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Church – An Honest Appraisal In 3 Words

29 January 2015

People walking out of churchThis Sunday at Christ City Church we’re having a ‘Vision Sunday’ under the title “A Church Not For Ourselves”. Do have a read of this blog post to get a feel for where I am going.

In preparation for my talk I did a small survey, predominantly with my colleagues at HubSpot, to get some honest feedback about what they thought of church. I told them they could only use three words. So they could either go for three separate words (e.g brilliant, amazing, exciting) or three connected words (e.g load of rubbish). Out of the 21 people asked, mostly from HubSpot, I got 16 answers and nearly everyone abided by my three word rule!

  1. Cult, Liars, Criminals
  2. Relevant, Community, Calming
  3. Go …… Yourself
  4. Not needed to believe, Institution, Harmful
  5. Powerful, Unaccountable, Can do good
  6. Reflection, Spirituality, Old
  7. Community, Accountability, Nourishing
  8. Community, Humble, Faith
  9. Community, Warm, Crying
  10. Big, Cold, Old
  11. Struggling, Faith, Tradition
  12. Reflection, Hope, Sadness
  13. Antiquated, Religious, Non-innovative
  14. Beautiful buildings, Peaceful, Quiet
  15. Outdated , Conservative, Judging
  16. Disconnected, Outdated, In-transition

A fascinating list. I wonder what three words you would use? Here are three reflections I have from this small survey

(1) Church has power. I think everyone agrees with this, the only question is, will it be a powerful force for good or evil? On the one hand people can see schools, hospitals, soup-runs, community projects and a whole lot more that were started by churches. On the other hand people know the stories of sexual abuse, financial abuse and emotional abuse from the church (as the film Calvary so well portrays).

(2) Church: Community vs Institution. It is interesting how many of the words directly or indirectly refer to the idea of the church as a community or an institution. The references to community seem to be positive (nourishing, warm etc) and the references to institution are, on the whole, negative (conservative, disconnected etc). On the whole, people have disconnected from the established institutional church with its power structures and hierarchy, but seem to be warm to the idea of church as a community. The exception to this rule is people’s continued appreciation for church buildings and the peace found in the silence within them. Now whilst the church that Jesus established was to be an institution with leaders, sound doctrine and even church discipline, the primary way church is portrayed in the New Testament is as a community…so maybe this is not a bad thing!

(3) Church has lost relevance – Whether community or institution, most people viewed the church as increasingly irrelevant. This would fit with the nation-wide statistics that church attendance is in rapid decline, particularly among the 18-35 generation. I would be interested to do another survey that asked for three words for ‘God’ as I imagine that a larger number of people would assent to belief in some kind of God, even though they are not church-goers.

Conclusion

As someone who has recently started a church in Dublin, this survey helps me realise that, if we are to do church in such a way as to connect with the people or Dublin, it needs to have a focus on community and servant-leadership, be accepting of different views even if you disagree, look to answer the real questions people are asking and must be seen to be doing good to society at large. I would say Jesus would be happy for his church to be marked by these five things and they certainly are things we want to be doing in Christ City Church.

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