What counts?

How many people came to church on Sunday?  How many baptisms?  How many weddings?  How many came to the Fresh Expression gathering?  Are the numbers going up?  Are our churches growing?  These were our questions three months ago.  Then we left our buildings and we had a whole new set of questions.

How many logged into church on zoom?  How many watched the video on youtube?  Hurrah, more people are connecting remotely than ever came to church in the building!  Then more recently: How many of our online viewers will join us when we are back in the building?

But what if these are the wrong questions?  What if we are not supposed to be concerning ourselves with church growth at all, at least not in the numerical sense?  Dare I say that we should concern ourselves with other priorities than church growth?

Forty-six years ago Lesslie Newbigin returned from India and in 1989 wrote a book: ‘The Gospel in a Pluralist Society.’   It has become a classic, much read and quoted but the point often missed, because his point is that committed faithful believers will always be a minority.  It is how it always is.  It happened to Jesus so who on earth are we to think it will be different for us – he had crowds in the beginning but numbers dwindled.

Newbigin argues that the church has a key and important role to play in wider society, that our presence within society bringing challenge and change is critical.  We are to be confident in what we learn from Jesus, to live out and communicate faith.  But we are to bear in mind that our individualistic society has blinded us to communal aspects of salvation, meaning counting numbers is missing the point.  We’re to focus on changed society as the outcome rather than church growth.  Newbigin writes: ‘We get a picture of the Christian life as one in which we live in the biblical story as part of the community whose story it is… from within that indwelling try to understand and cope with the events of our time and the world about us and so carry the story forward.’ (p.99.)

What if we take seriously the calling to be salt and light, yeast in the dough, at times visible and other times invisible, a small ingredient that changes the whole?  What are our questions now?  How many people turn up on Sunday morning is no longer the priority, unless we have fallen into the trap of caring more about the institutional structures than the heart of what God is doing.

The questions then become about what the world need us to be and do, right now, as we face this crisis and wider societal challenges.  What is God working on?  What needs to be said and done in order to support society to re-engage well, to move forwards into something more connected, more earthed, more real, kinder?  Who are our partners in this work for the Common Good?

I find it hard to care as much as the church thinks I ought to about numbers coming to church.  I understand that people gathering to share together in the story of God is a good thing.  We need refreshing in what renews our vision, we need one another, we need God.

But turning up isn’t the point – the point is whole lives lived in God.  Right now, there are bigger questions at stake than numbers at church, whether in a building or online.  We have a unique moment as society, we have choices to make.  Right now, that is what I care about, that is what matters, and that is where my energy is going.

Cate Williams 1st June 2020

An open Letter to the church

Dear Church
I thought quite hard before writing this but I have been re reading a Bonhoeffer biography and last time I read it I was focussing on Bonhoeffers theology. This time I found myself constantly drawn to the political situation in th early 1930s right at the start of Hitlers rise and the churches failure to speak out, the internal politics of the more moderate voices (and the church) and how the Nazis used the social situation of unrest and unknown futures deliberately often using tactics of chaos, polarision, statements about recovery, moving on etc to manipulate and consolidate power. I have to say I see too many parallels with what is happening in the UK, (and the US) through the demonisation of socialism (ie how Corbyn was treated) preparing the way for a rise of right leaning politics, and the masquerading of elite political classes as being of/for the people and since Boris came to power how he and Cummings have access to even greater resources of the state for even greater manipulation. The whole contempt with which the public have been treated, blatant lies, then gaslightling concerned voices that we need to move on, the removal of Emily Matiliss from Newsnight for speaking truth to power, and the abuse of power through strategic ambiguity, is just too familiar after what I read in Bonhoeffers book, my spirit is ill at ease and I need to speak out.
The light in all this has been the bishops who have gone public, but the church is in danger of being complicit as the voices are still to few and internal wrangles have already started. Yes we need to pray for our leaders but we also need to stand up for integrity, and truth. Many of us will have seen the words of Niemöller “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” And it is important to note many like Bonhoeffer warned Pastor Niemöller what was going on as far back as mid 1930s. So we need our Bishops and church leaders of all denominations to speak louder, speak now, and SPEAK TOGETHER, and we need to do our part in encouraging them to do, whilst ourselves standing up and speaking truth to lies and power where we can and we need to so now.

