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Posts Tagged "Mission and evangelism":

‘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?








1930s Advice for the 21st Century Church: Dr Wendy Dackson


[ After our late summer ‘skeleton editions’, we resume the publication today of Wendy Dackson’s thoughts on the ‘spiritual but not religious‘ – how did you get on at Back to Church Sunday on 29th September? Ed.]



The Church exists, first and foremost, to be the fellowship of those who worship God in Christ.  It is, therefore, in this earth, the representation of the life of Heaven.  Of course, it is easy for anyone who stands outside to look at us and say, “In that case we don’t much want to go to heaven.”  Well, that is our own fault and not the fault of the call which the Church has received.

(William Temple, The Church and its Teaching Today, the William Belden Noble Lectures at the Memorial Church, Harvard University, December 17-19, 1935, boldface my own)




If people who are seeking a deeper connection to what is divine and eternal, and do not see a reflection of higher values in the Church, who is to blame?  William Temple, Archbishop of York at the time this lecture was delivered (and thus a senior figure in an established church that still had some reason to believe that it had a moral and spiritual authority over the nation), hit the nail on the had–not just for his own time, but for decades into the future.  The Christian message is still excellent, it was in 1935, and it remains so now (although I do think that people engage it differently, emphasizing different aspects than we did almost 80 years ago).  But if it is not presented well, or by the life of the assembly, most importantly in their interactions with each other and the world outside of the time set aside for communal worship, then those outside the church have every right to say this is not where they will find the spiritual nurture and community they seek.


And who is to blame?  Not God, not Jesus Christ.  Those who are in the fellowship of the church who are representing the life of Heaven in ways that people outside the fellowship reject–they may be more responsible for giving the church a repuation that the church doesn’t want.  Too often, church “insiders”, whether clergy, lay leadership, or the “average” person in the pew, create problems for the church’s image.  It isn’t just the major scandals, like sexual abuse or financial dishonesty, either; nor can it all be blamed on the historic wrongs ascribed (rightly and wrongly) to the church.  It can have more to do with a member of a church’s governing body, who regales his or her co-workers with stories of the bitter arguments that happened during the last  meeting. Or the new member of the altar guild who feels bossed and belittled by the guild president–because she–and altar guilds have historically been, and remain, over 90% female–who vents to a non-churchgoing neighbor about how impossible it is to please some people, and all the new member really wants to do is serve God and the worshipping community.  It can be the architect on his congregation’s building committee, whose expertise is over-ridden to accommodate the whim of the biggest donor.  It can be the gossip about the young, single, female pastor who is seen holding hands in the cinema with a man from outside the congregation (clergy ethics almost always forbid single ministers from dating within the congregation).  Most of all, it can be about the smugness some Christians demonstrate when they speak to non-churchgoers about the superiority of pursuing a spiritual path within the church, rather than going it alone.  So much of what happens in the holy community looks hellish to those who would never enter its doors.


If Archbishop Temple were writing today, what might he have said?  I imagine that the quote above could stand almost unchanged, but I will add a bit to it.


The Spiritual But Not Religious (SBNR) are not your problem.  They did not cause your church to decline in its membership or giving.  They are not why your vestry, consistory, or whatever your governing body is called, is fighting.  They are not why members of your congregation do not get along with one another. They are not why your building needs paint, your choir needs new robes, your organ is out of tune, your altar flowers are wilting, or your youth group is not much more than a clique with ugly t-shirts that say “WWJD”. They are not why your pastor is burned out, and taking it out on the congregation.


And that is far from saying that they are looking for a perfect church, with completely godly people who are free from human pettiness, who are always going to be able to conduct their lives together in perfect perfect harmony and flawless grace.  People are realistic in their expectations about what human groups are like. If the SBNR, in all their glorious spiritual diversity, are looking for a faith community at all (some are, others are not), they are looking for a place to grow in godliness, amongst people who are also trying to do so, who lovingly help each other to come to some kind of appreciation of the classic philosophical goods of beauty, truth, and goodness than any one individual or group can appreciate.  And yet, they want to do it in ways, and amongst people, who appreciate and honor the individuality and gifts they will bring to the community.  They want to ask the tough questions about life in a rapidly-changing world, but they also ask the tough questions about why there need to be four churches at the corner of Main and Maple Streets, selling five different versions of Christianity, all hoping to convince people that their way is the best (or even only) way.


The SBNR are also not the solution to your problems.  An influx of unchurched people is not going to help you be a better church quickly.  Even a wealthy new member is not going to drop a huge pledge on you the second time they attend and solve all your financial woes.  If people come to church for the first time, or come back after a long absence, they will be looking to feel their way into the community’s life, and find the places where they can participate most authentically, for their own benefit and that of the church.  Rejoice at finding them, yes–but everyone (God included) will be better served if you treat them more like lost sheep than lost coins.


However, I would also want to say the following:  The Spiritual But Not Religious are not your problem, but they are your concern.  Listen carefully to their objections to the church, and for those things that can be changed without compromising the integrity of Christianity, work on them.  We are told to “preach the gospel to every living creature.”  But we preach an anti-gospel if our churches are places of in-fighting, power struggles, and blame-games where we claim that our problems have causes that don’t make any sense.  If we look bad to those outside the church, that is our fault, not theirs.


