Monthly Archives: February 2015

People Are Just Not In Church As Frequently

One of the cultural trends I hear ministers struggling with is the issue of regular attendance no longer meaning weekly attendance. Even committed people might be in church only every few weeks and that drops attendance numbers even when the number of people involved has remained the same.

Carey Nieuwhof is currently addressing this in a series of blogs and podcasts. I will update this post as new ones appear (so remember to check back) but the first are:

Podcasts

Related Resources

Have Your Say

All of this comes out of the United States and may not reflect the New Zealand situation. Do you see this as a major trend for us and what do you beleive are the reasons and the answers?

Dickens’ Letter To His Son

The following letter was written by Charles Dickens to his youngest and favourite son, Edward Bulwer Lytton, nicknamed Plorn, after he (Plorn) had emigrated to Australia. It was written on Christmas Day, 1868.

For more information, see Maria Popova’s article on Brain Pickings.

My dearest Plorn,

I write this note to-day because your going away is much upon my mind, and because I want you to have a few parting words from me to think of now and then at quiet times. I need not tell you that I love you dearly, and am very, very sorry in my heart to part with you. But this life is half made up of partings, and these pains must be borne. It is my comfort and my sincere conviction that you are going to try the life for which you are best fitted. I think its freedom and wildness more suited to you than any experiment in a study or office would ever have been; and without that training, you could have followed no other suitable occupation.

What you have already wanted until now has been a set, steady, constant purpose. I therefore exhort you to persevere in a thorough determination to do whatever you have to do as well as you can do it. I was not so old as you are now when I first had to win my food, and do this out of this determination, and I have never slackened in it since.

Never take a mean advantage of anyone in any transaction, and never be hard upon people who are in your power. Try to do to others, as you would have them do to you, and do not be discouraged if they fail sometimes. It is much better for you that they should fail in obeying the greatest rule laid down by our Saviour, than that you should.

I put a New Testament among your books, for the very same reasons, and with the very same hopes that made me write an easy account of it for you, when you were a little child; because it is the best book that ever was or will be known in the world, and because it teaches you the best lessons by which any human creature who tries to be truthful and faithful to duty can possibly be guided. As your brothers have gone away, one by one, I have written to each such words as I am now writing to you, and have entreated them all to guide themselves by this book, putting aside the interpretations and inventions of men.

You will remember that you have never at home been wearied about religious observances or mere formalities. I have always been anxious not to weary my children with such things before they are old enough to form opinions respecting them. You will therefore understand the better that I now most solemnly impress upon you the truth and beauty of the Christian religion, as it came from Christ Himself, and the impossibility of your going far wrong if you humbly but heartily respect it.

Only one thing more on this head. The more we are in earnest as to feeling it, the less we are disposed to hold forth about it. Never abandon the wholesome practice of saying your own private prayers, night and morning. I have never abandoned it myself, and I know the comfort of it.

I hope you will always be able to say in after life, that you had a kind father. You cannot show your affection for him so well, or make him so happy, as by doing your duty.

Your affectionate Father.

The Sheer Authority Of God’s Word

The following quote is from John Frame’s Systematic Theology. I came across it quoted in Tim Challies blog. In a day when many will dismiss the scriptures, looking down on them as something inferior, we need to be encouraged to again respect their authority.

When God Commands, we are to obey. When he asserts, we are to believe him. When he promises, we are to embrace and trust those promises. Thus, we respond to the sheer authority of God’s word.

Adam and Eve had no way of testing what God told them about the forbidden fruit. They couldn’t work any experiment that would show them whether God had rightly predicted the effects of the fruit. They simply had to take God at his word. Satan interposed a contrary interpretation, but the first couple should not have taken his opinion seriously. They should simply have believed God. They did not, of course. They sided with Satan rather than God–or, perhaps better, they claimed that their own authority transcended God’s. That is to say, they claimed autonomy. They claimed that they themselves were the highest authority, the ultimate criterion of truth and right.

The NT praises Noah (Heb. 11:7), Abraham (Rom. 4:1-25; Heb. 11:8-19), and many others because of their faith, and their faith was grounded in God’s word. They simply believed what God said and obeyed him. So for new covenant believers: if they love Jesus, they will do what he says (John 14:15, 21, 23; 15:7, 10, 14; 17:6, 17; 1 John 2:3-5; 3:22; 5:2-3; 2 John 6).

So we should think of God’s word as a personal communication from him to us. In DWG, I presented this as a general way of thinking about the word of God: the personal-word model. Think of God speaking to you as a real person would–as directly as your parents, your spouse, your children, your friends. Many in Scripture heard such speech from God, such as Noah, Abraham, and Moses.

And when God speaks, his word carries authority. This means that it imposes obligations. When God commands, he expects us to obey. When he brings information, we are to believe him. When he promises, we should embrace his promises.

If God really talked to you, as he did to Abraham, you would not (if you know what is best for you) criticize his words or disagree with him.

Peter Cheyne

Attracting Fish Or Catching Fish?

