Everything has Changed
This year's Conference speaker, John McGinley, tackled the subject of today's churches, both in the light of the pandemic and diminishing attendance.
The first of John's three talks 'Everything has Changed: understanding our missional context' looked at how many churches are hanging onto an ideal that worked for them in the past, instead of moving forward in the midst of declining numbers. He asks how can churches change in order to meet today's needs. Society has changed and people do not have the same connection with going to church as they did in the past. As a result many churches have become isolated and irrelevant in modern day lives. What is really hard is to find new ways to reach people, many of whom know nothing about Jesus and his promises.
John cited the traditional church model which continues today: a church building, set within a community, with a leader who sets church rules and overall agenda. The congregation demographic most often leans towards 60+ age groups and outweighs the number of young people. Typically churches run life groups, bible study sessions, children's activities and teaching, coffee mornings and other opportunities for church members to come together. This model suits the current congregations well, but what does it do to attract those who are firmly outside of the church's vicinity, with no wish to join in?
John boldly points out that clinging on to this tried and tested model may actually be limiting what God can potentially do.
Alternatives require much creative thought in how to engage with people who do not know Jesus. Making a connection with people relies on building relationships, but the difficulty remains of how to introduce faith into those relationships. John suggests that churches should think about going back to the beginning, looking at how Jesus knew how to reach out to people and teach his disciples to do the same. In effect, churches need to go on the same journey as those disciples - which is not an easy task. Jesus was very often outside of what was considered to be acceptable, and Ministers may need to do the same, going where God takes them, which may not be comfortable, rather than staying within the safety of the church walls.
Prayer will always be the best starting point. Asking God to show the way forward. It is not helpful to hold onto the belief that churches are the centre of society, as they were in the past. Throughout history churches have needed to go through a shake up and redefnement that brings them into the present day and drives them forward.
As John says: 'Churches can either compromise by becoming a holy bubble with no connection to world and stay contented in their community, or they can become a creative minority to find new ways of bringing faith and worship alive again'.
John McGinley has 25 years experience in church leadership and is the Executive Director of Myriad and New Wine Director of Church Planting. Over the three-day Conference, John expanded on the theme of 'An Unchanging Gospel in a Changing World' in three encouraging and entertaining sessions: 'Everything has changed: understanding our missional context', 'Nothing has changed: the call to make disciples' and 'Making changes: restoring missional confidence'.
Click on the YouTube link below to hear John's full talk from Day 1: 'Everything has changed: understanding our missional context'