Thursday, 20 March 2008

Are we relevant and seeker sensible?

Thinking caps on.

I have been reading around the need for our gathered church meetings to be both 'relevant to our culture' and 'seeker sensible' whilst also holding to our core values of teaching from the Bible and Spirit led worship.

For example, on Sunday mornings are there things we do that aren't too important but don't make any sense to unchurched people?

So here is my question that I need you to ponder and comment on:
What things do we do when we gather as church, that create a barrier or are simply weird or Christian-ese to those on our fringe / unchurched?

Helpful comments please ... (and yes, comedy can be helpful if it has a point!)


Roy the Beard said...

Well, at least we have moved on from 'seeker sensitive'! Have you tried Mark Driscoll's preach 'Religion Saves - Regulative Principle' (about the whole worship thing (i.e. not just the singing')) at
The podcast descripition is 'How do we decide the best way to worship corporately? Do we rely on tradition or cultural innovations like sitting down and reading by electric light? Most importantly, what does the Bible have to say on the matter? Pastor Mark Driscoll finishes out our sermon series, Religion Saves and 9 Other Misconceptions by answering the question, "do you believe that the Scripture not only regulates our theology but also our methodology? In other words, do you believe in the regulative principle? If so, to what degree? If not, why not?'


Roy the Beard said...

Of course - one could say that Jesus Christ is a bit a stumbling block!
More blessings

Chris said...

I think there's quite a lot that churches do that would be perceived to be "a bit weird" or unexpected by the unchurched. I think a lot of people will come to church and expect more traditional church meetings (by that I mean anglican). E.g. they would not expect

* singing from OHPs / projectors
* sitting and listening to a preach for more than 15 mins
* offerings

I'm not saying that we should stop these and definitely not objecting to them, I'm just trying to think what the unchurched are expecting. I think they would expect to be a spectator and not a participant.

Does that make sense?

Grace and peace.

Viv Simkins said...

Pippa Simkins commenting

(sorry about using my mums blogger sign in - don't seem to be able to login myself)

I'm thinking so not putting any solid ideas down however while i'm pondering am i aloud to ask my close non christian friends on this on? Makes sense to hear from the real deal? Both girls have been to similar style church. Pippa

Anita McCrum said...

I think that church can be a very uncomfortable experience for the unchurched. We are weird!

Spirit-lead worship will be a big surprise, and probably quite uncomfortable for most un-churched visitors but this is something that we obviously want to hold on to. I remember feeling acutely uncomfortable when I first experienced the exuberant praise and dancing in the church in Ghana!

We also want the structure, order and content to be Spirit-led to some degree. However I feel it must be a terrifying experience to turn up to one of our meetings and not have any idea of what to expect. If we went to a school meeting we would be presented with an agenda, on a work-course we would certainly expect to receive an outline of the day’s events (especially coffee break and lunch!), at the theatre we may purchase a programme etc. etc. If people don’t know what to expect, they may feel so apprehensive throughout the service that they don’t take anything in! Some churches have service sheets…Welcome, Songs & Hymns, Prayers, Sermon by Rev. Sean, Holy Communion, Notices, Blessing, the End. I’m not insisting that service-sheets is the answer but maybe a OHP at the beginning along with the little verbal briefing we give already.

Reading Family Church give a great welcome to visitors at the beginning of the service. But how about a formal gathering point for visitors after the service, to find out what they thought of the service, whether they’d like to come again, whether they’d like to respond to anything or receive prayer. We could perhaps entice them with special information packs (and even free Biblical literature). Welcoming first-time visitors by inviting them to stand up and introduce themselves may not be culturally appropriate, but I still like the idea!

On the point of invitation to receive prayer or salvation…I think it’s a huge ask to expect un-churched people to come up to the front during the meeting or approach strangers at the end, even if specifically invited to do so. At guest services, allocating a specific location for receiving prayer and introducing allocated, badge-wearing members of the ministry team who would be available after the service may be helpful. As with my other comments, I don’t know whether this would be practical or not.

I think it’s very important explain to visitors what a cell church is, because the un-churched will have no idea! I’m sure that the welcome team invite visitors to their cell group. But can the concept/function of cell groups be explained/mentioned with the notices?

