USPG Theological Adviser Evie Vernon says the church needs to change if it is to stay relevant…
What is the most pressing thing that the church needs to do in 2017? Answer: Reconnect with ordinary people.
I was sitting inside a lovely nineteenth century church at the end of last year, enjoying the drama and colour of the liturgy, the splendour of the hymns and the magnificent choir, and nodding approvingly at the erudite sermon, when I really looked around at the faces in the congregation.
The church was full, but it was pretty clear that a significant number of those present weren’t ‘regulars’. They were looking ever so slightly out of the corners of their eyes to see when their neighbours were sitting or standing. They didn’t join in the hymns until the second or third verse, and they looked decidedly puzzled by the readings and the aforementioned erudite sermon.
Afterwards, I was chatting to some of the folk. ‘Nice lecture but who is this John the Baptist chap then? And what does he have to do with Jesus? And what’s it got to do with us?’
As happens too many times, the church had taken it for granted that most people are exposed to some kind of bible knowledge at school or Sunday school, and that they would know the hymns and forms of worship from school assemblies. This is no longer true, if it ever was.
Numerous surveys and polls testify that ever declining numbers of people attend church or even identify as Christian.
Even in 1930, UK church membership was estimated as 30 per cent of the population. In 2013, it was just over 10 per cent. (See https://faithsurvey.co.uk/uk-christianity.html)
Christians believe that in Jesus, God came into the world, as a human being, born at a particular time and place, to show God’s love to the whole of creation, and to this end Jesus did his utmost to speak to people in a way they could understand – mixing with ordinary people, using ordinary language.
In 2017, the church has to give up the arrogant notion that it can simply go on as before, secure in the knowledge that people will seek it out.
The church must humbly communicate with people in language they understand.