Not all Spiritual but Not Religious people are looking for a church, and some are not even looking at the church.  But if the church wants to reach them, and is not doing so, perhaps it is time to look inward and put some energy into making the life of the Christian community into the representation of heaven which it is meant to be.


Time For A Little Introspection in the Church of England?

Some may object to the title of this post on the grounds that we seem to do nothing but gaze at our collective navels in the Church of England. But I think General Synod has just shown us that collective thinking about our future too often becomes simply a restatement of each lobby group’s point of view. Each statement becomes progressively louder, more clearly enunciated and more deeply felt, and positions become ever more entrenched.


I am an insider in the sense that I have been a member of the Church of England for 63 years and, through social media, engage with people involved in the Church from top to bottom of the candle. But I am really an outsider, as I sit on no synods and currently hold no position in the Church. I therefore lack detailed knowledge, but this very weakness is perhaps the strength that I can offer to those who take decisions on behalf of the Church as a whole: I ought to be in a position to see the wood, not just the trees.

The Anglican Communion that is the Church of England

When we say, as we frequently do, that the Church of England is a broad church,  we are considerably understating the case. It is more like a coalition. Because of its historical position as the established state Church of the whole nation, it has always attempted to represent the whole nation at prayer. But a visitor from outer space would find it very difficult to understand that worshippers at, say, Walshingham or St Mary’s, Bourne Street belong to the same denomination as, e.g., Holy Trinity, Brompton.


The Anglican Communion Covenant: Lessons and Parallels?

I listened to the live streaming of General Synod in York, and I have checked the agenda, but could find no mention of the fact that diocesan synods recently voted to reject the Covenant, despite, for the most part, strong episcopal pressure for its adoption. I hope that, behind closed doors if not in public, there has been a post-mortem on the reasons why this should be so, and whether there are any lessons to be drawn from it. ‘Peasant Revolts’ on this scale only come along every few hundred years, and their origins and causes are likely to be significant.

As a ‘draft’, may I suggest the following:

  • The Covenant arose from a desire to draw up a document which would strengthen the bonds of unity between the Churches of the Anglican Communion. It attempted to do so by imposing bonds of uniformity, a very different thing.
  • It ran into difficulties because of, e.g., widely differing cultural attitudes towards LGBT individuals. Whereas in Britain it is illegal to discriminate against them, in parts of Africa –notably Uganda– homosexuality is criminalised, with attempts to introduce the death penalty in certain cases. The respective Churches broadly reflect their countries’ social norms, although in theory  ‘practising’ LGBT individuals in the UK are not ordained. In the ‘old Commonwealth‘ countries, there is generally no bar to the ordination, or indeed consecration as bishops, of the LGBT community.
  • With hindsight, strict adherence to the letter and the spirit of the Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral might have avoided the whole problem, relying on its provision for Anglicanism to be  ‘locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples.’

The Measure on Women Bishops

  • Whereas consideration of  the proposed Measure, with the controversial addition of amendment 5.i (c), was postponed until November to allow for further episcopal consultation, and whereas Sir Tony Baldry, Church Estates Commissioner, declared that Parliament would not pass any Measure which discriminated against women purely on the basis of their sex, it is expedient for the Church to amend the Measure once more. (Apologies for the cod legalese, it is catching).
  • All attempts to square the circle by inducing those who are against the ordination of women as priests, let alone bishops, to sign up to a measure committing the Church of England to consecrate women as bishops are doomed to failure, no matter how much time is allowed to lapse, or indaba sessions are undergone, if the Measure is to apply to the Church as a whole. This is because of the physical laws of geometry and the universe. It is unreasonable to expect the Holy Spirit to change the laws of the universe to suit the Church of England.
  • Therefore, a means must be found to agree that the Church of England be ‘locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the‘ congregations, as in the Chicago-Lambeth formula.


A Suggested Way Forward

  •  All those who at present believe themselves to be members of the Church of England may continue to do so.
  • In view of the overwhelming support for the Measure on referral to diocesan synods, the Church of England will seek the approval of General Synod to proceed with the submission of the Measure to parliament for approval (as it stood when referred to the dioceses).
  • All members of the Church of England will be required to accept the authority and oversight of their diocesan bishops, whether male or female.
  • Those who are unable to accept the validity of ordination by a woman priest may choose to form their own congregations, in effect form a denomination within the denomination of the Church of England. In addition to ordination  by a Church of England diocesan bishop, they may seek further sacramental measures by a subsidiary bishop of their own choosing, such bishop also to have been consecrated within the main framework of the Church of England. These subsidiary bishops will have no geographical designation, but be available to all.
  • The Church of England will seek to re-vitalise its efforts at mission and evangelism, that is to look outwards rather than inwards.
Of course, the finer details would remain to be worked out!
But I hope that the idea might receive serious consideration. I draw a parallel with the distribution of the eucharist. Some (though I know not all) Roman Catholics are at liberty to take communion in the Church of England on the basis that, while not valid as communion, it promotes ecumenism. Similarly, I hope that Anglo-Catholics who do not accept the validity of women’s ministry would be prepared to take part on the grounds that it would not be harmful and would promote their membership of the Church as a whole. They could then follow up with additional sacramental ministry by the subsidiary bishop.

The Message from John’s Gospel

Whatever happens next will not have a successful outcome unless we remember:

 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

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