Church on the Beach?


No I’m not referring to the location of your building, although if you’ve got to have one then you could do worse than this Catholic Pizza Hut lookalike on the beachfront at Eden NSW!

I am thinking specifically of how we function as Christian communities. If we genuinely believe that the relational nature of the triune God is to be reflected in the way we live out discipleship, then we will accept that it is only in community that the life of faith is lived fully and truly. (I hesitate to say that it’s ‘impossible’ to live the life of faith outside of community, but I am very close to that conviction.) 

But what happens when the unique and sometimes rigid culture of the faith community just doesn’t resonate with the people who are seeking to follow Jesus? In the past our response has been ‘well this is church and that’s all there is to it’, but thankfully I get the sense that we are progressing beyond this rather selfish and short sighted club mentality.

This week I caught up with Fred, a church leader in Woolongong and was inspired again by a brilliant bloke who has been able to see things differently and as a result create christian community for those who would never do the ‘normal’ Sunday thing.

Fred is a pastor of a church that has 3 congregations, one that meets on a Sunday in a community centre (under his leadership) one that meets in a home on a weeknight and a third that meets on the beach on a Saturday morning.

He tells the story of one of his church’s best evangelists being perpetually frustrated because every time his surfer/footy mates showed an interest in faith he would take them to church and that was the deal breaker. These guys were open to exploring faith but the culture of the existing Sunday morning expression was foreign and unhelpful to their journey.

Rather than simply saying ‘suck it up’, or feeling threatened, Fred discussed the challenge with his ‘evangelist’ and decided to ‘take church to them’ and create Christian community in a way that would help them continue the faith journey in a way that made sense to them.

So now this group of blokes meet on the Warilla beach each Saturday morning for breakfast, a game of footy or some surfing and a time of confession, encouragement and teaching. As I discussed the nature of the group with Fred he was clear that some of the guys are still early in the faith journey, some are still pretty rough and ready, but they have found a community where there is love, acceptance and discipleship and where they don’t need to morph into mild mannered middle class folks to be welcomed.

I remember running Campus Life groups with YFC about 27 years ago now and seeing another young surfer bloke called Troy come to a place of genuine faith and try to fit into the local church of the time. He gave it a real good shot, but it was clear that he didn’t belong there and eventually he drifted off. I often lamented this as a youth worker but didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know you could mess with this thing called church and not finish up losing your way or becoming a heretic.

One of my dreams has been to see a multiplicity of expressions of Christian community developed so that we do connect with the Troys and the Warilla boys in ways that help them follow Jesus – and not just them but every other person who simply doesn’t fit the conservative middle class culture that seems to typify so much of the Australian church.

I thank God for the ‘Freds’ who didn’t get their nose out of joint at being resisted, but saw an opportunity to think creatively and innovatively about how to make disciples.

The lingering question is always ”how do we help those in smaller culture specific groups experience the breadth of humanity that makes up the Christian church?’ But I’m intrigued that thus question is only ever asked of them… While I think it is a consideration, it’s also true that many Sunday congregations are highly monocultural also and could easily face the same question…  


10 thoughts on “Church on the Beach?

  1. which begs the question, what is church, what is a small group.

    But to the main point, I wonder if different churches should be embracing the ’boutique’ model where they seek to reach certain cultural groups, rather than going for this ‘one size fits all’ mentality we have struggled with for years.

  2. Only if these gatherings are … for the white privileged, male privileged, heterosexual privileged, economic privileged and other privileges through imperialism, domination, arrogance and violence – then I think these – “smaller culture specific groups” might work, well … ain;t that the way?

  3. That’s an interesting qn Mark – how would you differentiate between a church and a small group theologically and practically?

    I wonder though, is this being ’boutique’ or culturally savvy? If we have struggled with a one size fits all model for years then maybe that needs to be questioned? )Although I don’t think it is a one size fits all – it is one size fits a few!)

  4. I think being boutique is being culturally savvy. Look at shops. You either get megaplexes, or groups of boutique shops. That is a cultural shift which business has recognised.

    Mark R….the issue for us is that like attracts like. and that goes for wasps as much as it does for other cultural groups. the issue is that we need to be missionaries, and be Hudson Taylors in our own right….

  5. ‘wherever two or three are gathered, I am there in the midst of them’ Christ is the Church…so no..I admit that there is no definable difference between small group and church that stands up to scrutiny.

    Having said that, my personal view is that how we might normally understand ‘church’ and ‘small group’ are helpful devices in our culture.

    I think it is helpful to have a big celebration/inspiration/worship time together as part of a mobilised missional community.

    I think it is helpful to have small groups of intimate accountability and fellowship and prayerful support.

    I think while you can start small, our human nature needs to be part of something larger to fully experience all there is of christian community.

  6. Mark E – cleverly put in terms of recognising that the words have deeper cultural meanings attached to them, so are useful even if just for that purpose. I was wondering about the question that Hamo put to you yesterday, and was a bit stumped til I read that.

    ‘Helpful to…’ – this is going to sound trite (but it’s not intended to be), but ‘helpful to … who?’

    All? Some? Weak? Strong? Personality types?

    Not intended to be trite, but wanting to provide you with a chance to answer further into a genuine question.

    Personally, I’ve found periods in my own life where most of those have been helpful at some point, and positively counter-productive at others. However, I’m not going to pretend that I’m typical of anything! 🙂

    You may simply mean ‘helpful to… me’, which is a fine answer, if that’s what it is… I’m just wondering.



  7. Ha! helpful to the world, all of us.

    Helpful to those in the community who get to be blessed by the mobilised church community, mobilised and doing stuff in their community. (the poor, those harmed by injustice, those in need of emotional, spiritual, relational help)

    Helpful to those who get to hear about Jesus, and experience the joy that knowing Him brings

    Helpful to those Christians who, like me, need people around them to help them, prayer for them, disciple them etc etc…

    Helpful to those who, like me, find a real sense of Gods presence in a worship service with other Christians.

    When the ‘church’ is at its best, its helpful to everyone! 🙂

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