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Source: (consider it) Thread: The Battle for Christianity
Gamaliel
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@Chris Stiles, thanks, yes, I take your point and you've issued a valuable corrective there.

EM was indeed talking about groups rather than individuals within groups.

I agree with him that those groups that have a clear and more definable stance are more likely to survive than those that don't.

@SvitlanaV2. We are all influenced by what we've experienced. You've experienced decline within a traditional denominational setting, so that's inevitably going to make you more suspicious of traditional denominational structures.

I get that.

EM (and myself to an extent) have seen the opposite, groups setting out full of zeal and life and vitality which ultimately have to face reality and get on with the day to day drudgery of keeping the show on the road just like everyone else.

Of course, small groups may not have expensive church buildings and heirarchies to maintain, but in my experience they consume an inordinate amount of their members time and energies. They easily lead to burn-out.

There's some kind of balance somewhere.

As far as the CofE goes, the impression I get isn't that everyone is squabbling about Dead Horse issues and so on but simply trying to keep things afloat.

I take your point about life being too fast-paced to hang around trying to acclimatise oneself to viewpoints and positions one might not hold oneself ... and yes, I'm experiencing that myself at the moment. I have to grit my teeth whenever I'm around people from our parish church. Thing is, it might well be like that elsewhere, only over different issues. That's life. Unless I were to go and live on a desert island or drop out of church life altogether, I don't see any way around that one.

On learning to be bored at church. Yes, well we do need a 'theology' of that. That's part of the problem with the new, more exciting movements. They don't allow for that. Consequently, when apparent routine sets in they find themselves reinventing things, stirring and whipping things up and bending over backwards to try and create the initial buzz and excitement that they first had.

They don't realise that this is simply par for the course, part and parcel of the way things are, the way human beings operate.

The problem is that they confuse 'boredom' or mundanity with lack of spiritual drive and if things aren't on Cloud Nine the whole time they think there's something wrong. They have to pray harder, sing more loudly, do this that or the other a lot more ...

It becomes a vicious circle. Rather like rave-culture with highs followed by depressed lows.

Ok, most groups will settle into some kind of equilibrium on that score, but I do think that a kind of high-octane religious enthusiasm is hard to maintain over the medium to longer term.

Which is why I think that interest in retreats, in neo-monastic movements and so on can serve as a healthy antidote to such tendencies.

It's interesting when looking at the way the Quakers developed how quickly initial fiery enthusiasm gave way to a kind of principled Quietism. Perhaps we'll see parallels to that with some of the current rah-rah-rah lively groups?

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chris stiles
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quote:
Originally posted by Gamaliel:

Of course, small groups may not have expensive church buildings and heirarchies to maintain, but in my experience they consume an inordinate amount of their members time and energies. They easily lead to burn-out.

and in some ways this is a 'feature' rather than a 'bug'. Momentum in such groups are generally kept up by the sense of an external mission, and so activities are both expected and a large part of keeping everyone excited.

At the same time, I question Svitlana's complaint about buildings and hierarchies. Eventually all groups/denominations (call them what you like) are going to have to offer something to actually be seen as valuable - and to be able to grow they have to be based around more than simply some kind of organic model (which usually actually comes down to a bunch of people who find it comfortable to be friends/acquaintances with each other and just hang out) - so some infrastructure is needed, whether it be a building, the ability the hire someone full/part time who thinks the thoughts that others do not have time to do and so on.

and tbh buildings being the big expense is very much a locational thing.

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SvitlanaV2
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The cynic in me supposes that 'balance' occurs when people do what they like, and then stop doing it when they don't like it anymore. On a more positive note, From Anecdote to Evidence talks about various established CofE congregations that seem to be lively and active without out being wacky.

Re burden of buildings being a very localised thing, I'd have to disagree. Of course, I fully accept that in the places you know the churches are probably fortunate enough to be well-attended and well-funded. But the burden of expensive and often underused buildings has been a widespread challenge in Britain for a century or more, and has been documented by scholars of church history. The burden has been felt most strongly among the Nonconformists. Two interesting books, 'The Myth of the Empty Church' and 'The Empty Church Revisited', both by Robin Gill have more to say about this.

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Gamaliel
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I agree with SvitlanaV2 that buildings can be a burden wherever the location. The restorationist 'new church' I was part of from 1982 to 2000 has recently got rid of its burdensome building and begun hiring a hall again because it could no longer maintain and upkeep the building it'd purchased after many years of nomadic hall-hiring ...

I also agree that it's possible to be lively and engaging without being whacky.

However, I also think that Chris Stiles is right with his observation that you need some form of infrastructure to maintain and sustain things beyond a group of like-minded people meeting together several times a week.