A parable about the unlocking of lockdown

I was flicking through Facebook and the mix of memes about getting back to normal, hitting the shops, and comparing this to the comments of a few weeks ago about not rushing back. The FB feed included similar mixed comments about churches starting to return to buildings, at the same time as seeing a really impressive rise in the creative content and approaches from some ministers as they grow in confidence online.

When I saw this meme I was suddenly reminded of a parable I wrote for Off the Beaten Track 16 Years ago!

The prison walls had become the home they had forgotten; so long had they been there in the dust and dirt that any memory of the outside world was just a dream to them. One day they huddled together as usual to have the same conversation they’d had every day for as long as any of them could remember. They talked about escape – how they would they do it, what they would do once they got out, how much better life would be. In the middle of this discussion something unusual happened. The cell door swung open. The prisoners cowered against the back wall, shielding their eyes from the bright sunlight. A man stood there, someone they didn’t recognise, for they had not seen or heard anyone new for very many years. The man spoke to them, saying “you are free to go”. The group sat in silence, for though they had talked about leaving and made plans to leave, now they were too afraid to do so. What world was out there? It was surely a place that must have changed beyond recognition. The prison walls suddenly seemed appealing, for this had become their home. No-one moved until one man, cautiously got to his feet, crossed the small cell and, averting his gaze from what lay beyond, quietly closed the door.

Receptivity and Discipleship

Receptivity is a fairly new term to me but has been at the heart of how I try to live as a follower of christ. Walking that balance which recognises that I both have story to tell and stories to hear, that I cannot limit something that is infinite so must keep my face set towards the person of christ (our true north) and doing so will always take me to the land of dragons.

In the midst of furlough I have been trying to take time to reflect on the missional space we find ourselves in and reading Stefan Paas’ Priests and Pilgrims when I have the head space. I loved how he picked up the true north in an early chapter talking about the danger of limiting mission (see Bosch) and said “rather than trying to describe where mission ceases and other Christian works begins we should keep stressing where the heart the magnetic pole of mission lies” and balanced this beautifully drawing in Rowan Williams work on the incarnation stating “receptivity precedes purpose, power and action”.

This really got me thinking about the importance of receptivity in relation to discipleship as we come out of lockdown. If a fraction of the people who have turned to prayer during this time want to take things further my guess is the churches first instinct will be, what do we teach these people rather than what can we learn. I also think that with all the talk of the new normal the church will double down on a kind of internal programme of theological teaching (giving people the basics first) disconnected from social learning and practices. Too often we have disconnected discipleship from the ongoing following of Jesus both infinite and finite. Too often we feel we have to get the basics right in others before journeying with them or sending them out. I’m always intrigued by how Jesus sent of the disciples and yes the 12 might have had more idea what they were doing but the 72 must had a whole series of crazy ideas about who Jesus was, what they were being sent out to do that was informed by hanging around and hearing a shed load of random stories that they may or may not have understood. But as Paas points outs they were sent out in the spirit of radical receptivity with nothing but their sandals and vulnerability as seekers, to find people of peace, learn what God was doing and find their place in gods mission. In doing so Jesus BROKE the stereotypes that we keep trying to return to of “givers” and “receivers” and set the trajectory that all mission is contextual, that God is already at work in the culture, that other is a gift and that discipleship is intrinsically linked to and flows from radical receptivity.

For a deeper look at receptivity check out Al Barrett‘s who introduced me to the term.

Continuing the digital dialogue.

