“Ch,ch,ch,changes” sang David Bowie in 1971 and its a song that seems to have dominated my thinking and view ever since. If you`re not familiar with it you can hear it on YouTube, www.youtube.com/watch?v=pl3vxEudif8
It constantly reminds me that the world around me is constantly changing, some changes I like and others I don`t. I was reminded of this yesterday when Alison and I went to Tamworth and were having a cup of coffee in the John Lewis store. I saw the above wall decoration and it set me thinking. I know it’s a small picture but I hope you get the idea of it. It begins on the left with the opening of the first store in 1864 and then the last picture on the right is the opening of a new type of store, “John Lewis at home” in 2009. Above each picture are examples of the different type of font that has been used over the years, right up to the one we`d recognise today.
Look at the first and last picture and the two stores are very different; one has a frontage over an older type of building with a covering awning whilst the other is a purpose-built structure with plenty of windows reflecting current shopping trends and fashion.
I found it quite fascinating and so took the photo, discreetly and I`ve since cropped the customers out of it. It set me thinking about Churches built in 1864: what do they look like today ? Quite often still with the same architecture, with ageing brickwork, sometimes with steps making access difficult, poor lighting, cluttered paper notices etc. Look, by contrast, at some of the new Churches and they look so different having embraced some of the modern features of modern society. Lichfield Methodists have even gone as far as an electronic noticeboard on their building !
It challenges me in two ways……………………….
Firstly, the reminder that we have to be constantly updating and making our presentation of the Gospel fresh and applicable to modern society. By this I don`t just mean the way that we preach the Gospel but I also mean the style, presentation of our buildings. We have to make them attractive. My fist Superintendent challenged us all to look at the town of Oldham and then said the most attractive and welcoming buildings were the brightly lit ones with glass doors to see into. What were they ? The pubs !! The Churches tended to have little lighting, closed solid doors and out of date notice boards. At that time the pubs were booming and the Churches struggling.
Secondly, it reminds me that the Gospel message remains unaltered despite the necessary change in presentation. i remember when Lucozade were allegedly failing in their sales until they realised that all their drink was known for was as a recuperating drink for those in hospital ! It was a drink for the poorly. What did they do about it ? They repackaged it into attractive bottles, persuaded football clubs to put it into new style, shaped plastic drinks containers and hand it out to footballers during matches in front of thousands. The drink was exactly the same but now instead of it being associated with the elderly it became the drink of young, fit, aspiring sportsmen and women. their sales soared.
Any day now within the Methodist Church stewards will be entering the membership figures, church attendance figures etc onto what is known as the `Statistics for Mission` website. This reflects the Methodist position in terms of membership and who we`re reaching out to. In recent years it has shown decline, largely in Sunday attendance, and there is real concern around the denomination; understandably so. What do we do about it. One thing is that we can look at our buildings in a real and radical way. In many cases we need to get rid of the building itself and start the fellowship again in hired, borrowed, or new premises. Yes, it is painful to let go of a building that has represented a spiritual home for many years but for many folk moving from a large family home into a smaller building as life changes is considered to be the norm. Why not so for spiritual buildings ?
If we choose to keep our buildings because they are in the right place and can still serve as a centre for mission then we must ask ourselves how they need to be adapted for purpose. Do we really need the pews today ? In most cases, the answer is no. Do we really need a large pipe organ or will a smaller electronic organ/piano fit our worship needs ? In most cases, yes. Are our doors welcoming or not ? Most wooden, closed doors speak of “keep out” whereas glass doors say “we don`t mind you looking in and even entering”.
Do we need all of our hymn books when a congregation are used to watching a television so much or would a projector and screen give us so much more flexibility ? Do we all dash out the door when the preacher says `Amen` or do we stay for tea/coffee and enjoy time with each other ?
I often hear the cry “but the old people won`t like it” and yet I`ve danced at Spring Harvest during worship with people far older than me including one lady I remember who told me that she was in her `90’s !
Sorry to have to say it, but change is inevitable and rather than be like King Canute holding the tide back and failing we should start embracing change around us and see what God is doing new in this world. Why am I still excited to be a Christian ? Because God does something new for me everyday and I get excited looking for it. I hope you do to.