Lynda Barley, Church House Publishing, 2006, 57 pp., £6.99, ISBN 0-7151-4103-1
This is one of a series of booklets that presents current research messages for the Church today. It is important that we look at evidence-based research as we try to grasp where Christians can be engaged effectively in mission with the de-churched and the unchurched. The booklet suggests that 30% of the population is unchurched, having no experience of church or Sunday school, while 50% have drifted away from church roots.
While appreciating that statistics can be useful, the whole booklet throws up the question that many people have refused to face for decades. You cannot “go to church” because church is the saints gathered together for worship, prayer and so on, and many of our brothers and sisters around the world appreciate buildings are very secondary. Some of the ‘fresh expressions’ of church at least face this question more honestly.
The whole focus of the booklet seems to be the ‘come to church’ model which has hindered the mission of the church for far too long. It seems to belong more to the Christendom age that more and more realise is past. We do much better to read about ‘Mission-shaped church’ if we really want to be effective in the 21st century.
There are some interesting ideas about teatime meetings working well and there being multi-congregational expressions of the local church, but almost everything here can be found in other places. I was pleased to see that creatively using ‘hatches, matches and despatches’ was being encouraged with the unchurched in particular.
Many are realising we are in some ways a money-rich/time-poor society and church life has not always come to terms with that. How we face the issue of many only meeting for worship and teaching once or twice a month was not faced. As I preach and speak in many areas, I see the ignorance of basic Christianity that can be addressed if congregations meet week by week and are instructed in the faith.
We perhaps need to recognise that the “good old days” were not actually as well attended as we envisage and we need also to recognise that denominations mean less and less as people become part of a local fellowship that suits them.
Reviewed by Andrew J M Barker, a freelance Preacher and teacher based in Nottingham
Headline Winter 2006/7 p.26