People Who Leave The Church

We all will know of people who have drifted away from church attendance, as you can imagine I know many. Some I am still in good contact and friendship with. I shared this article with some of them, they confirmed that this is generally true for them. I found it very challenging, but also confirming. We can’t afford to be church-centred and church-focused, as the author of the report says at the end.

In his role as Regional Development Officer for the Church of Scotland and in his studies for a PhD, Steve Aisthorpe was able to talk to and survey a substantial number of those who were no longer attending ‘church’. These are some of his findings (as reported by my friend Geoff Knot):

Firstly some myths busted:

  1. It’s all doom, gloom and decline. Around the world, Christianity is growing and growing in may ways; depth, impact, numbers.
  2. There’s an inevitable slide into secularisation. Growing prosperity, health, education does not lead to secular societies.
  3. The end of Christendom is the end of Christianity. Our Christendom-shaped churches need to realise that substantial numbers of those disengaged from churches want to be part of a vital, revolutionary, compassionate movement of Jesus-followers that existed pre-Christendom.
  4. Decline in church attendance is synonymous with decline in Christianity. 2000+ people leave churches each week in the UK – the majority continue to be committed to their Christian faith.
  5. Christians who do not attend church are all ‘church-leavers’. Many with faith have not attended ‘church’ as they have found the experience does not mirror the course they attended for example. However, they continue to witness, meet others, etc.
  6. If congregations do the right things, leavers will be returners. They are not waiting for the local ‘church’ to change. They are content to live out their faith without reference to religious institutions. Most feel part of the wider Church. A minority would be open to meeting in an informal setting.
  7. Churchless Christians are driven by consumerism. Leaving a church is actually emotionally complex. The evidence points to decisions being rooted in a journey of personal discipleship influenced by deep changes in the individual.

Then some stereotypes, generalisations and assumptions about Christians that are not church-goers. These help deflect from deep examination of causes and therefore the need to change:

  1. The loner. Many meet up with others informally or online.
  2. The backslider. Most people reported their faith journey had been positively impacted – a deepening relationship with God.
  3. The petty-minded. Long-term struggle and deliberation can result in a tipping point over something trivial. This can be misconstrued.
  4. The uncommitted. Many have attended church for decades – the average in the research was 15 years. Considerable committment.
  5. The incomer. New to the area and expecting something different – no – most had lived in the area for many years.
  6. The Christian in name only.

He also looks at how churches can inadvertently create a culture that is helpful and comfortable to some people but challenging and excluding for others e.g. dress code, gender, lack of community, personality types, etc.

A significant recurring theme of those that had left was the frustration with change-resistant culture of congregations rather than alterations they disliked (rarely cited in the research). A transition has been happening for decades and existing structures and practices have for the most part failed to adapt to cultural change. 

The research showed that crises of faith and life take people into seasons of being church-adverse. For a small number this may amount to a sabbatical after which they return. Others have no intention of engaging with the congregations currently available to them but still yearn for a different type of church. They often find other forms of Christian community, whether face-to-face, virtual, structured or informal. They are contentedly non-congregational. Reinforcing this separation is a lack of recognition of vocation e.g. business, irrelevance of sermons to everyday life and the ‘sacred’/’secular’ thinking in church words and actions e.g. praying for missionaries but not those in workplaces. 

The research also showed that while love within the Christian community was often prominent in the reasons for embracing the Christian faith and involvement with a local congregation, it was often a perceived lack of love affecting themselves or others that contributed to or sealed a decision to disengage.

Unexpectedly, the research showed that a sense of commitment to participate in God’s mission was prominent in more than 50% of respondents. It was a concern for the missional challenges in their area that was a decisive motivator for their disengagement from the congregation. They explained that mission opportunities were inadequately met by the local congregation, due to, for example, a focus on internal matters. They have found a release of time to meet and talk to others outside of a faith community.

As Steve says, “The fact that Christianity sometimes becomes church-centred and church-focused rather than Jesus-centred and Kingdom-focused is a tragic reality. Congregations degenerate from being a movement to being a monument, from being dynamic to being static. Eagerness to follow and serve and grow in Christ gives way to routine, monotony and boredom. The main thing is that the main thing remains the main thing.”

