Roger Johnson, a Methodist from Nottingham writes:
There’s a rather catchy modern song which contains the words, ‘I want to serve the purpose of God in my generation’. We don’t hear it sung much these days.
Listening to Radio Nottingham recently I heard Rev. Steve Wild, who is here to open a rebuilt Methodist Church in Bingham, speaking about his year as President of the Methodist Conference. He was asked if he was saddened by the number of chapels that have closed. His answer was something along the lines, ‘No, they have served their purpose well and we should celebrate that’. And the reality for many declining churches is that they have served their communities well in days gone by but are struggling to find relevance today, for a variety of reasons which may not be their fault.
Steve Wild made me think. What questions should we ask when a church is on its last legs and struggling to survive? Very often the driving factors are money (or lack of it) and an aging membership. But one question that I believe overrides both of these is ‘are they engaging in God’s mission to the people around them in this generation?’ I don’t believe it should be a matter of guilt to answer ‘no’ if things have changed and we need a fresh start. Neither should they feel guilty if they have inherited a building which served that purpose well in the past but is no longer what is needed today. Every organisation has to evolve with the times.
Some years ago I walked into a country pub one evening in the height of winter and was immediately attracted to the open fire. I was frozen and standing beside the fire, my body soon returned to normal. I felt God asking me what that fire would look like the next morning. My reply was that it would be a mass of grey embers and no amount of poking around would re-ignite the fire. The message God gave me was this – ‘don’t waste time raking over the embers of yesterday’s fires – start new fires’. How often do we do things in church simply because it’s the way we have always done it? It worked 50 years ago so it should work today – surely.
Having worked ecumenically for many years, I see good things and not so good things in all denominations. Some senior figures in Methodism have, in days gone by, predicted the total wipe-out of Methodism in Britain within a generation – and yet we are still here. As Steve Wild has found when touring the country as President of Conference, there are some amazing things happening. Many of the traditional denominations have suffered decline over the last century, some more than others, and Methodism has certainly taken the hit. The big question for Methodism, like all denominations is ‘are we serving the purpose of God in this generation?’
Going back to Steve Wild – a man whose enthusiasm for Christ and his amazingly outgoing personality breathe new life into all who meet him – what makes him special is that he believes in the church. Yes, he’s pragmatic about its future but will not allow bad news stories to eclipse the many good news stories. He said on the radio that the Holy Spirit is still working powerfully.
As long as that continues, all will be well.
Roger Johnson spent over 10 years as Evangelism Enabler within the Methodist Church and now acts as a freelance consultant.
Roger writes a blog: https://rogergjohnson.wordpress.com/category/bulletins/