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.

Re-Thinking Local Culture

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.


Recognising our missionary context means we can no longer assume that the church understands the culture. We need to rediscover or relearn the culture. We need to get to know our neighbourhood, its people, their stories, values, worldview and culture. We need to ask the kind of questions that missionaries ask when they enter a new culture, questions such as:

Where?

• Where are the places and activities in which you can meet people (‘the missional spaces’)?

• Where do people experience community?

• Are there existing social networks with which we can engage, or do we need to find ways of creating community within a neighbourhood?

• Where should you be to have missional opportunities?

When?

• What are the patterns and timescales of your neighbourhood (‘the missional rhythms’)?

• When are the times when you can connect with people (‘the missional moments’)?

• How do people organise their time?

• What cultural experiences and celebrations do people value? How might these be used as bridges to the gospel?

• When should you be available to have missional opportunities?

What?

• What are people’s fears, hopes and hurts?

• What ‘gospel’ stories are told in the neighbourhood? What gives people identity (creation)? How do they account for wrong in the world (fall)? What is their solution (redemption)? What are their hopes (consummation)?

• What are the barrier beliefs or assumptions that cause people to dismiss the gospel?

• What sins will the gospel first confront and heal?

• In what ways are people self-righteous?

• What is the good news for people in this neighbourhood?

• What will church look like for people in this neighbourhood?

Communities are not always defined by geography. They may also be defined by ethnicity, leisure interest, time of life and so on. In an urban context most people are part of several overlapping communities.

Ask people what it’s like to live in your area. If you are an insider, ask outsiders what they find weird about your community. If you are an outsider, ask insiders how they view their community.

You might ask these kinds of questions on first encountering a new community or neighbourhood. But they should also be questions we ask all the time so that missional reflection becomes a normal part of our lives. We cannot work on our understanding of our neighbourhood and then sign it off. These questions should be part of ongoing discussions.

Organise activities such as team meetings, one-to-one mentoring, talk preparation and readings in public spaces such as cafés, pubs and parks. This will help you to think in a missional way as you plan and prepare. If you prepare Bible teaching in a coffee shop, for example, you are more likely to find yourself developing your teaching as a dialogue with the culture. But if you simply prepare in your study surrounded by your books, then you will naturally speak into this context, addressing the concerns of professional exegetes. If you hold a leaders’ meeting in a café then you are more likely to think in missional terms as you discuss the business of the church.

In many cases you will be able to identify where community happens in your neighbourhood and therefore become part of that community. The church often seems to have an obsession with doing everything itself. If you want to reach hikers, you start a church hiking group. But why not join an existing hiking group? Somebody else does all the hard work of organising the group. There may, though, be situations in which you discover there is no real community going on. Then you can become the people who bring others together.

Living in a Post-Christendom Context

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.


We are not only living in a post-Christian context but in a post-Christendom context. Christendom is the formal or informal alliance of church and state that was the dominant model in Europe from the conversion of Constantine in the fourth century AD onwards. The state authorised the church while the church supported the state. Christianity became a civil religion. To be born into the states of Europe was to be born into the church. The church as an institution was given special privileges. This mutual legitimisation was symbolised in the overtly Christian coronation oaths, parliamentary prayers and sermons, the parish system, the coronation of monarchs by archbishops and so on. The United States formally separated church and state, and allowed for religious toleration. But in other ways Christendom has been as strong in the United States as in Europe. The assumption is that Christianity should have a privileged status in the cultural and political discourse of the nation. Presidents and would-be presidents overtly reference their faith and close their speeches with the words, ‘God bless America.’

Christendom, however, is increasingly a spent force in the West. Some of the symbolism remains. The British monarch is still the head of an established church, and bishops still sit in the upper chamber of the UK Parliament. But the reality of Christendom is fading fast, overtaken by secularism and pluralism. The Bible no longer has authority in public discourse. The church no longer has a privileged voice. Church leaders still get invited to state occasions, but on matters of ethics they are ignored. When the Pope visited the UK in 2010 he was greeted with all due pomp and ceremony as a head of state. But when it comes to his views on abortion and homosexuality he is ignored by politicians and ridiculed by the media. Lyndon Bowring, Executive Chairman of CARE, said in a recent interview, ‘The greatest challenge . . . is the growing secularisation of society, where Christianity is being increasingly squeezed out of our national life. The ultimate result of this tendency will be a society that is hostile to Christian truth and practice.’