Lori Passmore writes

For better or worse many of us have been forced into the online space as our mixed economy of churches seek to connect with congregations in a virtual way because of social distancing. But what will happen to these digital spaces as we move out of lockdown?
According to a poll conducted by Tearfund, a quarter of adults in the UK have watched or listened to a religious service since the coronavirus lockdown began1 giving the church an unprecedented opportunity to reach beyond its usual contact. People are able to be curious, seek comfort in a time of uncertainty, make a faith re-connection, be globally connected…but whatever the reason for this increase, there is a hunger to connect. You can find everything from prayer meetings, to messy church, to worship, to interactive experiences being streamlined through social media. As Richard has previously spoken about we are invited from our private spaces into a.n.others private space, there is an intimacy in that connection. With a collective online community we can listen, interact and contribute with one another and the facilitator/leader.
So what happens next? We don’t know what the next months, year(s) will bring, but if we want to continue to ‘be’ in the digital space – what could/will this look like? We could, for example, streamline church or other services – as many churches did pre-lockdown. But suddenly this intimate collective online connection becomes something else. I wonder if something will be lost in that connection as we move from the private into the public space and there is a risk of excluding those who are wanting to be part of an online community, rather than just spectators.
A form of ‘digital’ church is not new and there are many who already inhabit this space such as Disability Jesus who found there emerging community online on twitter @DisabilityJ2 or d-church who are ‘’exploring spirituality, creating community in an online world’3. But for those of us seeing a new uptake in interaction and thinking about what we can do next, what could that look like? I think there will be a natural drop in demand as life get’s back to ‘normal’ but I do think there will be a group of people for whom connecting in this way is meaningful. Therefore I ask – how can we create a digital community as part of our church life and what could this look like? I’d be interested to know if anyone has been asking these questions of those who’ve connected with them online. There is an opportunity to create something that’s digitally experimental, creative, accessible and not geographically constricted. As someone involved in Fresh Expressions and pioneering I’m excited by the opportunity this gives us and hope that there will be those willing to take the leap.

The future belongs to Maureen.

Being involved in Gods mission means we start with asking what is God doing and its a key question many people are asking. One of the joys of social distancing being played out in the public space and where I see God at work is in those moments when you catch someones eye walking down the road and you both adjust your course slightly. In that moment and action something intimate happens as you both recognise and value the humanity, preciousness and dignity of the other person, and adjust accordingly.

Back in day aka about 6 weeks ago our our physical and emotional proximity was primarily played out in four spaces public, social, personal, and intimate. (see Halls work on Proxemics). These spaces not only helped us navigate culture and communication but also belonging. Indeed the church and other institutions often sought to foster belonging within certain spaces (eg encouraging alignment with a particular discourse in the public space of preaching, promoting connections in small groups, house groups in social spaces or prayer triplets etc in personal space). And in much the same way as the public space becomes intimate for a moment as we encounter a stranger walking towards us and adjust our path, so other spaces and peoples approaches to them have changed. The internet streaming of church services has blurred the public worship space as it enters homes and the personal space of prayer has gone into quasi social/public space as people phone it into a stranger for support. Whilst the intimate acts of compline or offices are made public as they are streamed from someones lounge or personal prayer space. Our physical and emotional proximity spacing and attitudes are changed and changing. What if this dehumanising and democratisation of spaces is something that can resource us as we prepare for the new normal. Our previous default (see Myers) as church was often to inhabit two spaces a public space (both in worship services and in social action spaces) and a social space (small groups) but what if instead of slipping back in that public broadcast space and social space (often hidden away in someones house) which together have too often fostered a dualistic separateness of the spiritual and human, we build on the new proximity emerging.

In Cumbria we have often talked about the mythical Maureen, who was faithfully part of the church for most of her life and now just retired continues to serve the local church and community. What ever we provide in terms of evangelism, discipleship and mission enabling has to work for Maureen. So when we talk about growing Fresh Expressions sparked by a question from Bishop Emma we have often said “wouldn’t it be great if every Maureen could have a FX around their kitchen table or in their living room”. I think this might now be more possible than ever. But it will not happen unless we build and learn from what God is doing now, and resist the urge to return to what was. The opportunity to merge and creatively continue to disrupt the proximity spaces to enhance a missional way of life where we live out our discipleship in every space is huge. What if all public worship and compile spaces are always on online so Maureen and few pals can gather around a table and join in in her kitchen. What if the thought for the week is streamed or printed and Maureen and different bunch of pals gather around a table that has now moved into the public space at the back of church whilst Shelia is at another table with different pals and does the same over cake. What if Maureen and friends come together and for a number of weeks in their personal space plan a way to serve the community and do this on last friday of every month. What if we hold the different spaces more lightly, and think strategically how they can resource one another more intentionally. WHAT IF and WHY NOT….