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SvitlanaV2
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I suppose it's a question of what one means by an essential infrastructure, and what will be gained and lost by buying into some aspect of it. No doubt, there could be mileage in discussing what kind of church government and organisation has been the most successful according to various criteria.

Put bluntly, I think it's also a matter of what any particular merry band of Christians are willing and able to pay for.

[ 11. May 2016, 13:31: Message edited by: SvitlanaV2 ]

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chris stiles
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quote:
Originally posted by Gamaliel:
I agree with SvitlanaV2 that buildings can be a burden wherever the location.

Of course they *can* be, the point was that they didn't have to be - a lot of the issues are around; heritage buildings and the high cost of property/buildings - this isn't something that has to be universally true.
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Gamaliel
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Sure, Chris, but buildings and infrastructure are going to be a significant drain on any church's resources.

I know an Orthodox parish which is using a redundant Anglican church building on a pepper-corn rent. The Anglicans may well turn round and let them have it for next to nothing rather than maintain it. So, at the moment it's not costing them a great deal to run, but as soon as they have it as 'their's' for keeps, that's when the bills will start. They're already planning to put in loos and plumbing - at the moment the altar-boys pee in the church yard or in the scout hut opposite. That's going to cost them a pretty penny when the average Sunday attendance is only between 20 and 40 people.

I think there's scope for more creative ways of sharing and using buildings, but they are always going to be a source of great expense.

As for what types or kinds of church are likely to be more sustainable into the future, well, that'll depend on all sorts of criteria.

I'm not sure the 'Let's all meet at Starbuck's with our mates' approach is any more sustainable than the existing traditional models.

--------------------
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Praise the Lord for He is kind.

http://philthebard.blogspot.com

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SvitlanaV2
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quote:
Originally posted by chris stiles:
quote:
Originally posted by Gamaliel:
I agree with SvitlanaV2 that buildings can be a burden wherever the location.

Of course they *can* be, the point was that they didn't have to be - a lot of the issues are around; heritage buildings and the high cost of property/buildings - this isn't something that has to be universally true.
Just to add to what Gamaliel has said, let's remember that at this point most churches aren't starting afresh, are they? They have to deal with the buildings they've got. Even a new group looking to buy in a particular area has to choose from what's available. Gill above notes, for example, that the black congregations that have bought hulking old Nonconformist churches are facing the same expensive challenges in looking after them that the Methodists and the URC had before them. I agree with him.

Knocking down a money pit of a 19th c. church building (or even a badly designed mid-20th c. replacement) isn't cheap either, and raising the funds to do that takes a whole lot of time and effort that could be spent on something else. Unfortunately, in some cases the effort spent on rebuilding isn't spent on refocusing the church's mission and long term future adequately, so the churches may still end up having to close.

For the Nonconformists and other independents, it doesn't matter how big a congregation is; if the members can't afford to run their church building or attract every Tom, Dick and Harry to rent church rooms on a regular basis, then they have to close. My former minister described one building in the circuit as a letting agency with a church attached(!) but I'd say that any Methodist church now in the lucky position to move or rebuild should have the same goal: theologically you're a church, but on a practical level, be a letting agency with a church attached. Money rules the real world.

The CofE is willing to support tiny congregations in huge, ancient churches to an extent that no other British denomination could ever imitate. But even the CofE has to draw the line somewhere, and there are a number of ex-CofE churches (in terms of not being used for CofE worship) around.

[ 11. May 2016, 15:10: Message edited by: SvitlanaV2 ]

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ExclamationMark
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quote:
Originally posted by quetzalcoatl:
quote:
Originally posted by hatless:
I think that not knowing is actually a promising sign. It is one of the marks of dealing with God.

So to pray, and therefore remain in the place of not knowing, seems right. And much better than doing something, anything, to avoid the difficulty of not knowing.

Everyone in every church I know is always asking themselves what the way forward is. Thinking harder won't bring an answer. Waiting might.

This is very good. In general, I am a big fan of not knowing, being confused, and so on.

I used to help run meditation retreats, and you would notice that some people would start off in a tone of bright certainty, about who they are, and their purpose in life, and so on, but after a few days, this would disappear, and you would hear the cry, 'I don't know'. Well, I won't bore you with the rest of it, but it can be the gateway. Ah, but to what, I hear you cry.

It's fine if you really don't know. It isn't much good though if you use "don't know" when you do know - ie as a means of avoiding tough decisions or commitments.

Don't know can also be equated to don't want to know - ie I'll happily sit dialogueing over some issue because I don't actually care about the outcome. Don't know is, in those cases, n excuse for inertia.

