Wednesday, December 12, 2012

OPP Post #6 - More Than Sunday

Over the last three days, I've worked in three different Methodist Churches in three different towns/cities. I have taken orders and run food at the Drop In (Preston's Central Methodist), prepared and served food at Comfort Zone (North Shore Methodist Blackpool, though staffed by volunteers from Thornton Methodist), and attended a coffee morning for The ARC, Asylum Seekers and Refugees Community, (Wesley Hall, Blackburn). These are three great projects supported by Methodist Action, the independent charity which I work for as an OPP, and I really admire the work that they do. The first two provide food, warmth and fellowship for homeless, poor and lonely people. The latter is a place for refugees and asylum seekers to come together, make friends and get support and advice as they negotiate their way through the system. One of the guys I met there, originally from Iran, came to Britain 18 months ago, speaking no English. Now he is pretty much fluent, and he learnt from other people at ARC who translated for him and taught him.

For the last few weeks, on the advice of my supervisor, I have been keeping a fairly detailed journal of the work I'm doing. I have started recording the interactions I have, my observations and some reflections. I have also been noting down the number of visitors/clients/attendees (each project uses its own term) each time, and I started to wonder what the church attendance there was. Luckily, The Methodist Church have put together a really useful interactive map which holds all the data you could want, including a church-by-church breakdown of average weekly membership. (This map can be found here, and any data with * is taken from this source).

So let's look at the three projects, and their host Church's average weekly attendance.

Drop In (09/12/12) - 53 Visitors                  Central Methodist - 41*
Comfort Zone (10/12/12) - 58 Clients         North Shore Methodist - 44*
ARC (11/12/12) -  61 Attendees                 Wesley Hall, Blackburn - 14*

Can you see a pattern? There are fewer people sitting in the pews (seat in Wesley Hall's case) than attend the outreach that they do. But I wonder how much of their time and effort is spent of this living out of their faith through serving others, and how much time is spent on preparing for the Sunday morning service.

I've thought a lot recently about where the church is going. The latest Census figures released today seem to show Christianity is in decline in Britain. Church attendance seems to be declining in most major denominations; it all looks gloomy. But maybe our focus is in the wrong place. What if we stop worrying about that hour on a Sunday - those five hymns sandwiched between the call to worship, different prayers, three point sermon and the Grace - and start looking to what we have around us. Churches are often geographically in the hearts of communities: my home church is right next to the bus station; Preston Central Methodist is a few yards off the main shopping street. What if we spent more time looking outside, going outside, providing services to help those in need in the local community - be it homeless, refugees, alcoholics?

What is going to show the light of Jesus more; an hour on a Sunday attended by 99 who already know the Gospel, or a few hours serving food, making tea, providing a listening ear for 172 who don't?

I'd like to hear from you - comment on here, on Facebook or on Twitter

Do we need a shift in focus in our church?
If Jesus popped along to your church for a week, what would he think?
Would he prefer the Sunday morning or the drop in session?

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