Fishing is a slightly awkward image for Christian mission because being caught is generally not good for the fish but coming to know Jesus is. Nevertheless, Jesus used it as an image that fishermen would relate to. Probably He didn’t intend us to push the analogy too far.

I am no fisherman but I do remember sitting on a wharf when I was young, or in a boat, throwing bread into the water. Often, that led to fish arriving to feed on the bread. Of course the bait is also design to attract, but on a different level. Whereas the bread is design to draw fish to the fisherman, the bait is designed to entice the fish to bite the hook, or swim into a trap or whatever.

Attracting fish and catching fish are two very different things. The objective is to catch them. The bread attracts the crowd; the bait entices some fish the take the next step.

Attracting fish is not the objective.

Many churches are content to simply attract people. They turn on the best worship services they can. They organise events for families or other groups. And if they do it well; if people enjoy it or feel that their needs are being met, they may come. And then, of course, the church feels very content. It can rejoice in the numbers and feel it is doing its job.

However, attracting people is not the objective. Catching them is. For Christians that means making disciples of them – bringing them to faith in Jesus and then to maturity in Jesus. Do the people who are coming to our events know Jesus? Are they growing in their relationship with Jesus? Are they demonstrating Christ-likeness? Are they engaging in the mission of Jesus?

Attracting people is not wrong. Attracting the fish is part of the process. Attracting the fish makes it easier to then catch them.

People flocked from all over the region to see Jesus and to hear Him teach. Attracting huge crowds was clearly part of Jesus’ strategy. However, when the crowds were large, Jesus several times then challenged them with the reality and the cost of discipleship. When challenged most of the people went back home and the crowds shrank. (See John 6:60-66 c.f. the large crowds and their motivation, mentioned in vv.2, 5, 15, 24, 26; Luke 14:25-35) Large crowds are not interested in costly discipleship. They come primarily to see the spectacle and in the hope of getting something out of it. Jesus experienced the “consumerism” that also dogs the modern church – the tendency for people to pick and choose what suits them without being willing to make a commitment. By challenging the crowds Jesus filtered out those who were serious.

The point of attracting the many was to discover the few. Once they have been identified we can work more intensively with them, focusing on discipling them.

Attracting people is part of the process but only a first step. Attracting fish but not then catching them is actually failure. Entertaining people and even meeting their needs (good though that it is) without making disciples of them is to have stopped prematurely.

Churches should not congratulate themselves on merely attracting people. Getting good numbers to events is of no value unless we move beyond that, identifying those who want to go further with Jesus and intentionally mentoring them to faith and to maturity.

In fact, few fishing methods (I think) rely on attracting fish. Generally fishermen locate the fish.  Some fishermen enjoy the challenge of “stalking” the fish. In other words, most fishing is achieved by the fisherman going where the fish are rather than attracting the fish to the fisherman.

In many ways, attracting people is the easy bit, although even that is not easy in our culture where there is a general disinterest in, or antipathy towards, Christianity. Many churches are doing their best to be attractive but are disappointed that people still don’t show up.

Consider the barriers for people:

  • How do they even know what the church has to offer if they are not there?
  • There is a cultural gulf between the church and the community. People do not understand what the church is about or why it acts in the strange ways that it does.
  • Attending church is not the cultural norm. A person has to be willing to be “different” to even turn up.
  • Is the church actually so attractive that people will put it ahead of their other interests? What would attract a person to suddenly go to church? Is it really that good?

When church members talk positively about their church to friends it carries weight but notice that this is an example of the fishermen going to the fish.

Jesus was hugely attractive. He told interesting and revealing stories. He healed and delivered. He fed crowds and did other miracles. People loved Him. But He put huge emphasis on going to the people. He stalked the fish! Matthew 9:1 says that Jesus went through all the town and villages. His method was to go to the fish. Even when He was experiencing huge popularity and success, He moved on so as to preach in the nearby villages. “That is why I have come” (Mark 1:38 c.f. Luke 4:43-44).

Jesus was committed to going to the people. He was certainly attractive but that was a means to an end. Attracting a self-interested crowd wasn’t the objective.  Jesus was looking for those who would follow Him.

Today, many churches focus on attracting people to church. We talk as if getting people to come to church was the goal. It is not. The goal is making disciples and that might be achieved better by going to where people are than by trying to attract them to the church.

Perhaps churches should periodically ask, “Are we merely attracting fish or are we catching fish?”

Peter Cheyne

Answering Stephen Fry

The following video has been widely viewed. You may have already seen it. On the programme, The Meaning Of Life  hosted by Gay Byrne, Stephen Fry makes comments about God that many would consider offensive. On the other hand of course, he is a hero to some for saying them.

How would you respond, given the chance? Much of the comment (e.g. on Youtube) has been vitriolic. I am not asking for that (and won’t even publish it.)

My question is more: How might we respond to the issues he raises? Many people obviously share his views. How could you respond to them?

Here’s one response.

You might have comments or links to other resources. Please share them.