I don’t think I’ll be going to the mission meeting in Plymouth tonight. It isn’t that I’m not interested, it’s just a bit tricky to find the time to squeeze it in.
Anyone who has tried to drum up enthusiasm for church will be familiar with this sort of response. There doesn’t seem to be any less interest in spiritual matters, but with regular church attendance now defined as going once a month, there are just too many other attractive alternatives.
After decades in denial, both national denominations and local congregations have now woken up to the fact that we ought to be doing something about dwindling numbers, and this has led to a great diversification in the way we do church. The manta for most of these fresh expressions has been – “it’s the format which is broken, so let’s do church differently”.
Which is why its something of a surprise that tonight’s mission meeting is promoting the ‘Sunday Assembly Everywhere’ organisation who hope to see “a godless congregation in every town, city and village that wants one.”
And despite their rejection of any sort of divine mandate, these atheist gatherings are surprising rigid in what they do and don’t allow – in essence it’s trendy Church of England, on a Sunday, but without God.
Hang on, I thought that Sunday wasn’t a good day for church anymore – the kids have got sports clubs and anyone sensible will be hung-over from the night before. And what about the singing, which people find strange? And the sermon, which people find boring? And the sitting in silence – which people can’t cope with?
But all these elements are essential parts of a Sunday Assembly. In fact, this is part of the attraction. One participant was quoted in the Guardian as saying:
“there was just something that clicked … It’s unashamedly copying a familiar Church of England format, so it’s part of the collective consciousness.”
If this is true of the wider population then this present a serious challenge to some of our own assumptions about fresh expressions. Maybe it isn’t the format which people are rejecting.