From Attractional Events to Attractional Communities

Editor’s Note: The following excerpt is from Steve Timmis and Tim Chester’s book Everyday Church, available in print through IVP in the UK and Crossway in the US.

In Christendom many people attended church, sometimes by legal constraint, but more often by social constraint. In this context churches could legitimately speak of faithfully proclaiming the gospel because each Sunday they had gospel-centred sermons. This is no longer the case. We cannot claim to be faithfully proclaiming the gospel to the lost through our Sunday preaching when most of the lost do not attend church in the first place. We need to do mission outside church and church events. This is something we need to recover rather than discover, for the modern evangelical movement was born out of a recognition that the UK was not a Christian nation and therefore needed to be evangelised outside of church buildings and services. George Whitefield and John Wesley preached the gospel in the open air because they were not welcome in church buildings, and the people they wanted to reach were not in church.

We cannot rely on business as usual. We cannot have more of the same. Evangelism must involve a qualitative change rather than simply a quantitative change. One of the common assumptions when people fail to turn up to church is that we need to improve the experience of church gatherings, the ‘product’. We need better music, more relevant sermons, multimedia presentations, engaging dramas. Or we need to relocate to pubs, cafés, art centres. We need cool venues with cool people and cool music. The problem with this approach is the assumption that people will come to church if the product is better. But remember, 70% of the UK population have no intention of attending a church service, and these figures are even higher among young people.

It is no good blaming the lost for failing to turn up, or bemoaning the drift of our nation away from Christianity. ‘Our persistent “come to us” mind-set suggests that we really believe that people who refuse to come in the front door are beyond the reach of Christ.’ But a farmer cannot blame his crops if he fails to sow and reap. Sunday morning in church is the one place where evangelism cannot take place in our generation because the lost are not there – not until we go out to connect with them where they are, where they feel comfortable, on their territory.

We need to do church and mission in the context of everyday life. We must think of church as a community of people who share life, ordinary life. And the bedrock of mission will be ordinary life.

So, an everyday church with an everyday mission.

Re-Weighing Expectations

Editor’s Note: The following excerpt is from Steve Timmis and Tim Chester’s book Everyday Church, available in print through IVP in the UK and Crossway in the US.

A Christendom mentality expects the world to be like us and share our values. And it protests when the world is not like us. Often Christians complain about the treatment of Christianity in the wider culture. They bemoan legislation that does not reflect Christian values. They lament the representation of Christianity in the media. They decry politicians who profess themselves atheists. We do not welcome any of these developments. But none of them surprise us.

We cannot expect the world to be like us. Indeed we are surprised whenever we do see the culture conforming to Christian values or reacting positively to the church. This is perhaps something the Free churches can teach the Anglicans in England. Part of our story is persecution and marginalisation. We are not part of the Establishment, and often in our history we have been persecuted by the Establishment. Anglicanism often lacks this collective memory. It really is a surprise to Anglicans to find themselves marginalised because they are used to being part of the Establishment. Yet often the Free churches have sought to suppress this memory, seeking respectability. Many of the grand Nonconformist chapels built on the high street were an attempt to say, ‘We’ve arrived; we’re part of mainstream society.’ The tradition of non-conformist dissent has been replaced by middle-class conformity. We need to discover or recover the sense that if this year we are not imprisoned, then it has been a good year in which by the grace of God we have got off lightly.

It was ever thus. In 2:4–8 Peter says that believers are ‘like living stones’ ‘being built into a spiritual house’ with Jesus as the cornerstone or capstone. We are living stones like Christ the living Stone. But notice how Christ the Stone is described. He is ‘rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him’ (2:4). He is ‘the stone the builders rejected [which] has become the capstone’ (2:7). He is the ‘stone that causes men to stumble’ (2:8). Peter is following Jesus himself in using Psalm 118:22 to describe his rejection by humanity (Mark 12:10). Jesus is rejected by people, but chosen by God.

The cornerstone is the stone to which all the other stones are aligned. The Stone to which we as living stones are aligned is the Stone that has been rejected by human beings, but is honoured by God.

So we can expect human rejection and divine honour to be our experience as well.