Beyond Attraction – reflections on my time in Australia
I have now had a bit of time to reflect on my experience of Australia, and of the Church here. I think the greatest challenge is going to be the letting go of an attractional model of church and mission. In the training days I have done here – people are somewhat resistant to let go of the strategy of ‘come to us’. This of course is based on a Christendom model of church, colluding with the separation of sacred and secular. It is interesting that this is the number one issue. The church must be able to re-imagine another way of relating to contemporary culture – much more incarnational – being IN culture but not OF culture. We must remember that the traditional church plant approach of taking some people from a church and planting them somewhere else, and then starting with worship, is an approach that recycles Christians and makes very little impact with de and un churched people. True mission is focused on those who are not members of any church.
I was really pleased that Diocese in Melbourne and Newcastle really understood this. So I hope this thinking will go deep in the DNA of these Diocese and a new form of the local church, to engage with it. I have talked a lot of the missiological approach of Vincent Donovan. We must start with incarnational projects that we hope will grow into community, that develop a fellowship that is mission centred, that then grows a contextual approach to discipleship which then finally develops contextual forms of worship, and that sacramental worship, is possibly the last thing to develop. This process, based on the work of Vincent Donovan, is crucial if we are going to form forms of church in a post-christendom and post-secular context. So below is a list I think of the essential focus for these new pioneering start up forms of projects which we hope will birth eventually, contextual and mature expressions of church:
1. Starting project needs to relate to a real collective local need – so time for listening is essential. This listening may require you to walk regularly around the suggested area of the project, get to know people, hear their stories, talk to people in bars and cafes. Time for proper listening is vital.
2. When starting a project – where it happens is important – consider creating a hub in the local community and not to using church buildings for the sake of ease. Remember that many who you are seeking to reach will be using the internet – so use the internet to help build connections with those you are not in relationship with.
3. Build a team of enthusiasts – a commitment to relationality is again crucial.
4. Develop the project so that it continues to meet the need and we hope develop some form of community.
5. As issues relating to spirituality and the Christian faith emerge (and they will), you will need to consider different ways of enabling learning through a variety of creative approaches, and you will also need to find a way of articulating the faith in the language of that context. A great tip at this stage is to ‘give on a needs basis’. No force feeding – exploring the faith in the context of people’s interests.
6. Once the project has become mission and community, you will need to explore worship. I do suggest that something around alternative worship is a good place to start, using an approach starting from where people are at or passionate about. Again this needs to develop at the pace of the community you have developed, and will in time, I am sure, develop the marks of the church.
7. When you get to 7 – then I suspect you will be facing the need to go back to 1 again as contexts develop.
For those that are interested, much of the challenge of the church in Australla relating to its increasingly post-church post-christian culture was the subject of an ABC National Radio broadcast I contributed to. To listen to it, click here