The relentless fight for political freedom from the market, a missional response

At the height of the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln gave and address at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863 that contained these words. “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”  What we sometimes forget, is that this battle was directly related to the global market system of the time.  The battle in the USA was whether the State was there in the vision of the founding mothers and fathers of the nation to be centred on human freedom, or like many other nations, end up just another expression of an oppressive feudal state where the uber rich oppress the many.  The battle at the heart of this civil war was for the right to enslave human beings as the cheapest form of labour in the growing of global commodities of the time.  Lincoln won the battle, but I do not think he won the war.  Looking back at the USA now in 2020, I think we can clearly see that the market won and civil rights has never been fully delivered in one of the most divided and unequal societies in the world.

What exists now in the USA and now in the UK is economic slavery, maintaining cheap labour with reduced employment and terrible wages.  The Global Market won, and democracy and equality lost out.  We are now all commodified and where human dignity is now in decline.  You could argue that actually there has been a constant state of battle in the Western World ever since the Black death in 1346, when the feudal system and oppressive market society collapsed in the pandemic, as there were too few workers, so that wages and freedoms had to rise to ensure crops and industry were sustained. It was purely economics that drove this social change, and that since then there has been a battle between a society of justice and fairness v a market feudal oppressive system culminating in our current society.  Until recently you could argue the market had won, but now in another global pandemic, will this give us an opportunity again to diminish the power and relentless scourge of the market society? Or will it actually make a more feudalist system more likely to be reimposed? How does the church respond?

We remember that Jesus’ entire ministry happened in the context of the oppression of the Jewish people under the super power of the time, and that included the imposition of an international market system at the time.  It has always been a personal bafflement to me why Jesus did not call out this oppression at the time, other than Jesus being clear about money about fairness and money being of this world in Caesars name. The only hint of challenge to this, are the words of Jesus before Pilate after he had been flogged where he says “I am not of this world’.  Chad Myers helpfully reminds us that the greek here for ‘world’ here is ‘Kosmos’ the same as ‘domination system’.  With this in mind, Jesus is calling out the Roman Empire as a militaristic market society as a domination system and so we Christians, holding onto our understanding of Jesus ‘now but not fully yet’ Kingdom in the context of having to live in a domination system, but not of a domination system,

I want to point out at this point, I am not being an extreme Socialist or Communist, this is the stories of the Gospels and and Letters of the Apostles, and my thought has always been that more conservatively inclined Christians really need to get back the Gospel narrative, as you will be in for a shock!

So how do Christians react to the reality that our market society continues to oppression and now leads to destruction with global warming and ecocide.  Mission has to start with economic, ecological and social justice.  These are the heart of the Judaeo-Christian understandings of stewardship, jubilee and the Kingdom.  We can not idly sit by and see successive governments just continue to oppress people.  What will it take for Christians in the UK to stand up to the oppression of the market and the invisible power of the super-rich as Jesus sides with the unbearably poor?  What will it take to seek a Government that prevents the excesses of the market system by what used to be called a mixed economy?  What will it take for this to be seen by the church to be a missional priority?  It is not just about evangelism , fresh expressions and new ecclesial communities.  like Jesus turned over the market stalls in the temple for causing de-sacralisation, so we as Christians should be challenging and turning over the market stalls threatening the wellbeing of people and the continued existence of our planet.  It is high time that the Christian Church rediscovered it’s calling and historic roots. Now in this pandemic, can we face this calling to prophetic witness and prophetic living.

