“Back to Church Sunday” – A Friendly Critique

Sunday 26th September is “Back to Church Sunday” a national (a perhaps even an international) campaign to encourage people back to church.

Here are a few friendly criticisms of this idea:

  1. The phrase ‘Back to…’ assumes people have already been and are familiar with Church.  Recent studies are showing that in some parts of the country people are two or even three generations away from a believing family member.  Thus the traditions of Church are alien and out of many peoples experience.
  2. It is assumes a come to us model of mission and evangelism.  People are expected to leave their cultural and societal models and conform to an already established pattern of worship born within a particular cultural context which they do not share.  Thereby people ‘come to us’ on our terms, in ‘our’ buildings and on ‘our’ patch to do things in ‘our’ way.  This model worked in Christendom (a society ordered by the traditions and culture of institutional church) but as many thinkers have shown we now live in a Post-Christendom society.
  3. The model of come to us jars with an Incarnational approach to mission.  God the Son was incarnated (made flesh) in a particular cultural context – first century Palestine – with particular beliefs, customs and language.  Jesus met and challenged people where they were and invited them to join him.  Rather than a come to us approach to mission it was go to them and build where they are.
  4. ‘Back to Church Sunday’ assumes the life and community of the church takes place in the service.  Bums on seats/pews.  Church therefore becomes an event to which people go to be entertained (or not!).  Of course people can and do meet with God in this environment, but church is far more than this.  Church is a community who are immersed in the life and presence of Jesus and live out his radical life of forgiveness, reconciliation and discipleship with one another and those around them.
  5. Finally, some horrifying statistics (all taken from the Tearfund report on Church attendance)
    1. 60% of all adults are ‘closed’ to attending church in the future with only 6% saying they would attend in the future.
    2. 66% of all adults are secular; meaning they have no connection with any church (neither now or in the past) –  ‘most of whom churchgoing is simply not on their agenda.’
    3. The average churchgoer is 14 years older than the average of the general population
    4. “younger adults are more likely to have grown up with no experience of church and be closed to the possibility of attending, whereas older people are more likely to have experienced church at some point in their life and rejected it.” – Tearfund report 2006
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