If It Works for You…

I am very wary of telling other people’s stories online, but I imagine for everyone reading these will be sufficiently anonymous to protect identities…

So here are two very different stories…

Back around Christmas time one of our Upstream crew invited his next door neighbour to come to church at Quinns – quite a strange thing to do because the neighbour was an outlaw biker and had shown himself to be extremely antagonistic towards anything to do with faith.

However he came… and then he came again… and he came every Sunday for about 4 months. He didn’t enjoy it very much, but still he came. He would roll in after the singing and stay for the teaching and the conversation. He had his own reasons for coming – which didn’t have much to do with faith. Sometimes he would engage with people and other times he would just walk around and look menacing.

I dropped in to see him one afternoon and stayed for a few hours. We connected and got on pretty well. He is a very

straight shooter and likes to tell it like it is. I don’t mind that and I don’t mind giving it back either. To his credit he takes it as good as he gives it – so we have had some mighty arguments. I have learnt a heap from this bloke from the other side of the tracks and to his credit he cops it on the chin when I challenge him and he has changed also.

He would now say that he has been ‘re-born’ and has signed up for faith, but he still doesn’t like church. He still says naughty words… often… but he is on a whole new trajectory now.

Surely it is beholden on us as the church to consider how we gather to connect with 43 year old single men who are struggling with life? He is no mug and tells me that he will never fit in church because its all about ‘families’ and apparently ‘happy shiny people’ who are often full of excrement. As a single bloke he is on the outer and always will be.

We are currently considering how we can love him and help him grow in faith – but it has less to do with entering a Sunday service and much more to do with being part of a family. With regular meals at ours and another family’s home he is able to connect, grow and become more like Jesus.

But I heard tonight that he is finished with ‘church’…

By contrast, over the weekend we had two baptisms in our church, both sisters from a non-church background who had got to a place in their lives where they wanted change and wanted to find God. They rang a few churches, but no one wanted to pay them attention. Then they rang our church and our youth pastor met with them.

On their first time at church they both said that they felt they had ‘come home’… no church background, no clue at all, but they felt they belonged. They have been around for nearly a year and have come to faith in that time and this weekend were baptised.

They like ‘church’ as we do it on Sundays and would be there rain hail or shine.

It works for them… and its great to see people finding faith and family.

Last week we had Phil McCredden come and visit with us and he shared the way NCCC have developed multiple congregations to reach multiple people groups and how that has allowed different people to find a church environment that connects with who they are.

My hope is that we also can develop multiple expressions of church community as a way of recognizing that one size does not fit all and that God works in many strange ways…

15 thoughts on “If It Works for You…

  1. Just as an aside, and I think this is not your main point, but I wonder if the two stories you share have something to do with the feminisation of the church…as evidenced by the bloke staying out till the singing is done, the women feeling ‘at home’…like it is a home…a…dare I say it…a womans place.

  2. Hamo, I have had a tendency to promote small, organic church models as “the way” and slam anything else—so this is a good reminder to me that God will use many means. “I have become all things to all people…”

    Can you elaborate a little more on the second story: How did the ladies reach out to churches and those churches fail to reach back? Were they considered unfit somehow (like the bloke), or were they simply ignored in a sea of people?

  3. You know how people inside church (the leaders, and the Christians, and those that have been around for a while) will all say how different the Baptists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Vinyard…., churches are all very different. I wonder if those looking in with no background see it.

    I’ve started looking for a new ‘home’ church and at a very superficial level (before you get down to the basis of faith and some of the detail) all (or at least most) churches are the same. There’s singing and prayers and preaching, a start and end time, a bit for the kids, just regular stuff, no matter which denomination.

    We’re created different but all churches seem to be basically the same.

    – just thinking out loud.

  4. Mark e,

    I had the same thought. I’m a lifer in the church, born and bred, but I stuggle with the feminine in the church (singing pretty songs, tea parties as events, hobbies clubs as outreach).

    Haven’t come up with an answer to it yet, but trying to find one that’s not overly ‘blokey’ and thereby maginalising the women and children is the tricky bit.