Reading Systems Failure as Sign of the Times

I do think some of the reactions in the USA for me just show how addicted we are, (not just how they are), to a consumerist capitalist system, and I really do think these are signs of system failure. Most of my life we have talked of the shifts from modernity to post modernity to post secularisation and the collapse of our financial system as the consequences of a system where money has become disconnected from the real when we ended the gold standard, and where the system has created economic slavery and an insatiable desire to use the worlds resources beyond what is sustainable and now faces global warming and ecoside.

The dominance of a culture dictated by Economics now does not make any sense anymore, where the billionaires are forcing political leaders to get people back to work even when their lives are at stake with this virus because they are losing money. For too long now Economics has been more important than human decency and human dignity. We need to own that we are facing a global system failure and it is going to be very painful as predicted by Obama at the beginning of his presidency. My sadness is that many Christians and Churches are so addicted and emeshed into this current market society that they have become part of the problem not the solution. Our model of ‘Church as business’ has been proved impotent in this crisis, with many important pioneers furloughed and now not able to work at a time when we need them more than ever to help and reimagine a church and society in this change. I am convinced that the effects of this virus are part of this system failure, and we have not faced this yet, and the solutions brought in to ride the storm like a universal wage, reductions in activity and destruction of the earth are going to need to part of our future.

There will be no going back, we need to face the future and I am sure that God must look back at some aspects of the Church and weep. I will never understand how some can call themselves Christians with the stances they take which seem to me to have very little to do with the Gospels and Jesus” teachings. We Christians need to play our part in this painful time to face serious change as our global market system collapses, and not be part of the problem. It seems to me some aspects of the church are to deeply emeshed and polluted by ties to the rich and powerful they they have lost their prophetic place as God expected as being the Body of Christ and the visible expression of the invisible Kingdom of God. Give to Caesar what is Caesars and give to a God what is Gods.

Interestingly traditional religious communities with their shared purse and commitment to poverty obedience and chastity can continue as a model of discipleship resistant and counter cultural to our market society and “Church as Business”. This is why I think we need to start to think what does it mean to be a Christian community living out the faith as a rhythm of life and why I am committed to a more new monastic approach to understand how to be a Christian in the context of our changing world where I am seeking not to collude with a system in failure but live simply and seek to hold onto Jesus’ teachings concerning social, economic and ecological justice. May be the solution is that we need to do our own spiritual 12 steps to be able to face this. I recently had to face an addiction problem in my life and this has really helped me to face things in a way I have never been able to before. We need to face our own sitting down by the rivers of Babylon, so we can be part of the solution not the problem as the church unfortunately can be.

Use the tools in your box

I asked Rev Dan Crouch to do a guest blog responding to Beyond Broadcast. Dan used to be part of the StreetSpace/FYT community before heading to vicar school, and initially trained through CYM asa the Youth and Community Worker so I thought it would be get his perspective. I love what he offers and the humility to recognise he is a visitor on holy ground.

Dan Writes….
As I offer these reflections, I am aware that I am not a native minister in the online world. I have been offering services online for about six weeks. I am a visitor. I am walking on ground that does not belong to me and exploring a place in which I am unfamiliar. There are others who know this landscape better than I do and I am their guest. This is indeed Holy ground.

With that in mind, my reflections come from someone who is a visitor to this realm. I am also a curate with a whole 21 months(!) of experience behind me, so I suppose I am also still establishing how I interpret this calling of priest – and what a time to be doing that!

I think this recognition that I am a visitor in someone else’s realm is actually quite a helpful way of looking at how we might look at cocreating ministry online particularly with regard to the ministry of life events (baptisms, weddings, funerals).

People interact with the online world in a very different manner to the physical world. We see this through trolling on Twitter and comments on Facebook. The possibility of hiding behind a persona, not identifying oneself fully, keeping some elements of life ‘offline’ in order to protect ourselves and others. The lockdown has, in some ways, challenged our approach to life online because we are no longer able to engage in the physical world, can the online world simply replace that, and if so, what does that look like and how do we go about creating space?

