This morning I read two brilliant blog posts on church. The first one was by Philip Yancey advocating the strengths of small churches over large ones (and making some accurate observations about families along the way) and the second one was by blogger Rachel Held Evans on why the church should stop trying to be ‘cool’ in a bid to attract younger members.
I’ll signpost both articles below so you can read them in full for yourself. My purpose here is just to comment on what struck me most about them both.
Rachel was saying that what younger people (‘Millenials’ those who came of age around 2000) is not points of style: such as hip music, coffee bar atmosphere, or slick technology, rather they are more interested in authenticity. They are put off whenever they sense more emphasis on marketing Jesus than actually following him. Interestingly they are more drawn to ‘sanctuary’ than ‘auditorium’. They are most put off by a church community that is judgemental and exclusive, most attracted by groups who are actually practising the teachings of Jesus (‘Love God and Love one Another’). ” The trick isn’t to make church cool” she writes ” it’s to keep worship weird”.
For someone like me who has been through churches that have reinvented themselves in order to make church ‘seeker sensitive’ (ie easy to understand, cringe free) then the very idea that ‘weird’ might actually have appeal sounds rather surprising. But weird IS good, I can’t put it better than she did so I will quote her here:
You can get a cup of coffee with your friends anywhere, but church is the only place you can get ashes smudged on your forehead as a reminder of your mortality. You can be dazzled by a light show at a concert on any given weekend, but church is the only place that fills a sanctuary with candlelight and hymns on Christmas Eve. You can snag all sorts of free swag for brand loyalty online, but church is the only place where you are named a beloved child of God with a cold plunge into the water. You can share food with the hungry at any homeless shelter, but only the church teaches that a shared meal brings us into the very presence of God.
She is referring the sacraments and rituals – she suggests that we don’t need to repackage them or rebrand them only offer them and explain them ‘in the context of a loving, authentic and inclusive community.’
As I lead a church that is decidedly ‘uncool’ and possibly even ‘weird’ but definitely friendly and well on the way to being inclusive, I am deeply heartened and encouraged by this information. ( And I had been wondering why all these ‘millenials’ have been coming along…)
The second blog was equally heartening: Philip Yancy on why small churches are better than bigger ones. In a nutshell he makes the point (backed up by GK Chesterton) that in small communities you have to rub shoulders with people who are different from you whereas in large communities you will gravitate towards those who are similar. ‘Anyone can form a club, or a clique, but not a community… it takes grace, shared vision, and hard work to form a community’.
He then draws an interesting analogy between church and families. Families are not safe, peaceful havens of serenity, they are, like good church communities, places where I am forced into close contact with people I might otherwise avoid. ‘A family is not a perfect institution but it is simply a place that accepts its members on a single criterion, shared DNA’ . If a family with a huge range of diversity or even deviance can hang on to its unity simplyt because of that single criterion (and let’s face it not all families can) but IF it can it does indeed become a great place for the learning of acceptance, respect, grace and tolerance. Yancy didn’t go on to make the point which seemed to follow on naturally from this (perhaps he felts it was obvious): church is ‘simply a place that accepts its members on a single criterion’: forgiveness. We are all forgiven, none of us is superior to any other. The closer we get to people who are different and challenging, the greater opportunity we will have for grace and forgiveness.
These two blogs can be found at
Excellent post, Sheila.
I have just finished Rachel Held Evans’ latest book “Searching for Sunday” from which I think much of the blog you quote comes. It has articulated so well what I have felt for years!
I enjoyed Yancey’s post when I was first directed to it. My only caveat (and it is fairly minor) is that churches that he talks of as being small (e.g. 200 attending/members) are enormous by the standards of 65% of churches in the UK. So I am a little cautious about some of what he says. But what he says about small/community is spot on.
Very interesting, Sheila. I quite agree. Churches should not pitch to the lowest common youth denominator but celebrate the weirdness of our rituals. Churches as families, yes please but without the throwing of dishes and personal insults.