Written by Tony Thompson

A Theology of Mental Health

posted in: Bible, Tony Thompson | 0

Mental health problems impact more people, including Christians, than we sometimes realise. Many within our own church family struggle in this area. This extract from a talk by Will van der Hart who is on staff at Holy Trinity Brompton is relevant and helpful as we seek to understand and help the subject.

“I realised that Christians suffering from mental health problems were often subject to what I’d call the theology of unbelonging. This wasn’t a Biblical theology, it was built upon superstition and misunderstanding around mental health. The extent the theology of unbelonging continues to be espoused in contemporary Christian texts is alarming. Some suggest still that depression is a decision, anxiety is a sin, psychosis is clearly demonic, positivity is a virtue, and all mental health problems can be resolved through prayer. But a true Biblical theology of mental health is of course far from these things. A true theology of mental health is a theology of poverty. A theology of mental health is one that acknowledges that material poverty, homelessness, exclusion, the plight of the UK’s 87,000 prisoners, are all inextricably linked to mental health conditions. When Jesus said in Matthew 5:3, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ He meant these poor.

“In 1 Kings 19 verse 4 we see the beginnings of an outworking of a theology of mental health. Elijah is suicidal. He’s been chased around the block by Jezebel who’s been saying all sorts of things about him. He is physically exhausted, no doubt, and he’s certainly psychologically disturbed. He cries out to God, ‘I’ve had enough, Lord. Take my life.’ God did not condemn Elijah. God does not exclude Elijah. God didn’t punish Elijah. God didn’t say that Elijah’s theology was out of whack. Instead, God responds in the most Godly biopsychosocial manner you could ever anticipate. ‘Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.’, says God. So we see God respond to Elijah with gentility and compassion, celebrating the whole of Elijah, not just his mental faculties, his physical ones too, his sense of exhaustion and desolation. The God of love, present in the desert with the broken.

“Hence, a theology of mental health is an integrated biopsychosocial one. One that integrates mind, body, spirit, community, and family. Jesus himself expressed a full range of emotions -as it says in Isaiah 53:3, he was a man of sorrows, familiar with sufferings. A theology of mental health sees people not as mental health problems to be fixed, but as children of God waiting to be loved.

“Pope John Paul II, in his important 1997 piece of work, The Image Of God In The People With Mental Health, says, ‘Whoever suffers from mental illness always bears God’s image and likeness in himself, as does every human being.’ So a true theology of mental health celebrates the whole person and stands with them in their suffering.

“A theology of mental health is a theology of the victorious Christ who is suffering. The suffering Christ and the victorious Christ are one and the same. Our church will only be a valiant church if it’s a suffering church, a church that does not segregate love and suffering, but loves in suffering.”

You can listen to the full talk using the link below. It is 8 minutes long.

https://youtu.be/E6ZaTJIwHvU

Written by Tony Thompson

Our Role As Peacemakers

God speaks to me in different ways, sometimes it is a thought that comes into my head and I wonder where it came from; at other times, it will be someone or often a number of people saying “I wonder if God is saying……”, sometimes God speaks to me through things I come across that speak powerfully to me.

That has happened in the last few weeks, it started with an interview by the Archbishop of Canterbury on the Today programme following the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London. His point is that to combat religious extremism, people must be able to “put themselves in the shoes of religious believers”, which they struggle to do because of a lack of religious literacy.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05502h4

I came across a similar, but developed point in an academic paper from the Jubilee Centre, a Christian thinktank, written by Colin Chapman. He says we need to “Recognise the role that Christians can play as peacemakers.” And develops this to say

“One of the major problems in Western democracies is that since the link between religion and state has either been totally severed or become almost meaningless, Western governments find themselves at a loss in dealing with Muslims and Islam. Secular politicians can take strong measures to safeguard the rights of every community and to protect their countries from terrorism carried out in the name of Islam. But they simply don’t have the worldview or the language to enable them to engage in a meaningful dialogue with Muslims who want to bring God into the public sphere. In this situation, Western Christians may have a significant role as interpreters, because they ought to be able to understand and sympathise with both sides – with God-fearing Muslims on the one hand (with whom they share many moral values) and secular Westerners on the other (because this is the world in which they have been living). If there is genuine trust between Christians and Muslims, Christians may be able to act as peacemakers and bridge-builders.”