    One ‘church’ I attend, my favourite in fact, is a group of men and women, no kids, who meet at a pub on a Sunday night. There is some singing, when the house music plays something we all know and love, prayers as the mood takes us or the need arises, no preaching, although some of the discussions can become sermon-y at times, a ’round about’ start time, and the end time is when the pub closes, although you could sometimes add half an hour or so outside the pub after that as well. It is the closest thing I have ever found to a ‘natural’ church and the only group I’ve been in that is regularly a faith community gathering but doesn’t fit the ‘church’ mold. Unfortunately it’s not a funded/resourced/recognised church. Maybe, though, that’s what allows it to be the flexible gathering it is. I’m hoping to export it to other places as I move through life. I hope you can find a place that fits you’re personality and need as compellingly as this one fits mine.

  5. Why is there so much focus on services/ congregations (even in this discussion)? I think the issue in both these cases seems to be community and relationships. Why dump singing and talking head pastors onto that? Shouldn’t we just build attractive communities of faith who love and serve the Lord and his creation? It is my observation that as soon as we invoke words like congregation or services we have slipped from mission and communty focus to Christendom imaginations. Bring back ‘church as a meal’.

    Now having said that I have no problem if services and congregations rock your particular boat. It is just that I don’t think it really helps people be discipled or develops community and relationships. And certainly I wonder aloud if these are inded the future of a missional encounter in our communities.

  6. Andrew…you are the one who bought services into it…you say that the hairy bloke came in…after the singing….

    That implies he is connecting with something going on during the service, but not the singing aspect.

    You can get away from ‘the gathering’…whatever form it takes.

  7. Hey Hamo – really cool stuff.

    I think our “new” or “additional” congregations are going to start in the way you mention, maybe simply 2 or 3 people round a dinner table. This seems to be the way things work for those who just can’t (or won’t) do church in the traditional way.

    One of the hard things I’ve found though, is that (surprisingly) even for many of these people there is an ingrained understanding that somehow they aren’t being real if they aren’t participating in the traditional way. While they don’t want to participate in that way they are still linking the authenticity of their own growing faith with the traditional ways.

    Maybe it’s linked to an expectation that at some point the pressure to comform (and to “fellowship/attend/worship from the pews” will be applied. Dunno.

  8. Yeah – that’s right Andrew (Rigg) – I have also observed that people feel that sooner or later they should ‘do it right’!

    Andrew M – I think the talk about congregations is because at some point people need to be be in community and we need to express that community in some form. I think the point of my post was that some forms are helpful to some and some are more helpful to others.

    BTW – no more sexy singles ads will appear here I hope!!

  9. A lot of good thoughts from Phil & Mark e on this topic. “all churches seem to be basically the same” – particularly the modern “contemporary” ones. The question is…are they top down, or bottom up? Audience/observers or participatory? How has this happened? Was this so at the outset? What biblical patterns & guidelines have been cast aside in the contempory quest for “church growth” ??

  10. Maybe the reason I’m looking for church in a building is because I’ve not experienced an alternative. I’ve heard lots of theories, stories and ideas shared, but in my current situation I don’t know quite what else to look for. I am slightly envious of those who have faith groups that exist around their social activities.

    Thanks for the conversation. I’m learning and growing.

  11. Hey we could make this conversation only for Andrews!

    Andrew H, I accept your argumement about congregations but I still am coming to the point where the word attaches so much ambiguous meaning that I think that it isn’t helpful any longer. It is a bit like ‘missional’ or ’emergent/ing’ or ‘church’.

    Andrew M/#2

    PS: Phil, you can be an honorary Andrew. You will find the experience worthwhile.

  12. The 2 stories are great. I think where things get crusty is in the unstated expectations – looked for by the ‘norms’, and felt or at least anticipated by the incoming.

    Some people (perhaps the women in the story) are cool with the expectation, and happily embrace it for what it is. Others struggle. Admittedly, outlaw bikies are never terribly good at abiding by someone else’s rules!! So hardly a surprise there…

    Is the bikie dude fella still open to brazen & unbridled chats? Or is it all done & dusted for him?

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