A Church for the Unchurched – Vision Part 2

In my last post I shared that God is reigniting the vision that he gave me before I started at St Paul’s:

A Church For The Unchurched and A Church For Children

Read the previous post

So what does it mean to be ‘A Church For The Unchurched?’

One of the passages in the Bible that I keep returning to is Jesus’ commissioning of the disciples (and through them of each and every Christian) in Matt 28:19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.” These are some of the very last words of Jesus to his followers and so they are really, really important. He could have said anything. He could have said go and pray for four hours a day, or go and fast twice a week, or go and feed the poor. Praying, fasting and giving to the needs of the poor are all vital and important, but Jesus didn’t say any of those as his last words. He said, go and make disciples. NOTE: he said go and make disciples not go and build the church, he also told us to go to ALL nations, that is to every man, woman and child, not just to the people who are already in the church.

The life and ministry of Jesus was an example of just this. In fact Jesus got quite a reputation for who he spent his time with. In Matthew 9:11-13 we read: When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Archbishop William Temple said, “The Church is the only organisation that exists for the benefit of its non-members”. Think about that statement, it has a lot to say. The church does not exist for my benefit, it does not exist to provide what I want, when I want it and in the style I prefer. We live in a consumer society, but the church is not a consumer organisation, if anything the church should be profoundly counter cultural in this.

In 2004 the Church of England published a report entitled ‘Mission Shaped Church’ and one of the statements that was at the heart of that book was: “It’s not the church of God that has a mission in the world, but the God of mission who has a church in the world.”

For decades, if not centuries, the church of God has understood that it had a mission in the world, that is, mission was one of the reasons for the existence of the church amongst many others. That isn’t want Matt 29:19 says, rather it is the God of mission who has a church in the world, that is, mission is at the very heart and foundation of the existence of the church, it is not one of the reasons for it’s existence amongst many others, it is THE reason for the existence of the church.

Let me return to the question I asked at the start: what does it mean to be ‘A Church For The Unchurched?’

It means that we examine all that we are and do against how it serves God’s mission of making disciples of all nations. Let me take one, possibly controversial, area of the life of many churches and ask what it might mean if we were truly a ‘church for the unchurched.’ At a recent meeting of the PCC our Archdeacon remarked that he was surprised how many churches in the Diocese had communion as their main service almost every Sunday. That wasn’t his experience in other Dioceses that he has been in and the question he raised was should we reduce the number of communion services at St Paul’s to maybe twice monthly and at Whiteley to once monthly. He was clear that this wasn’t because of the lack of priests to celebrate communion, but rather in a mission minded church was it appropriate to have so many communion services?

Why might he suggest this? The reasoning behind this question is that communion can be a barrier for the unchurched. Every Sunday when I administer communion I know how many people receive the bread and wine, how many people I pray a blessing over and how many people are in the building. And every week that are a number who don’t come up for communion or a blessing. Why? I would suggest that it is because communion is a meal for Christians and they don’t feel included. Instead of welcoming and including them communion becomes a barrier.

In a previous church community that I was part of the question of the regularity of communion was raised. The suggestion made was the we should ask the members of the church community how often they felt we should celebrate communion, my strong suspicion was that if we did so the answer would be ‘as often as possible.’ If the church is a ‘church for the unchurched’ perhaps the best people to ask aren’t those who are already part of the church community but those who are on the outside. I wonder what they would say?



7 thoughts on “A Church for the Unchurched – Vision Part 2

  1. A very interesting point I would suspect the answer would be different for each generation you asked? I would think a better question to ask would you be, are you interested in coming to church and what would make you come back again and again? Would they like “Quick Church” in and out in 30-40 minutes or a full service or could we combine the two Full Service and “Quick Church” ? those who want the whole service and those who would like just a recharge of there meeting with God. Possibly Quick Church would not involve communion?????

  2. Some very good and very relevant stuff here!

    Could communion be a normal meal with the liturgy? Was it not with Jesus? This would be far less of a barrier.

    Why not different ‘services’ to suit different people?

