Lay Anglicana, the unofficial voice of the laity throughout the Anglican Communion.
This is the place to share news and views from the pews.

Get involved ...

‘Fuzzy Church’, Anyone?


The Great Commission

The Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose. –C. S. Lewis

We Have A Gospel To Proclaim

dog jumping up


In our more enthusiastic moments, all convinced Christians feel an urge to shout from the roof tops ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good!’ – we have discovered a secret of living that makes an enormous difference for the better in our own lives, and we naturally want to share it with everyone.

Head and Heart

But even if they share your ebullient nature, the people on the receiving end of all this exuberant enthusiasm  were almost certainly thinking about something else when you made your pitch, since you probably did so at a time and place to suit you rather than them.


Hard Sell or Soft Sell?

Some priests put up hoardings saying ‘All Are Welcome’  (as if the presumed default position of the Church were the reverse), with unknown degrees of success. Other priests refuse to ‘sell’ the Church at all:

It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and my job to love. Billy Graham

(Of course, this is a little disingenuous on the part of Billy Graham, who was the greatest evangelist of recent times). At the other extreme,  people  ring doorbells of complete strangers, or walk up to them in shopping centres, asking whether they know Jesus. If the success rate of these confrontational approaches were high, we would  have heard about it by now. American advertising agencies have examined the two approaches.

‘Spiritual But Not Religious’

Dr Wendy Dackson has analysed this amorphous group of people,  first here on Lay Anglicana and then on her own Past Christian:  surely these are the people we should concentrate on reaching if we hope to extend the existing Christian community? How do we do this? Well, sticking up a sign saying ‘All Are Welcome’ must rate as ‘could do better’.

The shortest distance between two points is rarely a straight line.

Robert Twigger writes:

It could be a spiral, a slow spiral around one point and then a loop into the other. Or a zig zagging path … The more I observed my own …setbacks… and successes, the more I saw there was NO correlation between directness of route and success, or rather, there was: a negative correlation. The direct approach was the more likely either to fail or take twice as long… Straight lines are not to be found in nature. Look at the cracked mud of a field recently in the sun…Water is curved as it lies in a glass- surface tension. Trees branch, even very straight trees waver at the top.

Fresh Expressions

Fresh Expressions

seeks to transform communities and individuals through championing and resourcing new ways of being church. We work with Christians from a broad range of denominations and traditions and the movement has resulted in thousands of new congregations being formed alongside more traditional churches.

There is already a course called ‘Puzzling Questions’ which encourages those attending to discuss the four last things and so on, but the directing staff solution is a Christian one. The Fuzzy Church concept does have a common point of departure with Fresh Expressions – see  ‘Interest in spirituality is widespread’-  but takes it a step further.


The Proposition

Fuzzy Church would be an outreach of each participating community (parish/benefice). It would host a series of discussions (in the village hall or pub, preferably not the church?) on the meaning of life aka ‘puzzling questions’. (It would probably NOT be overtly called ‘Fuzzy Church’, but something more anodyne, perhaps ‘Puzzling Questions 2.0’?). The USP of Fuzzy Church is that these would be completely open-ended discussions, ie they would not seek to impose a directing staff solution or Christian answer to the question, but enter discussions with the rest of the audience with no preconceptions. Again, this is not completely original:

Mission Statement of St Stephen, Walbrook (after ‘Proclaim, celebrate and promote the good news of Jesus Christ to everyone in the City’)

Provide, without prejudice or expectation, a safe and welcoming place where people of all religious faiths or none can find spiritual inspiration, guidance, encouragement and support.


Why ‘Fuzzy’?

You’ve heard of fuzzy logic – its predecessor, Boolean logic, saw everything as either true or false, one thing or the other. Fuzzy logic allows for gradations of truth. For example, if you begin eating an apple, it begins as an apple and by the time you have finised eating, it has become an apple core. At what point in between did it cease to be an ‘apple’ and become an ‘apple core’?. Calvin College Engineering Department have put forward an explanation of fuzzy logic which even I can understand.

Machines that use fuzzy logic take the ‘truth’, fuzzify it in order to talk to the machine, and then de-fuzzify at the end.

 Why Fuzzy Church?