As an ordained minister in the Church of England one of the privileges I have comes through the invitation to conduct a baptisms, wedding or funerals. One of the things that has struck me has been how surprised many people are that they can be cocreators in these services. Yes, there are elements that must be included, but there is much scope to shape things to represent individuals, couples and families. Often people will say ‘I don’t want to offend the church’, to which my response is always ‘I think the bar here is a little higher than you imagine, tell me what you are thinking and if I possibly can I will help you to make that happen.’ It is this open-handed approach to cocreating that I think must underpin our approach to church online. It is a journey of getting to know people, of building relationship, drawing alongside, accompanying, listening, and always serving. I will return to these five elements of the journey later.

The possibility to be a cocreator was also true in our physical gatherings as Richard’s original post acknowledges, and I would agree that, in our case, the cocreation has happened through the desire to retain the status quo! Those present should always shape the services we have – which is why in our church building, with the vast majority of members aged over 65 we have liturgy heavy services including traditional hymns where we celebrate the eucharist each week. I am not knocking this completely – I in part perpetuate it – and we are called to serve the church to which we have been called and appointed, but we also share the cure of souls for the whole parish (church and community) and the big realisation I have faced is that by taking elements of ministry online I have broadened the stretch of those who view me as a potential teacher/pastor in the faith.

It is interesting is that our online presence is engaging a similar number of people as were attending our physical gathering, but I can be certain they are not just from our congregation because at least a third of our members do not have access to the internet. At the moment our approach has been more akin with broadcast than participation – probably because in my thinking we have been seeking to provide for our church community which is more used to a broadcast – but now, six weeks since the doors to the building closed I am being forced to consider how I might work with others to respond effectively to the needs of the local community.

I remember at college being taught about missional hermeneutics (interpreting the bible) and preaching and I remember one lecturer reminding us that every reading of scripture is a performance. It will not be read like that again, even if that same person is reading it. They also reminded us that every sermon/talk/address is for a particular context, group of people, needs and concerns, which is apposite advice at this time, but also offers a challenge because as we broadcast online and engage across a potentially wider congregation, how do we retain the local connection, relevance and importance? It feels there is a danger of becoming stuck in a paradox that as circumstances drive people to be more local, the church is moving online and becoming global. This is why we must ensure that we are serving our local communities, not just creating content for the online community. It is both/and not either/or.

Perhaps one the most challenging elements of cocreating worship is time, and as clergy learn various skills and are faced with the challenges of moving worship online, it is easier to say ‘I’ll do it myself’ than to share the burden with others. At this time of uncertainty, we are in a liminal space of opportunity and now is the time to embrace the possibility of change, but we are called to do so together.

The key elements of cocreating that emerge from my experience of the life events that may provoke our thoughts concerning Sunday worship

a) Building relationship – people approach the church, often with little/no relationship prior to the birth of a child, the engagement or the loss of a loved on. We respond, as representatives of Jesus, and get to know people rapidly, partly because there is an openness and a reason for our dialogue. There is a reason people are engaging and creating space to build this relationship will help. We may also find that our existing relationships are re-shaped by our current shared experience.

b) Drawing alongside – people are vulnerable, their experience, their emotions, their very selves are open and they need to be carefully engaged with. I am reminded of the journey of the disciples on the Road to Emmaus. The two disciples had effectively given up hope, they were walking to Emmaus talking with one another about what had happened. Jesus joins them where they are and walks with them. He does not change their destination, force them to go in a particular direction, or suggest he has a better route, but he draws alongside and travels with them, at their pace. We can draw alongside people online too, it takes time and effort and a commitment to engage.

c) Accompanying – people need to be walked through their experience. They do not know the choreography, they are unsure of the words. They need to be prepared, but they need to be accompanied, at their own pace, walking alongside them, sometimes leading them on, sometimes dropping back, sometimes carrying them. We need to be a little like a swiss army knife in terms of our willingness to be flexible, adapt and respond.

d) Listening – There is a lot of listening in these encounters. In my experience, it is much harder to listen in the online realm (some of this is connected to algorithms, but nonetheless it is a challenge) and many of us use the online world as a mouthpiece. It would be great if we were able, as the church, to find ways of modelling listening online. Pose questions, await responses, don’t judge but seek to serve.

e) Always serving – In these instances of cocreation we are always serving, serving God, and those who have approached us. As we seek to cocreate online and shape ‘church’ for what comes next in this liminal space, we need to ask ourselves who we are serving.