    The Waterfront Church had a special multimedia hotel based service for non-believers once a week [on a weekday]. It was more like stage entertainment with a sermon at the end. Very easy to invite people to that!

  3. I think it can be a barrier. I remember when I first came to St Pauls, or to other Anglican churches, I was reluctant to take communion because I wasn’t sure if it was ‘alright’, having been brought up through the non-conformist church. So I can sympathise with others who may not have any background of church who only see the pomp. It must be intimidating.

  4. My feelingsd about this are that some members of our congregation could attend other local churches on those Sundays when we do not have a communion service at St Paul’s.

    Other thoughts are that the Unchurched could feel a little uncomfortable if they believed that the number of communion services was being reduced for their benefit.

    Our monthly Family Service is a non communion service but with an 8 am communion service. If we were to reduce the number of 10 30 am communion services, would there be an 8 am communion service on those Sundays ?

    When Sandy gives such a generous inviitation to those not used to taking communion, to take communion, or to come for a blessing, or not, what better consideration could the Unchurched feel that they are receiving than this.

    I feel that the consecration and taking of communion is a precious part of our service. It takes us back to the Old Testament and the last supper, and we can be there.

    I hope this is helpful. Val

  5. Thanks Sandy for your thoughts which are provocative.

    Firstly I need to define the meaning of church, as for me it has always been the fellowship of those who are one with Jesus and the Father, as he prayed for all who would believe in Him (John 17:20-21). However in the context of these Blogs you are clearly using the more common definition of church as our fellowship of believers meeting in a building called a church, and that is a totally different beast.

    Jesus asked the Disciples to share bread and wine to remember him and his sacrifice for us, coherently found in 1Corinthians 11:23-26. Paul is sorting out the church at Corinth who were irreverent and undisciplined in their approach to communion as they then knew it. Indeed the early church shared a proper meal together until numbers made this an impractical event when it was reduced to just bread and wine. Real bread was used until returning crusaders brought leprosy with them and it became a practical way of administering communion using a wafer, dipped in the wine, and placed on the tongue by the priest. That way reduced the risk of the priest being contaminated by the communicant!!

    My point is this, God honours our choices in whatever way we celebrate and remember Jesus’ sacrifice and redemptive gift to us. I can personally testify to sharing an evening meal with Christian friends where the whole meal was a communion, where we remembered Him and shared our meal with Him in Spirit. He has promised “where two or more are gathered in my name, there am I also”

    I truly believe that if I never ever go to a communion service again or even never receive communion again, I will suffer no penalty. But communion is very precious to most of us, and we should be careful to change the status quo only when we are sure of not offending. Getting rid of one such service each month will not change our outreach one iota unless such change is driven and blessed by the Spirit.

    I will also witness here that St Paul’s has an open and welcoming face to all who cross the threshold. At my first visit in may 2006 I was met with open love within 1 minute of sitting down as a stranger. Yes I was a Christian but the welcome was for me as a stranger, and I was blessed thereby. So in principle I am open to change, but it must be born of the Spirit, Blessed by the Spirit, and empowered by the Spirit too. We surely can introduce an outreach service on a Sunday afternoon and keep our communion as well, can’t we ?

  6. Lots of very thought-provoking responses. The discussion on commmunion reminded me of going to a protestant church 2 years ago in Nurnberg, Germany. The service was quite formal, with people from all walks of life in the congregation, and although the liturgy was similar in places to the one we use, I did feel a bit out of place and unsure of what to do, say or sing or when to do it .However, when we were invited up to communion, we stood in a big circle around the altar, received communion (or a blessing) and then everyone held hands and blessed one another. It was unexpected, but Paul and I were aware of being part of God’s family in that place and felt very welcome. It reminded us that it is only Jesus who can unite us through his Spirit across such diverse cultures, backgrounds and paradigms and remembering his sacrifice in communion reminds us of the lengths to which he was prepared to go to reconcile us with God and each other.
    As for a 4pm family service, why not try it and see. And that has nothing to do whatsoever with my desire for a lie-in………!

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