I then read a column in the Times by Alice Thomson entitled “Surge in faith can’t be allowed to divide us”. In the article, it was clear she didn’t understand people of faith. She says,

“No one should be allowed to promote sexism, racism, homophobia or violence under the guise of their faith in this country. Women are never inferior, gay relationships are not abhorrent, no religion is superior and practices such as female genital mutilation need to be condemned by everyone as medieval. Tolerance must go both ways; the religious must also respect their secular neighbours.”


Don’t get me wrong, I hope I am not a sexist or a racist etc. However, the point is that people of faith cannot be told what to believe, whatever faith we adhere too, we believe we submit to a higher power. No one can say that no religion is superior, they are either true or false, right or wrong. I respect other people’s faith, even her secular faith, but they can’t all be true! Surely true is superior to false.
She also says, “Proselytising seems wrong” however secularists don’t seem to realise that they follow a religion and have a faith themselves and try very hard to convince others to share that faith. The article itself is a form of proselytising for secular faith and she clearly thinks that her secular faith is superior.

All this has convinced me that as Christians we have a vital part to play within our society. Our calling to be salt and light has never been more relevant. We need to play a crucial role as peacemakers. We need to understand where people are coming from, we then need to build true friendships across faith boundaries, respecting each other, not imposing our beliefs but seeking to convince them of what we perceive to be truth.

Written by Tony Thompson

Autumn preaching, Summer reading.

posted in: Bible, Tony Thompson | 0

I have just finished a preaching series helping us understand the Old Testament book of Hosea and helping us apply its truth in today’s world. I have really enjoyed doing this, and I hope it has been of benefit to others. You can listen to the series by following the links on our website.

In September, I intend to look at Matthew’s gospel. Too often we just read stories from the gospels, without looking at the overall message that the gospel writer wants us to hear. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each tell the same story but with different emphasis. We will be looking at the message that Matthew is conveying. In doing so we will get to know Jesus, his message and the good news better.

I am looking forward to it.

In preparation for this series you might want to spend some time over the Summer reading Matthew’s gospel, allowing it to speak to you. One of the books I have used in preparing for this series is Matthew for Everyone by Tom Wright. It has 57 very short, easily readable chapters bringing to life the first half Matthew’s gospel. If you set aside 15 minutes each day over the Summer to read a chapter and allow God to speak to you, I know it will do you good. It will help this be a memorable Summer.

Click here to get kindle version or buy a paperback copy from our bookshelf.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

Why is the Feast important?

posted in: Bible, Events, Hope Church, Luton | 0

What is the Feast?

One of the many privileges I have had as a youth leader in Luton is that as well as leading an amazing group of young people, I sit on the leadership team of an organisation called ‘The Feast’.  Most of you have probably never heard of ‘The Feast’ well it was set up with the key purpose of bringing together teenagers from different faiths and cultures to build friendships, explore faith and hopefully, change lives.  

The Feast creates a safe place where young people can eat together, socially interact and share their thoughts and feelings in an honest way; it facilitates discussion with the young people sharing about their own faith or discussing current issues from a faith perspective. In this process, the groups are not out to convert each other, instead they are given the opportunity to build friendships and find common ground with those from different faiths and communities. Many of us, despite living in Luton, may never have set foot into the home of someone from a different faith background, never shared a meal with them, never tried to build anything more than a superficial relationship with them.  

 

My question to us is why not? What stops us from building relationships with people who are very different to us? Could it be fear? A lack of time? A feeling of superiority? We certainly cannot blame a lack of opportunity.  Living in Luton we have opportunities to build friendships with people of different faiths that so many other places don’t have – are we making the most of it?