While considering this subject, I recalled my experience of the church in Ghana, where they sung songs in many different local languages, sometimes referred to cultural/local jokes, and occasionally made reference to sayings and stories in their local language. I sometimes felt left out of the joke, utterly confused or just frustrated. I believe that un-churched people feel the same way when we use Christian jargon.

Lastly, I think singing songs in other languages are fun, but really must appear with English translation (even if well-known) to avoid confusion/discomfort.


Katie said...

A church I've been to in Exeter have a nice idea about this-they have a board up where they do tea and coffee with explanations about what normally happens during a church meeting, touching on some of the weird bits like speaking in tongues and things like that. I think that could be helpful (and serves a double purpose of giving newcomers something to look at during coffee time (which can be a daunting part of the experience if you're shy!)

thebluefish said...

roy - I guess the challenge is to make sure that the only potential stumbling block in the meeting is Jesus himself.

Easy for other stuff to become a barrier - I guess disorder and not understanding what's going on is what can most unnerve the outsider, and in 1 Cor 14 terms actually end up judging them rather than bringing them to Jesus.

Sean Green said...

published on behalf of Tom Riches:

I sometimes wonder whether, when visitors hear at the beginning of the meeting they are going to be worshipping God for 40 minutes, they may wonder why they came... 40 minutes?! It probably is quite alien to them. I notice, from sat behind the keyboard, that often the first people to sit down/maybe get bored are the people I don't recognise. I guess the key is to explain at the beginning what will be happening - which normally does happen well.

Also, I once saw there was a blind man in the congregation. Fortunately we sung Amazing Grace during those 40 minutes and everyone knows the words to that!

Tom Riches.

Sean Green said...

Published on behalf of Chris Pearson:

With the question you ask one thing does keeps crossing my mind.... and it may well be that RFC don't do it, but having been in RFC, Kings Community in Southampton and Weymouth family at home I get mixed up as to which church does what.
But I have noticed several times in churches when a public tongue is brought to the church more often than not an explanation is not given as to what a tongue is. It is usual that the interpretation follows, sometimes instantly. The church knows this routine so no one bats an eyelid. However, to a newbie a tongue without an explanation as to what a tongue actually is would seem way off this world.

I have always thought that every time a public tongue is given that a quick explanation should follow… or straight after the interpretation of the tongue to explain what it is and why we are doing it. Just as a reassurance to new Christians or seekers that we are not quite crazy enough to make up our own language.

I hope that makes sense/is helpful

Blessings! Chrispy

Sean Green said...

Published on behalf of Sue Butcher-Bigley:

Yes how interesting that you have asked this question,
I have been thinking about this a lot lately- especially with the ladies that I have been talking to about taking their unsaved husbands to church.
Personally I found what Rick Warren , pastor of Saddleback church (see below) has to say about this subject really good, I have to say that I agree with targeting specific services for the purpose of evangelism. Non-believers do not have the holy spirit alive within them so clearly are going to get a bit 'freaked out' when they see manifestations of Him. How we are sometimes can appear very weird to others. I do however think that it is really helpful when you say in your preach that we are weird, as I think that brings reality in to it for them . At least they know that we recognise it is a bit different from the 'norm'. (whatever that is).
It seems odd to me that my friends seem to be so scared of what is going to happen, because naturally we are very excited about the Spirit moving amongst us but as Paul instructs us , we should be sensitive to unbelievers.


Sean Green said...

I have found all this very helpful and stimulating (and really hard waiting a week before I comment!).

Somehow we must build a church 'culture' that thinks 'visitors' and 'unchurched people' and be relevant to normal life in Reading (whatever that is!). We have to help them connect as we gather as church. The Gospel will always be an offense that should be heard most weeks... so we have to remove as many other barriers as possible.

We need to allow the Holy Spirit to move freely amongst us whilst we have an appropiate sense of order (1Cor14) and awe.

We need to express our '2008 Reading culture' in our gathered meeting whilst also honouring abd valuing expository bible preaching - this is God's word.

And I need to be able to invite my Tri friends and be confident that our RFC culture connects with them even if these core Christian values might seem alien!

We must persue this journey ... so please help me if I use Christian-ese on a Sunday - just wave at me when I am preaching!