How Have We Changed? Evangelism and Culture

This past Saturday, Methodists from across the North West of England gathered for a leadership conference. The main speaker was the President of the Methodist Conference (who will be our General Secretary starting September 2008. He and our Vice President, Ruby Beech, keep a blog here). He presided at my ordination at Blackpool Cathedral. I have only heard him speak once, at the Methodist Conference in Blackpool in the traditional President’s Message to those newly ordained. Up until his election this past summer, he has been the principal at Cliff College. I was really impressed with him. He gave us a lot to think about. He has also written a book in which he expounded on the themes in Resourcing Renewal.

He touched on what we have been talking with regard to the changing culture in which we now are trying to evangelise (see PamBG’s post). In his book, he tells a story that I think gives an example of what Pam is talking about in how people view church. He writes about his pub quiz team where he, his wife, and one other out of 10 have any church affiliation. When church comes into the conversation, some of them will say to Martyn, ‘You are my church.’ Then he comments, ‘They possess what is common to so many people today, an antipathy and even hostility to some aspects of “church”,’ and this even while they wanting some connection with a spiritual side. Pam also commented that the ‘joining culture’ is where many just want nothing to do with church.

I think this is something that many in our churches have trouble grasping. We seem talk like it was 20 or 30 years ago when people came across our door when now they barely look at the building as they walk past, much less give a thought to what goes on behind it. I think the hardest part of this situation is convincing people that we are in this situation! In his talk, Atkins quoted a survey of Methodist churches that asked them to describe their chief characteristic. The number one answer? Friendly! Atkins went on to say, ‘Of course they said they were friendly because all the people who they weren’t friendly to weren’t there to tell them what they were really like!’ Churches have this perception of themselves that they are welcoming and inclusive places, when in fact it isn’t just how we greet them at the door but everything we do assumes that everything that goes on is already known by anyone who walks through the door!

Atkins makes the suggestion that people on the outside are quite willing to hear about God and faith, but are looking more than just a Sunday service. They are looking for community (which would point to why a pub quiz team feels like ‘church’).

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2 thoughts on “How Have We Changed? Evangelism and Culture

  1. First I though you were ordained at Blackburn, maybe they have moved Blackpool, I hope not!
    For someone who wasn’t impressed with last years Inspire 07 and was reluctant to go to 08, I was Inspired!! by the whole day it certainly gave us all something to think about, but are we ready as a Church, Circuit & Connexion to change our attitude? and to finish off a great day Barnsley beat Chelsea in the cup! not that you will be interested. (thanks for telling Mark my little secret) have a nice day. From your surrogate Dad
    ps watch out for Shaun!

  2. Oh, Mike: The ordination service did take place at Blackburn, but technically it happened at the Blackpool Conference. I guess it’s kind of like when the Olympics are said to take place in one city, but it is farmed out to the surrounding cities, but maintains the name of the host city!

    I’m glad you liked it: I thought the president did a great job. His book is really good also. I, too, will be interested to see how the Connexion, Circuits, and Churches take on his message, as he isn’t going anywhere with being General Secretary. I think there is a good number of people in churches though that are dying to hear this message and think, ‘Yes, this is what I’ve been thinking,’ and perhaps take it on.

    No, I’m not interested in Barnsley and Chelsea (I don’t even know where those places are). But, the ACC tournament starts tomorrow! Well, Duke doesn’t play until Friday, but it’s all exciting! Go Devils!

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