Hope for leavers

Old way is creaking and groaning

Mark Pierson, of Cityside Baptist Church in Auckland, sees huge numbers of people leaving Western churches as a great opportunity.

Author of a book about church leavers and Baptist minister, Alan Jamieson, says church leavers are growing as older people are dying and young people either don’t stay or don’t go at all.

Mr Jamieson explains that values and society and the nature of Sundays have changed from the 1950’s and 60’s and that there are competing enjoyments to church going.

Mr Pierson understands the Church exists simply to enable people to better follow Jesus Christ.

“Whatever services, meetings or programmes we operate, if they don’t help people become maturing followers of Christ in the world, or enable them to start on that journey, I wonder about their validity,” he says.

Mr Jamieson quotes Massey University research shows that 93 per-cent of New Zealanders believe in God, and although a lot of these people do not go to church, Jamieson is certain that some of these still believe and follow Jesus Christ.

The movement of Christians away from the traditional Church is anti-institutional and where people desire in-depth personal work, where their needs are being catered for. Mr Jamieson views this as a sign that the old way is creaking and groaning.

Mr Pierson perceives as perhaps the major thread of why Christians leave churches is the inability of churches to cope with people at various stages of spiritual formation.

“Often churches are good at offering what people need at a particular stage of growth, such as a beginning Christian, but not so good at dealing with the quite different needs and expectations of more mature Christians.”

When they do leave more often than not they feel a huge relief as if a burden has been lifted from them, Mr Pierson says.

Mr Pierson describes how there is a growing movement in New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom of small groups of Christians getting together to do church in ways that support their spiritual formation.

These groups “are not afraid” to creatively draw on movies, music, art, symbols, images, literature, experiences and stories as raw materials for worship. Practices of Christian tradition through the ages are available to them to draw on.

Mr Pierson uses Len Sweet’s term for these groups: they are AncientFuture churches.

Regarding Church as made up of individuals who provide authentic Christianity or not, he adds: “When these individuals come together in whatever degree of community, that will be a demonstration of Christianity at some level of authenticity.

“The problem we have created is that we identify the Church with Christianity, but that’s not how it should be.”

Mr Jamieson believes that the incarnation is the major theme of this movement, where Jesus is involved in ordinary lives in a down to earth manner.

By Peter Veugelaers

Published 2001, Challenge Weekly

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