  • If atheist churches are increasingly popular, we would be tapping into the zeitgeist.
  • The idea costs nothing – at least nothing financial. It simply needs us to engage with people on the basis of  where they are and what they need. It would be a slower way of making Christians, but possibly one with more lasting foundations. It would be  fly-fishing (think Isaak Walton) rather than simply casting our nets and hoping for the best.
  • The discussions could be combined with a  liturgy in church, perhaps on the fifth Sunday of the month (ie four times a year) using prayers, songs and readings like those selected by the Templeton Foundation in ‘Worldwide Worship‘ .
  • The discussion groups could be based on existing house groups and/or those temporary groups which form for Lent and Advent study. Between Lent and Advent, (some of) the same people would engage with the agnostic but spiritual amongst the community who were willing so to engage.
  • There seems no need to hide the fact that it is a Church initiative – we are seeking to inform ourselves about the way others think, to debate our reasons for holding the beliefs that we  do,  and to seek after the truth.

 Is there any mileage in this, do you think?








13 comments on this post:

Joyce Hackney said...

The Bible itself is fuzzy about many things in life. The OT in particular is laced with contradiction. I love the idea of a fuzzy church.

Lay Anglicana said...

Good, so I am not going mad then! I just think that the classic ‘cold calling’ approach of much Evangelicalism is off putting to many people, particularly the English.

04 December 2014 17:36
04 December 2014 16:10

There are also good anthropological & sociological reflections from a Christian perspective on the whole idea of why a “fuzzy” approach is better … and why certain types of Christians/churches need to have definitive boundaries (e.g. specific questions with definite answers).

Having spent nearly 16 years on-and-off working cross-culturally with the church in NW Uganda, these were things that I had to reflect on personally and then teach to others. Although some of the clearest thinking emerges from a nominally evangelical perspective, it is very open in its approach. The late Paul Hiebert wrote (25 years ago) about “bounded” and “centred” sets in a mission context, and alongside reflections on “emic” & “etic” perspectives on mission, communication, conversion etc.

A very basic introduction – from a cross-cultural viewpoint – can be found at

More complex thinking is at

More recent reflections are here

Lay Anglicana said...

Many thanks Simon – no sense in reinventing the wheel and I had a feeling it must have come up before as an idea! I will explore…

04 December 2014 17:34
04 December 2014 17:22
Wendy Dackson said...

Throwing in my own perspective: it’s not just a little fuzziness about belief we need, but quite a bit more fuzziness about particpation and commitment.

The expected patterns of church participation (at least in the US, where I live) seem to be based on the family and social structures into which the people currently called “baby boomers” were born. Daddy writes the checque to cover the tithe, serves on the vestry/PCC/whatever you call the congregation’s governing body, and perhaps takes part as a lector or intercessor or choir member. Mommy (who is assumed not to work outside the home) irons linens, helps clean the church, works the Sunday School, and preheats the oven any time there is a call for contributions to a bake sale or bring-and-share meal. Nobody can say no, because nobody can admit to being “too busy” to take on something “in God’s service”.

And adults are not presumed to fall into any category other than married and either a Daddy or a Mommy. If there is anything such as a “spinster” (me) or a bachelor, that person is seen as somehow defective and falling short of what God wants of their life. And thus, it becomes even less acceptable to say “no” to a request for time or other resources when issued by the church.

Life has changed a little since then. Partly because people are marrying later and living longer than at any time in US history, the number of single people of all ages is higher than it has ever been. So, the “married with children” assumption needs far more challenging than it has had.

Families often require two salaries–not for “luxuries” or personal fulfillment (which I don’t think should be denigrated by the church), but to make sure the necessities of life are provided. To bemoan that people would “choose” to work (or stay home with children while a partner earns for the household), seems to me a way of undermining families, rather than upholding them. No Christian church in America would admit to being anti-family, but by denigrating Sunday employment, they are exactly that.

Robert Putnam’s “Bowling Alone” indicated that membership in all kinds of voluntary associations (and the church is definitely that, whatever it says about itself) is down, and has been trending downward for some while. If you make weekly attendance an absolute requirement of membership, plus pressure people whose lives are already stressed enough to commit five or six precious hours during the week to “God’s work”, you aren’t going to get very far.

On top of which, I think people no longer equate “God’s work” or “giving (money) to God” with things that are officially and explicitly done under the auspices of institutional Christianity. People may give 10% of their income to charity and see various non-church causes as “God’s work” (building homes for Habitat for Humanity, supporting food banks or literacy programs). The church may get only a portion of the 10%–but more of “God’s work” might be getting done as a result. Same with their volunteer commitments.

So, it’s not only a matter of “believing” that is part of the fuzz. We need, I think, to fuzz-up the requirements and demands (implied or specified) concerning what membership means as well.

