In the world of fresh expressions/mission shaped ministry/emerging church and all other such things that if you are part of the Church of England you will no doubt have heard about, there are a couple of key terms:
Attractional is not looked on with favour in the current mission thinking of the C of E. Put crudely, it means ‘we put something on in our church that we hope people will come to if we do enough advertising, and when they arrive we will keep doing things our way because our way is right, and not really consider who they are or if they might have something to say about it.’
Engaged on the other hand considers that as a church after much thought and planning, possibly audits of skills, resources and local needs, we actually get stuck in and DO something to address local needs, spiritual and where appropriate physical too. We meet people where they are and, in current trendy speak, we walk with them on their spiritual journey towards Christ. They will help us to think about issues of orthodoxy and orthopraxis appropriate in their community.
The issues are a lot broader than this, and the arguments are only in their infancy (see the footnote for further exploration), but it is sufficient for this article. However you look at it, whilst attractional has it’s place, engaged is where the daily connection with those who are not yet part of church will happen. And if you want evidence, consider Paul’s mission to the gentiles and his comments on becoming all things to all men.
I was speaking with my father in law last night about his church. It is, after many years of stable or declining figures, seeing some quite remarkable growth that is at least approaching being more representative of the surrounding culture in terms of ethnicity. This led to considering how many new church members there were who previously had not connected with church. It is a very traditional church so what was going on. And then the question arose: but are they engaged?
They put on coffee mornings, they have an ‘acceptable’ church service. Nothing new. Their church growth is coming from the insistence that the people who want to have their children attend the voluntary aided church school which is linked with the church, should come to church as a family for 12 months prior to acceptance in the school on a weekly basis unless they have a good reason (or a note from their mum?) They even take a register! Seems harsh, but they needed to find some criteria as the school was seriously oversubscribed, and previously it had been the usual ‘come to church on a family service to put your name down for school’ situation.
And from this, they are seeing people come…and stay! That coffee morning has become a very real expression of faith. They have a bible study in the mornings that is about to transfer leadership to an ‘indigenous’ person (more fresh expressions terminology).
If Engaged (in missional language we are now using) means to connect with the needs of the people and get involved with them then surely we must consider this a very real connection? The needs of the people are to get their children in to that particular school. Through the technical process of admissions the church is connecting with that need, and then building trust and friendship with the result of transforming lives. They are building community through it. Through this they find other needs that are to be addressed. They looked for an opportunity and saw it staring them in the face.
We often look at being engaged as needing to do something really complicated, but this church has simply done what is natural for them, used the tools already available. Of course, this would not be as successful were the church not willing to go beyond the initial contact and discover how to develop that connection in a responsible way. Nor would it work for schools which are voluntary aided and do not set the selection criteria.
Further details concerning this subject can be found on the fresh expressions website.
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