 

Jesus and his death on the cross is the bridge between us and God.  In the same way, we are called to be bridge builders across the many chasms that exist in our society. The Feast is a vehicle that allows us to do this.

 

Why is the Feast important?

We as a nation are facing a time of increasing division between people of different religions and cultures. From American politics we are bombarded with images of building walls and travel bans and as a nation ourselves we are living through what Brexit looks like, what it means to be British and the horrific attacks committed by broken people in London and in Manchester. It is into this mixed up, uncertain climate that the work of the Feast is so valuable.  

The story of the Good Samaritan is one that should provoke and challenge us as people of faith.  Here was a man who stopped to help a neighbour, a Jewish neighbour who no doubt saw him as inferior, who would undoubtedly have disregarded him in any other social context.  This however didn’t stop the Samaritan, he sought no recognition, no glory – he was simply motivated by love and compassion for his fellow man. It is this story that Jesus told which lies at the heart of the Feast. Demonstrating in a tangible way what it means to bring the Kingdom of God to earth.  

Many of us living in Luton would say we live amongst people of many ethnicities and religions, however, the reality is that many of us simply live parallel lives with them.  We may see them and perhaps be acquaintances with some but really we share little relationship, depth or community with those from other religions.  Most of us may never have even been into the home of someone from another faith or ethnicity.  

 

How can you get involved?

 

  • Pray for the work that the Feast does with young people in our town, particularly during these times when we need to stand for building relationships not walls. When love and peace should motivate us not hatred and fear.
  • Volunteer your time to support the work of the Feast
  • Donate to the work of the Feast

 

For more information go to www.thefeast.org.uk

 

Written by Linda Geevanathan

Deposits of Faith

posted in: Jane Reynolds, Living Faith | 1

Returning from church on Sunday fresh from the word about God giving deposits of faith, I sat down for a few minutes to pray about the questionnaire Rob Lampard and I were going out to do around Biscot on Monday morning.  

I ask God to reveal some of the people we were to speak to. As I did three different descriptions came to mind which I wrote down. We were not going out to specifically ‘treasure hunt’ or pray with people, it would be an extra, if opportunity arose. I can’t not take these opportunities but I was very conscious of not causing offence, we were there to build bridges and find out information. It has been years since I have been treasure hunting or prayed with people on the streets of Luton, but God gave me a picture some years ago of people praying by the Co Op in Biscot and I want to discover just what that might mean.

Monday came and one of the first people we met along Biscot road was a guy in jeans and a red jumper. This wonderful treasure did not want to talk about his views on Biscot, that didn’t matter, another time perhaps. I was able to chat with a wide range of people from diverse ages and cultural and religious backgrounds, and I began to understand a measure of the feelings people had towards they area. Some people talked openly and invited prayer into their situations. Others struggled to find the words in English.

After an hour or so Rob and I parted to return to our respective homes. It was on my way home that I had my best conversation. I found myself walking behind a lady who had declined to answer the survey because she had to get to the dentist. I was drawn to her dress, one with bright flowers.

 ‘That’s the flowery dress’ I realised God was saying. (Yes it was on my list)

”But she didn’t want to talk she is on her way to the dentist, she will think I’m stalking her’

This young Muslim lady with her child stopped at the bus stop. I walked by.

‘That’s the flowery dress, just tell her I love and care for her’

‘Ok’ 

Turning round I walked back to the lady.

“I’m sorry to disturb you. I promise I’m not stalking you, it’s just that I feel God wants to tell you he loves you.” 

I had her attention and she wanted to hear more. I explained I was from Hope Church and about the dress. She wanted to know if I read faces and I explained that I believed God speaks to us today and that God had given me a picture of her dress the day before when I was praying. As we talked she revealed why the massage was important to her and how perfect the timing was. 

I left her further on her journey with God, smiling and encouraged having brightened her day. Her face and countenance were changed. 

Me, I was humbled, encouraged and excited all at the same time as I praised and thanked God on my way home. 

Deposits of faith, no matter how small, when exercised grow. 

Looking forward to my next adventure in Biscot.

Written by Jane Reynolds

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