1 Cor 9.22, Hebrews 13:8, Philippians 4:13

Teresa Phillips
Teresa Phillips

For the past four years, along with the rest of my family, I have been a member of a fantastic local gym. As well as the usual facilities, it also had a bar, cafe, creche, children's play area and restaurant. It declared itself to be a 'club' rather than a gym, and a club it was. The staff and members were friends, with plenty of social events on the calendar, from comedy nights to children's parties. It was used by a whole community of people: families, young people, older people's groups, physiotherapy groups and clubs. Some of the people had been going for years; from the widowed 72-year old who used it every morning as much for daily conversation as exercise, to the single mum trying to keep her children occupied whilst having some much-needed poolside chatter, this was more than a gym. Alas, it was not to continue; it has just closed. When its closure was announced, there was a great uproar. Everybody was disappointed. For many, there was a loss of friendships, community and connection.

Then it struck me; this is church. People were this disappointed because they had found people to care, to live with, to laugh with, to share with. They had found some degree of love concentrated in a physical place within a community. Whether they knew it or not, what had emerged was a version of church - a place where someone might say, "come for a cuppa with us after spinning!" or, "I'll watch your kids for a min for you," or simply, "it's good to see you." These versions of church can actually pop up anywhere in society - a book club, a group of mums, a youth club or a 5-a-side football team. The funny thing is that sometimes these versions of church are sometimes more like the model of church that Jesus intended, than the ones we have formed.

After pondering on this, two questions came to my mind.

1) In what ways does church need to be like these 'versions of church'?

As culture moves on we must move on with it. I think that there are many churches in our country who are already making the journey of becoming more accessible and appropriate to our society, which is fantastic. Sofas, cappucinos, messy church, toddler groups, fun days, comedy nights and Sunday morning cafe-style meetings - these are already going on. They are the way forward, and I think that we should be continuing to do them but we mustn't rest on what we've done. We need to keep changing as society does.

We need to look at everything we do in church and ask ourselves: could people who don't know God access this? Would they feel comfortable? There is no place for keeping something purely because it is traditional, whether we've had it in place for two years or 200. We need to take on the cultural changes and match them, so that people feel comfortable and familiar with what we do. In his letter to the Corinthians in the Bible, Paul said, 'I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.' (1 Cor 9.22) This means that how Christians present the good news about Jesus' love, varies from year to year and from one culture to another. In a business, managers look at what sells. They market their product based on what people are interested in, and what is popular. Then they use it. It's as simple as that. We need to open our eyes and look at where people are at. Then we need to engage with people on their level, rather than expect them to fit into activities and events that we like but they might not be used to. Of course, one thing we never change, is the truth about God. That never changes (For more, see Hebrews 13:8).

The main thing that we should take from this is that people are drawn towards love. People cannot help themselves. We all have a desire to be accepted and valued, and where people see that in us, they will be drawn. If they go to a church where no-one takes an interest in them, and where they don't get the opportunity to meet like-minded people in small groups, they won't be drawn towards Jesus. Our calling is to represent God and His love, and show people what He is like.

2) In what ways does church need to be more than these 'versions of church'?

So, if people can get their church experience from a gym, or another outlet, why would they need church? What is different about us?

I can think of lots of people that I know who aren't Christians, who are lovely, kind people. That's because God made us all with the capacity to love. However, what I've learnt from this is that actions of love and kind words are not always enough. They can help someone, but they don't necessarily bring someone to know and follow God. As Christians we have more than that. We have love, but we are God's children. When someone has a problem, we can do more than offer help. We can offer prayer. When someone is confused and in trouble, we can do more than give trite human advice. We can give life-giving truth that is eternal. When someone is sick, we can do more than give flowers. We can pray to the God who is the all-powerful healer. When someone is chained up by problems and sin, we can do more than offer a shoulder to cry on. We can tell them about Jesus, who died to free us from all this. When someone upsets us, annoys us and angers us, we can do more than bite our lips and begrudgingly support them. We can show them the grace and love that we have been shown.

And we can do all this through Jesus Christ, who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13).

So let us love, and let us engage with our communities wherever they're at. Let's do church in the gym, or in the supermarket, in the coffee shop and at work. Then people might see what God intended for His people - a community of love and grace. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.