In his book After Christendom Stuart Murray defines ‘post-Christendom’ as ‘the culture that emerges as the Christian faith loses coherence within a society that has been definitively shaped by the Christian story and as the institutions that have been developed to express Christian convictions decline in influence’. He also identifies seven transitions that mark the shift from Christendom to a post-Christendom culture:

From the centre to margins 

In Christendom the Christian story and the churches were central, but in post-Christendom these are marginal.

From majority to minority 

In Christendom Christians comprised the (often overwhelming) majority, but in post-Christendom we are a minority.

From settlers to sojourners 

In Christendom Christians felt at home in a culture shaped by their story, but in post-Christendom we are aliens, exiles and pilgrims in a culture where we no longer feel at home.

From privilege to plurality 

In Christendom Christians enjoyed many privileges, but in post-Christendom we are one community among many in a plural society.

From control to witness

In Christendom churches could exert control over society, but in post-Christendom we exercise influence only through witnessing to our story and its implications.

From maintenance to mission 

In Christendom the emphasis was on maintaining a supposedly Christian status quo, but in post-Christendom it is on mission within a contested environment.

From institution to movement 

In Christendom churches operated mainly in institutional mode, but in post-Christendom we must become again a Christian movement.

The legacy of Christendom is hotly debated. Some Christians recognise that it has come to an end, but believe it leaves a largely positive legacy. Others celebrate its passing, bemoaning the compromises it imposed on the church. The church’s privileged status in society, they believe, meant it had a vested interest in the status quo which inevitably blunted its proclamation of the social dimensions of repentance, meaning that the church was aligned, or was perceived to be aligned, with the establishment.

The future of Christendom is also debated. Historian Philip Jenkins predicts a growing non-Western Christendom doing battle with militant Islam across the so-called Third World. Our focus, however, is on the West.

Here some Christians want to hang on to the last vestiges of Christendom, campaigning to retain symbols such as an overtly Christian coronation oath. Or they talk up the statistics of Christian affiliation, however notional. Lynda Barley, Head of Research and Statistics for the Church of England, claims, for example, that ‘Britain is still a predominantly Christian country’ because when asked in the census about their religion more than seven in ten people consider themselves to be Christian. Yet a 2007 poll found that only 22% of men and 26% of women in Britain agreed with the statement: ‘I believe in a personal god who created the world and hears my prayers.’ So by any definition of Christian faith almost two-thirds of those who say they are Christians clearly are not, for they do not even believe in a personal God. So why claim that Britain is still a predominantly Christian country? Because some Christians want to retain the notion that our nation is a Christian country with the privileges and securities this brings. It allows us to continue on the basis of ‘business as usual’.

The Mission-Shaped Church report is more realistic:

The Christian story is no longer at the heart of the nation. Although people may identify themselves as ‘Christian’ in the national census, for the majority that does not involve belonging to a worshipping community, or any inclination that it should. Many people have no identifiable religious interest or expression.

But we are not pessimistic. There are many signs of life. Many churches are healthy. We sense a growing commitment to church planting across all the different tribes of evangelicalism. God’s Word is still being proclaimed. The gospel is still the power of God for salvation. The Lord’s arm is not too short that it cannot save. The Holy Spirit is alive and well. Christ will build his church. Our aim in reviewing these statistics is not to make us give up, but to show that the ways we do mission have to change.

Behold the Man

Acts 29 invites you to its annual conference in Europe, Behold the Man: Planting the Gospel in Europe, to be held at Cornerstone Church in Nottingham, UK on April 21st – 22nd, 2015.

“Behold the man!” was Pilate’s command in John 19. And as odd as it sounds, each of us ought to obey this man, the same one who handed Jesus over to be executed. We ought to fix our eyes on the Man he is pointing to. Continue Reading

Yunok’s Testimony

Hear the story of how Yunok was welcomed in Sheffield during his GAP year and how he found security and forgiveness through the gospel in a world lacking stability and full of disappointments.