[ 11. May 2016, 15:37: Message edited by: ExclamationMark ]

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Picking up the issue with buildings ... there's a lot of church buildings which are underused. Soem can't be used by others (locations, listings, willingness), others might be but aren't.

Think of it this way: if a church moves its mindset from mission to maintenance (that is, it is simply trying to "be" there, keep the show on the road), then does it deserve to be kept going? Isn't God's big plan something about going out and not staying at home?

I hear all the arguments about incarnation and intention, but these can be substitutes for laziness and complacency, especially if you have an endowment fund or cash in the bank.

The questions for all of us should be along the lines of exactly what are we quantifiably contributing to the mission of the church? How are we proclaiming Christ through our concerts, Toddler Groups etc and what steps are we taking to bring the people who attend these to a place where they meet Christ?

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chris stiles
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quote:
Originally posted by SvitlanaV2:

They have to deal with the buildings they've got.

Sure, and I'm not sure what else you are suggesting, apart from wringing ones hands.

quote:

Gill above notes, for example, that the black congregations that have bought hulking old Nonconformist churches are facing the same expensive challenges in looking after them that the Methodists and the URC had before them.

Yes, and this is a perfect example of making an existing situation much worse than it has to be (presumably they bought them out of a misplaced desire to get a building that 'looked' like a church).

I'm not suggesting that these issues magically go away - but that we can look to the past and make adjustments (and that additionally the building issue is much more of an issue in places like the UK than in other places).

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SvitlanaV2
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quote:
Originally posted by chris stiles:
quote:
Originally posted by SvitlanaV2:

They have to deal with the buildings they've got.

Sure, and I'm not sure what else you are suggesting, apart from wringing ones hands.

Speaking personally, I'm suggesting that more congregations should be willing to do without buildings. (That's not a popular idea among those of you with experience of smug middle class men in t-shirts who meet for fellowship in coffee shops. Fair enough. More of them should probably be led by working class ladies in dungarees, maybe meeting in a greasy spoon, or something....)

As I said above, if you must own a building, another another option is to become a 'letting agency with a church attached'. What this does is create less anxiety about finances and frees up the church to focus on its true God-given mission and calling.

However, our congregations are free to do what seems best to them, according to their denominational history and expectations.
quote:



quote:

Gill above notes, for example, that the black congregations that have bought hulking old Nonconformist churches are facing the same expensive challenges in looking after them that the Methodists and the URC had before them.

Yes, and this is a perfect example of making an existing situation much worse than it has to be (presumably they bought them out of a misplaced desire to get a building that 'looked' like a church).

I'm not suggesting that these issues magically go away - but that we can look to the past and make adjustments (and that additionally the building issue is much more of an issue in places like the UK than in other places).

Looking like a church would be part of it, but it would be strange for an advocate of traditional church structures to knock them for that. The more obvious reason is that their membership had grown. There was a limit to how many worshippers would hold in a bedsit in Wolverhampton in the 1960s.

Moreover, such groups had no foundational theology of 'organic church' or whatever - they were just doing what it took to pursue a Christian ministry in a strange land. Most of them had come from institutional churches in their homelands.

I'm not sure what you mean about looking to the past and making adjustments. What adjustments are you thinking of?

(BTW, my comments are focused on the UK, but there are no doubt interesting comparisons that could be made with other countries.)

[the Battle for Correct UBB Code]

[ 11. May 2016, 16:56: Message edited by: Eutychus ]

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chris stiles
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quote:
Originally posted by SvitlanaV2:

Speaking personally, I'm suggesting that more congregations should be willing to do without buildings. (That's not a popular idea among those of you with experience of smug middle class men in t-shirts who meet for fellowship in coffee shops. Fair enough. More of them should probably be led by working class ladies in dungarees, maybe meeting in a greasy spoon, or something....)

Sure, and I'm all for renting/hiring rather than buying - though the areas that are expensive to buy in tend to be equally expensive to rent in (hence all those swanky coffee shops) - and finding room for a church of any size is usually a huge problem (there will be all sorts of issues around parking, noise and so on - and most ethnic church will face more than their fair share of complaints around these issues).

quote:

Moreover, such groups had no foundational theology of 'organic church' or whatever - they were just doing what it took to pursue a Christian ministry in a strange land.

I did not claim that they had to be an organic church - however buying creaking old buildings wasn't the wisest thing to do (having been a disinterested observer to a couple of these things of things).

I think the redevelopment option which you outline will work for some churches, but perhaps in future we should tend towards building plain churches that aren't likely to end up as the targets of the heritage industry.

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SvitlanaV2
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I can't imagine much church building going on in the future, THB. I live in a city, and there wouldn't be the room. It's going to be hard enough to find the space for everyone just to have a home! And where would the average mid 21st c. church group (which is likely to remain smaller than churches of the past) find the money?

