Monday 8 December 2014

The Church Beyond the Community

Interesting piece article from Robb at Changing Worship on the C of E parish system. But while it's worthy and well-argued, I guess what he misses is the application of what I'd like to call Plass's Law.

Plass's Law derives from an early passage in the original "Sacred Diary", and is probably best expressed as follows:
"The most efficient use of your church's resources in evangelism consists of reaching out to people who are Christians already, or easily converted."
You think about it - if you want a lively church which resounds with heartfelt worship, if you want fervent prayer, if you want - pertinent to the Beaker Folk - generous givers (and of course you want cheerful givers - after all, God loves them so who better to fill your church with) then starting with non-Christians is really hard. You've got to begin by meeting some non-Christians in the first place - and that can be tricky.  Then invest time in persuading them that we're not all middle-class creationist homophobes. Then instill in them the conviction that they're loathsome reptiles that no good God would love. Then tell them that God loves them.  At some stage in that process get them to believe God exists. Then set them on the 9 stages to salvation, 6 doorways to faith, 3 steps to heaven or whatever programme your church uses. Can take ages.

Whereas just offering a better Church-based experience to someone who's already a Christian - well, that's relatively simple. The hard work is done for you.  Just get your pastor to do a presentation skills - or, better, stand-up comedy - course.  Make the Quire listen to the Rend Collective till they grow beards and invest in some drums. Offer chill-out areas with proper coffee. Put the best sermons on YouTube. Generally, just make sure you're more attractive than St Wilfred's up the road. They'll start shunning the own-label instant coffee and tuneless mumbling of the quire at St Wilfred's within weeks. Be flocking down, they will.

And if there's good news at the more liberal/progressive end - at the more socially conservative side it's even better!  Because the more of a Creationist homophobe you are, the more attractive you can be to the people you're after. It just proves you're sound.

You can test my theory out. Go to Oxford Street (the one in London, that is). Go up to someone who is trying to convert people. Walk up, smile politely and ask for a leaflet.

When they've come round, read the leaflet. You don't want to leave fundamentalists unconscious from shock in a busy road like that. Sort them out, then read it. With a marker pen, cross out every sentence that would be meaningless to a non-Christian

Before you there will be a piece of paper covered in lines written in black marker pen.

They're not really trying to save the unsaved. Or if they are, they're doing it badly. They're trying to prove to the already-devout that their church is even more devout. Their pastor is more godly than yours.

And the good news is that, in a car-based economy, the more-devout church could practicably be as much as an hour's drive-time away from its ideal convert. In the 19th Century, a parishioner might walk 3 or 4 miles to get to the parish church. Today's equivalent would be getting to Husborne Crawley from Twickenham, Oxford, Leicester or Dagenham. The Church of the M25 is a reality.

And motorists who are prepared to drive 50 miles to church are going to be committed enough (and in sufficient possession of disposable income) to be good tithers as well. It's a win all round. You can keep in touch by Facebook, and they can just pop down on Sundays. Not that the types of church I've mentioned above are led by money-grabbing mercenaries. But the Beaker Folk are, for sure.

You know the other great thing? These people will be just like you!  No need to keep chastising their sins and changing their ways until they become more like the image of God that you are modelling for them. For was it not Our Lord who said the Kingdom of God is like unto a net that is let down into the sea by a modern trawler, which is designed only to catch one kind of fish? And if there's any fish of the wrong species when they pull the net up, they throw them back into the sea to make sure they're all the same type. Our Lord told truth in his parables - he just couldn't see far enough into the future to prophesy the Common Fisheries Policy.

Whereas think of the problems with Robb Sutherland's "parish" attitude. For starters, you're limited to the people who live nearby. Many of them will not be Christian - so you've got all that problem of having to gain their trust by acting nice. In fact, it's worse than that. Because they live nearby, you may have to be start acting in a consistently holy manner. They might be poor, or scruffy, or have random behavioural problems  problems for you, that is.And, being local, they might start turning up on Sundays or at coffee mornings, acting all needy. Could be quite embarrassing if you've got the local MP visiting. After all, you don't want the people who have to live with the consequences of the things s/he supported turning up in your nice 12th Century porch and wandering into church halfway through the annual municipal service.

These people will - if they ever do - take ages to grasp the essentials of the Christian faith. Especially that one about giving 10% of their income - on the assumption that they have an income at all. In fact there is a good chance that they will be a nett drain, financially and emotionally, on the congregation for the foreseeable future.

No. Get the pastor's comedy patter brushed up, improve the mixing desk, invest in some classy PowerPoint backgrounds. Print off some fairly esoteric leaflets, and advertise yourselves as a Biblical/Inclusive/Progressive/Snake-handling/Hipster church online, and in a 30 mile radius. Your rewards will be great on earth, and the people you speak to will be statistically more likely to join you in heaven. Everyone's a winner! And the people who aren't winners, are gonna be losers anyway.


  1. Archdruid Eileen doesn't offer solutions. She's a prophet, not a management consultant! :D

  2. we've done all that, and now our parish share has gone through the roof. The only way we can stay viable is to send all the church hopping evangelicals down the Elim, declare a smaller membership and hope the bill goes down next year. Someone didn't think this through

  3. Print Church adverts on homeopathic remedies.

  4. it's "choir" ...

  5. Sigh... I've just been told that I have to run a stewardship campaign next year...

  6. just been teaching a course on re-imagining church with this kind of reality in mind - and just found this posted on a Pagan Christian Moot for discussion - perhaps the Pagans can help?

  7. Very appropriate as I'm on my way to a conference on Whole Life Discipleship (or WHD as we like to call it) this morning.

  8. Sorry! That should of course have read 'WLD'

  9. Pretty sure Brian McLaren prophesied this too so it must be right.


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