Following on from my exploration into the state of the Church in Australia, I found some further, very current research, commissioned by World Vision Australia looking at the perception of the Church in the Australian community. This research took a series of questions to 104 Churches and just over 1,000 representative Aussies to see what they thought about the exact same issues facing our country.
While there were some very interesting findings about social issues and engagement with social policy, there were two areas that stood out to me.
The first was around the idea of the Church’s role in people’s personal lives.
Here’s the issues and % findings of those who answered the question “Do you believe being an active part of a church community assists in these areas of life” as “not at all”
The next thing that struck me from the data was the blockers to participation by the community in Church and the Church in community.
The community said the 3 things that stopped them from getting involved were
- Perceptions about Church
And the Churches said their top three were
- Lack of confidence
As I reflected on these findings, I began to wonder whether one of the problems that we are experiencing here is a growing inability to be willing or able to listen.
Initially, I wonder whether we have stopped listening to the full nature of the Gospel and its call to transform every facet of life. Is part of our fear and lack of confidence in engaging in the community intrinsically connected to a lack of understanding of how living a Christ centred life fully engages every aspect of our lives, not just the “eternal” bit? As a result, what our community has concluded is that the Church doesn’t actually have anything relevant to say about the “here and now” bits because they don’t actually see the Christ followers they know doing and living anything different.
I think this requires us to begin to listen afresh to what Jesus says it means to follow him. To consider what Jesus would say with regard to the relational, vocational, financial and physical realms of our lives, as a start. If we begin to make these personal changes, who knows what impact it might have!
The other thing that these results might also reflect, is that while the Church is engaging in lots of meaningful community activity, the community is not connecting the dots between the two and therefore, despite the Church’s best efforts, it is still seen as largely irrelevant.
So what can we do about this apparent gulf between our Churches and communities?
Initially I think that we have to get to know the communities that we are a part of. This is about knowing who surrounds the physical area that we are in but also, and maybe more significantly, what are the relational networks that our Churches are a part of. This relational network might differ quite dramatically from the locational community and therefore have a vastly different effect on what activities the Church engages in.
Once this has been examined, I suggest that rather than then going to our communities saying here are the answers to the questions we think you have, it actually requires the humility on our part to ask them what the questions and needs that they have are, and then to ask God what the best responses to these challenges are and then living out those answers ourselves.
I suspect that if we learned for loves sake, to listen, we would have less fear and lack of confidence in our Churches and far greater relevance to our communities. I also think that busyness would cease to be a reason for lack of engagement because I know I will always make time for those who I know will listen to me as a way of demonstrating their love for me.