I know of Pentecostal churches that meet in redundant office blocks and converted industrial properties. This practice may increase. There are also lots of empty shops in some town centres, so the 'store front church' might become a more common sight in 21st c. Britain. Maybe that depends on whether the stigma against such churches will fade. Also, will the declining number of practising Christians want to spend money to establish ministries in dying urban centuries? It remains to be seen.

Talking of crumbly old church buildings, many of the ones in my region have been converted into mosques and gurdwaras. The Muslim and Sikh communities don't appear to be struggling to maintain them. What is obvious is firstly that mosques in particular tend to be in much more frequent use than churches, and the numbers of people involved are much larger.

Secondly, these faith groups appear able to raise much more community funding than churches usually can. It seems that even the people on the fringe of public worship are donating money to the mosques. Conversely, most churches these days only belong to the people who attend them, and the ability to raise regular funds from a vague Christian penumbra is surely decreasing. The CofE is only a partial exception to this, depending on the area.

Some claim that the mosques are also partly funded by donations from abroad. I don't know how true this is, but it's another very different scenario from most British churches.

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SvitlanaV2
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'urban centres'!
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Baptist Trainfan
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I have no idea how mosques are funded; but I suspect that they either exist in areas with high concentrations of Muslims, or draw from a wide area. Either way, not quite the same demographic as your average church these days.
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chris stiles
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quote:
Originally posted by SvitlanaV2:
I can't imagine much church building going on in the future, THB. I live in a city, and there wouldn't be the room.

Presumably these would be the same urban centres that are dying later on in your post [Biased] I'm not sure I can decipher what your entire argument is - other than that a number of MOR churches in certain denominations are going to have difficulties around finding/owning places to meet.

quote:

I know of Pentecostal churches that meet in redundant office blocks and converted industrial properties. .... Maybe that depends on whether the stigma against such churches will fade.

A number of churches in London have gone down the route of using a converted warehouse - either some or all the time - clearly among their congregation (which include the charismatic, ethnic and young) there isn't any stigma (by which I take it you mean stigma around meeting in a building that doesn't look like a traditional church). Certainly this is more realistic than taking over a crumbling old Victorian pile which is incredibly hard to modify and retrofit with modern facilities assuming the planning rules permit such use.

That some types of churches are being priced out of some areas is part of the wider issue of young people being priced out of the same areas - and I'd rather tackle the social issues at that level rather than necessarily worry about whether or not a particular church tradition may disappear in that same area.

[ 11. May 2016, 23:51: Message edited by: chris stiles ]

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SvitlanaV2
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quote:
Originally posted by chris stiles:
quote:
Originally posted by SvitlanaV2:
I can't imagine much church building going on in the future, THB. I live in a city, and there wouldn't be the room.

Presumably these would be the same urban centres that are dying later on in your post [Biased] I'm not sure I can decipher what your entire argument is - other than that a number of MOR churches in certain denominations are going to have difficulties around finding/owning places to meet.

I've already told you what my argument is: I think fewer church groups should spend their money on expensive buildings. Those that do so will need to ensure they can fund not just the purchase but the upkeep. The upkeep will be significant whether they take on a crumbly old building or decide to demolish something else and rebuild. I also mentioned some others options, which might or not be manageable for some churches in the future.

My city is not one of those with a dying urban centre, but I can think of smaller towns in the wider region where this is an issue. The problem, ISTM, is that where population growth is highest, there will be less and less room for church building, even if the demand and the money are there. However, where there are dying urban centres there may also be smaller populations - but probably not much energy and money among the few churchgoers among them to 'build' new churches or to engage in a significant ministry.

Tackling the problems of young people being priced out of homes in the South East is an important issue. Kudos to you if you're able to do something about that! I'm simply talking here about the challenges of church buildings, and normative church structures more broadly - particularly outside the South East.

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Gamaliel
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I agree that there's not likely to be a great deal of church-building in the future, other than, perhaps, by well-resourced megachurches that might develop from some of the BME churches and streams ... I think Kingsway International Christian Centre in London already have significant plant across the city.

Elsewhere, it'll be make-do and mend, and yes, 19th century non-conformist chapels and old Anglo-Catholic 'barns' are all going to be difficult to maintain.

On the missional aspect that EM mentions - quite rightly.

I find myself in a quandary on this one, as whilst I believe that mission should be at the heart of what churches do and are all about, I'm struggling to find how that applies to me and mine at this point .. there's not a great deal of evangelistic activity (in the traditional sense) that I feel particularly comfortable with these days ...

Time for another thread, I think ...

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Let us with a gladsome mind
Praise the Lord for He is kind.

http://philthebard.blogspot.com

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