|When people come to visit...|
|Tuesday, 17 July 2012 07:58|
Peter Dominey reflects on the value of visitors to emerging churches such as Church from Scratch
Increasing numbers of people from the inherited church* are visiting emerging Baptist churches that are springing up across the country, and the wariness and distrust with which these new Baptist churches are seen is reducing as they increase in number.
In Church from Scratch we are experiencing an increasing trickle of people asking to come, stay and see what we are doing, with about 20 expected through this year. Most commonly the visitors are from an inherited church, a minister or minister in training, mainly from the UK and not necessarily young. They want to stay a while, see what's what and talk deeply as they wrestle with the need for change.
We've found our visitors to be invariably sensitive and respectful of Southend and her people and careful not to trample on the green shoots they hope to see. They sometimes come expecting to find a hi-tech or trendy church to tantalise them - and are surprised to find a little community of sometimes struggling humanity.
At a deeper level these immersive visits often provide a helpfully disorientating experience away from the routine of life back at home. There is space for visitors to reflect more deeply on what is is they are called to and how that shapes their practice, and as they come and spend time with us, their experience of God's often thin and sometimes thick story among us, seems to act as a foil for them - a foil that by contrast with their own experience underscores and enhances the sometimes changing call of God on their own life.
They rarely find a model they want to export but they may find values that speak to them, and we celebrate if they say they have found a safe space for personal exploration. Perhaps a 'health' warning is needed as these stays with emerging churches are usually 'safe' but often subversive.
I've been wondering what the key ingredients are that make a visit particularly formative and: It's usually been a longer visit and not a day stay or overnight; they have stayed and washed up with someone in the church even if they are local and could have gone home at night; they don't disappear off for things beyond the community part way through but give up their external world for a while; they have worked alongside the church in task and community life and not been a supernumerary observer; there have been times set aside to hear the story told; and at least two in depth sessions to reflect theologically on the understandings of God that are shaping the church's practice.
But above all it's been that they have a teachable spirit and have come to learn, share and participate rather than sit back and 'objectively' critique at arms length.
I've also started wondering how our church experiences these visitors:
It's certainly proved helpful to our people to tell the Church from Scratch story to those who know nothing of it - that's been formative for us, drawing our values to the surface.
It's helped us appreciate that Jesus has only one body and we're a tiddly bit of it in all its diversity.
I worry about people feeling like they are in a 'goldfish bowl syndrome' and avoided many visitors in the early years - one of my temptations might be to exploit Church from Scratch for my wider agenda of helping the inherited church into so-needed incarnational mission.
I question as to if I'm doing enough to empower the local people to tell the story they see in their own words rather than a Peter-sanctioned telling of it.
We are an extensive, more than an intensive community, by which I mean we don't have much in the way of set hi-points in the week such as a Sunday event. And I sometimes catch myself trying to concoct a gathered event for the visitors which surprises my church, rather than simply suggesting the visitor accompanies someone in the mundanity of shopping at Asda to understand the depths of God.
These visits seem to have the unforeseen knack of reminding us of our own call as a church to join with the Holy Spirit in his mission in Southend - we often drop the missional ball to meet our internal needs. We don't encourage people from our church to go and stay with churches that hold different values to us - and other churches may need to challenge us in that or invite us...
We are yet to make it a two-way visit and get our church to quiz the visitor on their story or do a return visit to them in their context, so it ends up a rather asymmetric experience.
And lastly some thoughts on helping our visitors:
- When people come and immerse amongst us it seems to prove more effective than the various training events we put on where I talk at people, so why do I still opt for those by default when immersive experience and action reflection learning are so potent?
- Would it work better for us to buddy up with a few other similar churches/projects to do these things? Anyone interested?
These immersive visits to Church from Scratch and other churches, seem to provide a needed opportunity for conversation between the inherited and emerging church streams; they help to disperse misunderstandings and mistrust; and they are transformative - not a bad set of outcomes!
* The expression 'Inherited church' speaks of the great majority of our Baptist churches which have a strong continuity with the past - this avoids the unfair expression 'traditional church' which might imply a church is stuck and beyond renewing. The phrase 'mainstream' church' also needs avoiding as it can imply these churches are at the centre of things which is not necessarily the case.
|Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 July 2012 08:27|
By A Web Design
Christians who do not go to church - the fastest growing sector of the Christian community. But their experiences are largely unknown.
Related: Eve's story about leaving the church... John Rackley wonders what a simpler church might look like.
The relationships between local authorities and faith groups are documented in a new report
Even if good always triumphs, children's TV programmers seem more at ease supping with the devil than rejoicing with Christians. Should children's TV make more of the Bible?
New: The June edition of Baptist Voice is ready to download - or to listen (new option)
The Baptist Times produces weekly news round-ups. Click here for more on these free emails.
A new section highlighting how the Baptist Union of Great Britain is changing its way of working.
BMS World Mission
News and views from around the world
Download the latest monthly audio magazine. Produced as a ministry to those who are blind or have impaired vision.
The church planting arm of the Baptist Union of Great Britain
News and views from the 18-30s - the website of the Baptist Younger Leaders' Forum
Baptist Times link on your site
Connect your church website to The Baptist Times by adding this button.
By Plimun Web Design