A possible direction of development in the future could be the online wake/celebration of life. For the vast majority of funerals that I am privileged to conduct at the moment the function of the funeral service is being performed, but the space for grief, for sharing memories, for gathering is either being omitted or postponed. It is such an important and significant space. When I speak on behalf of a family and invite people to a wake I usually use the words ‘the family invite you to [insert venue] to continue to share memories of…

In our cocreating of life events we are in the process of creating memories and holding space for memories. Perhaps this might be part of how we can serve our local communities through our online ministry at this time of coronavirus. Facilitating a space where things that need to be remembered can be, but also where new memories and new modes of being can emerge.

As I conclude, I reiterate that my ministry online is emerging, and has been necessary. responsive and reactive. Others with greater online experience of ministry can and will undoubtedly have more to offer to the conversation. I simply offer my reflections, observations and thoughts as a visitor to this holy space that so many call home.

People are more than pyramids and we can be here and here

There has been a post doing the rounds on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and it gets pretty much to the heart of things with the two base needs circled “we are here” and the higher needs circled with “not here”. It sparked a number of questions in my mind about many of the conversations I had been having about the future of church post and resonated deeply with why it had taken so long for my brain to kick in and being to be able to reflect on the current situation and start posting. When I used to teach practical theology and mission I would often use Maslow. One the key pieces of research around Maslow wasn’t just about how hard it was to progress up the pyramid until the base needs were met but also how if you experience a signifiant period or trauma where those base needs are not met (for example living in childhood poverty, or with and abusive parent etc) that this has a long term impact on your ability to actualise in the higher needs even if future you are secure in the more base ones. So whilst the Beyond Broadcast post addressed participation in the liturgy I want to unpack participation in more of the social action type responses. Whilst this may sound dualistic I hope you will see as this post unfolds its not.

People are much more complicated than a simple pyramid and I want to suggest that how we respond to the basic needs also has an impact on the higher needs. I was reflecting on some local conversations where despite the church having had a good presence in meeting peoples base needs (food banks etc) people did not engage in further higher pyramid space conversation and this made people wonder if churches had overestimated in how well the church was really connected to the community. At practical level (if you apply Maslow) this isn’t surprising as it is a basic needs first in a time of difficulty. However perhaps part of the reason for further engagement is in the consumer driven culture and context and HOW the church is seeking to meet these base needs. When reconsider that people are more complicated than pyramids and when we work WITH people to address the basic needs ( think ABCD) rather than doing so as a service provider we are also creating the space for those higher needs to. Part of why I like this approach is that there is no such thing as missional structures just missional people. Missional people understand the breadth of mission and that our future is wrapped up with those around. There has already been much talk of churches gearing up their mission plans with extra foodbanks, debt advice, and undoubtedly this will be key BUT disappointedly too much of this discussion has been as a start point of a pyramid that must be met so we can then sell the gospel or self actualisation. Perhaps part of what we have learnt in this time and in their questions of the “new normal” is that people are more than pyramids, and can actually be in more than one space at one time. Indeed part of what people will need (as well as the practical help) will be to work through the emotional and psychological impact of the situation. So perhaps part of how we need to respond practically is the same as we the issues raised in Beyond Broadcast, and we need to be co-creating our practical responses with people in more wholistic and joined up way. Doing so may well help us and those around us not only cope with the trauma we have seen over the past few months to our base needs (physical and safety) but may also help us work through together any longer term issues caused by this trauma. So if you are are asking questions of your mission strategy maybe the most important place to start is now in building connections with others beyond your usual circles, and inviting the community or work out with you how we support one another after this, and to make sure you invite those first people through the doors to the foodbank or what ever to join in with the process.