04 December 2014 18:21
minidvr said...

This is timely. I’m currently engaged in writing an assignment on Mission and Ministry. Although fuzzy church isn’t on our learning module, Fresh Expressions is. I might just have to research this a bit, before I reach my conclusions, which at the moment, are not unquestioning of the FX approach to certain aspects of stuff. I’m even questioning some of the theology in Mission Shaped Church, where I see some of the views are attempting to downgrade a model of church that they think is out of date or basically a loser.

I can’t offer to post that work here, because it has to be submitted for assessment and marking and I’m only on the foundation module at the moment, but I can use research like this as I am encouraged to read widely and not too be limited to the recommended reading list.

I might even be able to title the Essay Fuzzy Church or ‘Inherited Church+ 🙂

Wendy Dackson said...

So glad that someone is finally questioning the theology of “Mission Shaped Church”. I hope you don’t get excoriated for it the way I did.

minidvr said...

John Hull has done a good job with it. His ‘Mission Shaped Church (A Theological Response) does a good job of demolishing the myths and flaws in the theology.

Wendy Dackson said...

I have the John Hull book as well. I thought it was over-polite in its criticisms. And by now, Mission Shaped Church, as well as Hull’s response, are hopelessly outdated. Well, more hopelessly outdated than they were when they were written, anyway.

05 December 2014 13:14
05 December 2014 08:07
04 December 2014 23:21
04 December 2014 23:12
lindabailey01 said...

I think this is in theory an excellent way for the Church to set about building relationships within the wider community. It requires recognition of everyone’s truth. It becomes dishonest if understood as a way to make more Christians. It might do so, but as it requires honest engagement, and no ring fencing of one particular brand of truth, it may also result in conversion the other way
We are called to be the salt of the earth. The job of salt is not to make more salt, but to change the taste of everything.
The Emergent Christian movement has a history of using this particular kind of strategy creatively.
It requires leaving your certainties at the door, and engaging with reality and other peoples truth, and following the Spirit that bloweth where it will. Is the Anglican Church ready for this.

05 December 2014 13:20
Joyce Hackney said...

In a talk I once went to, Juan Carlos Ortiz talked about The Early Church. He pointed out the differences between The Church at Jerusalem and the The Church at Antioch.
He described the first Christians who’d known Jesus personally. They had no buildings to maintain, no audio-visual aids, no Sunday School material and The New Testament hadn’t yet been written. “Poor things,” he said, “they only had The Holy Spirit.”
In other words Fuzziness has a long history.

07 December 2014 03:57
Roger Verrall said...

On first reading the title Fuzzy Church, it struck me that perhaps this was another manifestation of Fresh Expressions – a sort of Messy Church for adults!

My second thought was that it was perhaps an expression of Liberation Theology in 21st century GB. After all the church does need to reconnect with its community and what better way than to look at what the community does and try and interpret that in terms of the Gospel message.

The worry is that even if we only used Fuzzy Church as a working title it might well give an impression that the church is completely devoid of vision. Or perhaps that Is a true reflection!

Many parts of the C of E have just completed Mission Action Plans and from what I have seen, even though they are founded on mission and vision statements they are still very fuzzy. It is almost a case of ” haven’t we been here before!

So perhaps a completely new angle may well be called for. I may struggle with the concept of Fuzzy Church but it may well turn out to be an important Movement of the 21st century,

Sorry if this appears to ramble – but am feeling rather fuzzy.

I may be more in sync with Boolean logic but am prepared to listen.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thanks for commenting, Roger. I understand your reservations, I think, and freely admit that mine is an idea borne out of desperation!

In an ideal world, or perhaps in a pre-1960s world, the Church (and society in general) declaimed ‘the truth’ and the world believed. But the mood has changed. People no longer accept ‘the truth’ as what is spoken from the pulpit – at least the people we hope to reach through mission and evangelism do not seem ready to accept that things are true, Christianity is true, just because some well-meaning priest (or lay person) tells them so. That is the first problem.

The second problem is explained very well by our colleague Wendy Dackson in Past Christian or, on the post by Thom Schultz which I have reblogged today about the people who

After sitting through countless sermons and Bible studies, they feel they’ve heard it all. One of Packard’s interviewees said, “I’m tired of being lectured to. I’m just done with having some guy tell me what to do.”

He also makes the very good point is that we might concentrate on the people we already have in the pews, rather than leaving them to get fed up and be off.

It is for this reason that I thought the Church would do well to sponsor wider discussions about truth – something like Plato and his circle! – discuss outside church buildings what life is all about without immediately trying to ram our version of the truth down their throats.

12 December 2014 21:11
12 December 2014 17:22

Leave a Reply

We rely on donations to keep this website running.