John Coles: New Ways of Being Church

Any church that’s going to grow can only grow as Christians filled with the Spirit have confidence to share their faith with people that don’t yet know Jesus. And I suppose in time past there was what we might call passing trade, where people might suddenly think, well I’ll go to church as they passed the building, that doesn’t happen any longer. The Christian heritage, mainly through teaching of Scripture and so forth in our schools is no longer the same so there’s no longer the background to it, so if people are to come to know Jesus it’s only because Christians leave the security of their churches to go to tell them. With 6% – or whatever it is now – church attending, that means there’s 94% of the people around the country who don’t go to church, don’t know Jesus. If we want to see them come to living faith, we have to go.

Jesus said that this gospel was for every tribe and town and people and nation on earth and all around our country are little tribal groups who have ways of relating to each other, ways of celebrating life –

which includes singing, ways of doing stuff, and the church I think needs to imagine what it might be like to be part of that little tribal group, to in some ways penetrate it through friendship, through living alongside – actually literally relocating in some places, or through engaging in some mercy ministry meeting some need in that community. And once earthed in that community and learning about that community, then begin to really think now what would it mean for these people, how do I communicate the gospel to these people, what would it mean for them to, for instance, engage in Bible study – does Bible study have to be done differently with this group than it is in traditional church. Does singing have to – and worship – have to be done differently with this group that it has been in my traditional church. So that we do effectively cross-cultural mission in this country, as we have historically done it when we’ve had to go abroad.

When you go to a new group, I think there should be no expectation that people will necessarily come back from that tribal group into the mother church from which the people have been sent. I think most Christians would like that to be the case because everybody wants to feel they’re part of a growing thing – a fuller building gives everybody a nice feeling. But actually if the new church with the different tribal group is expressing their worship differently, meeting in a different sort of type of building, in a different format, it’s very difficult to mix those two things. So they may well never come back. I suppose it is really thinking of them, these people that go to form a new thing, as missionaries. We wouldn’t expect the people from, let’s say France, to get on a boat and come back to worship with is in our church back in England and I think we have to have the same attitude towards people who go to another tribal group in our country – it’s not easy, but Christians, churches, need to learn to give away rather than to give away in the hope that people will come back.

Church can never exist without mission. If mission stops, the church dies. So if there is to be a church in this country in ten years’ time, it’ll only be because some people have engaged in creative and effective mission. Now I believe there will be a church in this country in 10, 15, 20 years’ time. In fact everything else may break down, families may break down, businesses may collapse, governments will change, but Jesus said I will build my church so the church will continue, but it will continue most particularly in and through groups of people that love Jesus and are prepared to step out of their own comfort zone, learn to do things in new ways and reach people that haven’t yet been reached. It’s vital.

One of the interesting things I’m learning personally through engaging in a new form of church, namely house church rather than traditional congregational church meeting in a traditional building, is to realise that the name church or the word church is appropriately and genuinely applied to almost any group of Christians, however big they are numerically and wherever they meet. Now in England up until now we’ve associated the word church with a congregation meeting in a particular consecrated building, but all around the world church is used to describe all sorts of different sized groups meeting in all sorts of different places and so I think that most of us who’ve been worshipping for a long time in a traditional church building need to expand our understanding of what the word church means, and recognise that from the smallest gathering, two or three – Jesus said I’ll be there in the midst, if it’s half a dozen, a dozen, twenty, Jesus is amongst us. If it’s 50, 100, 200, Jesus is there. Church is the congregation, the gathering together, of more than one Christian to worship God in a way that’s appropriate for them, to build each other up in faith and then by virtue of them meeting together, the congregation gathered, to be so encouraged and empowered by the Spirit that wherever they live and work during that week they bear witness to Jesus as the Saviour.

You can find this article here.

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