temptation we have is to look for glimmers of hope and to find signs of life.  However, too often, this requires a redefinition of “life.” 

That is part of my problem with clergy talking about how the church is continuing to carry out its mission at least in part by hosting events and activities in its buildings  that may build community.  Sadly, it is possible then for ministers to talk about how active their churches are, how involved in the community and how they are joining in God’s mission, in stark contradiction of what is really happening.  It means for example, that the practically dead on its feet church with the large, empty building can host a Food bank, staffed by members of still active churches and the leaders can chalk that off as “mission.” 

Sadly, all too often, I am reminded of the words in Revelation 3:1:

“I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead.”

Now, this is crucial, because it may appear that I’ve got traditional denominations and especially overtly liberal churches in mind. However, my concern here is always that we need to put our own house in order as evangelicals.  So, I’ve seen too often that we can just as easily put false hope in the busyness of our programmes and buildings whilst missing that we are failing to truly offer Christ.  I think, hope even, that the pandemic exposed the folly of hoping in such things as we were stripped back.  If we don’t heed the warning, then we too will be like Sardis.

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