We started talking about this in response to a question asked by Cid Latty, founder of CafeChurch network. If you’re not familiar with this, then go here to see Cid’s vision and passion for a cafe church on every high street in the UK.
But it’s a question that comes up more and more as Fresh Expressions of church multiply. So what is the minimum number of things that need to happen for a gathering to become a church? It’s astonishing how quickly new expressions of church resort to default mode rather than thinking through some of these bigger questions. Moving into new territory can be unsettling for pioneers, just as the thought of change can have the same paralysing effect on long established groups. As we look around, it seems that a fair number of things that are claimed to be essential to being church are more to do with mechanisms of control than with spiritual purpose. But the heart of the question is surely something to do with following Jesus, which maybe implies that we should start with practice rather than with structures. Of course, we may find we raise more questions than answers, but Jesus himself was always asking questions because that is how we grow into maturity.
A key question would be, ‘How can we encourage one another to follow Jesus today?’ If what we hear is to be believed, then what goes on at present in some churches is not helping people to follow Jesus better, which rather implies that just adopting the practices of these same churches is not going to be a good way forward. So what might some core values be? Prayer is obviously central — and not just for people who might think they are Christians. Almost certainly, those who are reached through things like a cafe church will be quite keen to find out how prayer can resource them. Then there’s sacrament. Sharing bread and wine is obviously significant – but a key question here is how to create a space where people can encounter God in that meal. Most traditions are more concerned about control again, focusing on questions about who can have the bread and wine, not to mention more trivial matters such as the shape of the bread (or the cup), or how the wine was produced. made of? It was John Wesley who regarded eucharist as a ‘converting ordinance’, which suggests we sit more lightly to our concerns and see how God embraces those who choose to partake.
There’s the Bible as well of course – but we said more than enough about that in a previous blog. Just to add here that once we find creative ways to use it for today the chances are that we’ll end up using it a whole lot more than some churches do now.
And in case you’re tempted to dismiss all this as church mice ramblings, a lot of it was sparked of by Steven Croft’s new book: Jesus’ People: What the church should do next – a newly published work that is both eminently sensible and eminently readable. Which, among other things, obviously means that we agree with it!