There is a lot of negative publicity around. I have heard of people leaving the church because they were concerned about the negative stories they had heard.
They knew of people who hid from the priest when they came calling because they did not want to face the lecture on why they had not given to the church. They had read about people who had been executed in the UK because they did not accept church teaching. They knew that in previous centuries the second son of a landowner who did not inherit the property was trained up to become a clergyman as it was seen to be a good job for them. This was an expectation rather than a calling and these men did not necessarily have a faith to share.
How do you resolve this image problem?
I was shown years ago that one reason why the church has an image problem is that it is not serving the community in the way that it should be doing. That is the premise behind the Manifesto that is NOT for Wimps. This book looks at what Christians should be doing for the community and sees the church as being seriously falling below expectations. It also recognises that the church as it works at the moment is incapable of fulfilling those expectations.
The Manifesto that is NOT for Wimps proposes another approach i.e. enabling church members to set up businesses that meet the needs of the community. Helping the thirsty get a drink by running a water supply company rather than giving them a cup of water. Feeding the hungry and healing the sick by growing and distributing good quality food. It sounds shocking but it is something that some are making tentative steps towards doing by setting up social enterprises.
Yes. trading money for good things so that the business has the money to provide the services. Before you say that trading is wrong here is something to think about. The central point of the Christian faith is an exchange or trade. We gained something of huge value because of the punishment Jesus was willing to undergo for our sakes. It did not cost us much but it cost Jesus a lot. He paid the price needed so that we could be restored to right relationship with God. In other words, trading or exchanging things of value is at the heart of the Christian faith.
Have you ever read Proverbs 31?
This ideal woman was a serial entrepreneur. She is known for her money management skills. That was what drew me to do a study on her which can be found in Faithful Ladies CAN Transform Society.
Amongst her achievements is making sure that her family is prepared for emergencies so that she does not have to depend on others when the economy takes a nosedive or strange things happen like a pandemic. She also gives to the poor and needy. In other words, she helps those who need immediate relief as well as those who need support as they recover from hard times. Her home and family is well managed so they do not create problems for the community.
How many churches see that as a good model for those on their membership role to follow? By the way, that approach to money management is not necessarily just for women either. Imagine if the whole bride of Christ took those ideas on board.
They would use what they have in their hands to start a business that meets the needs of community, live without excess and then use their prosperity to support people in need. Another benefit of enabling church members to run businesses is that done well they carry faith-based values out into the community with them.
Can we all do this?
Well, we can if we have become the person God intends us to be. We will struggle and find it very difficult to achieve all that we could or should. We need to be healed and whole to truly succeed.
Thankfully another way of looking at the church is that it is a hospital. People come in hurting and needing help. When you are hurting and living below God’s best for you it is a struggle to do all that God calls you to do.
It is no better than expecting someone injured in a road traffic accident to do all they were called to do. Once they have recovered they are able to fulfil all they can do. It is no different when it comes to emotional hurts and the other bumps and bruises we have acquired through life. They stop us achieving all God intended us to be. It is the church’s role to help us become the people God intended us to be so that we can do what He intended us to do.
Not only that but we are supposed to be part of the vine and God prunes the vine. We need to be pruned at times because dead branches can block our view of God and His vision for our lives.
These dead branches not only make it so much harder to both see what we should be working towards they also reduce our ability to do it. The problem is that we need pruning to remove dead branches but we hate being pruned. That is true both for individuals and the corporate body.
What does success look like?
In the world of business, they talk about awareness raising or marketing and see this as a completely different activity to selling. In the church world, there have been ideas like the Engel scale that aim to show how people progress in their response to the church from negative to questioning to joining to discipleship.
In The Manifesto that is NOT for Wimps there is a study of the role of shepherd. According to Ezekiel, they were supposed to do 4 things and when you look at them carefully these are a progression that leads to people being drawn back into the community.
For many success looks like people in the seats on a Sunday in other words people buying the main product that is being offered. If that is the only measure of success then that can present a problem because it can take time for the time and effort of awareness raising and proving that you can meet the needs of the community to be seen. Not only that but the awareness raising has to be fulfilling its intended purpose to have any effect.
What do you mean by awareness raising?
Awareness raising is not necessarily bible thumping and saying you need to be meeting these standards. The aim is to enable the church to be seen in a good light. This is not by putting up a façade that hides the negative things such as imposing its culture and values in such a way that it damages people. It is by doing good to people and really doing good.
Those of us who have been around a while knew the reputation of Mother Teresa but after she died a variety of criticisms have emerged. For example, some have suggested that those who worked for her were not following best practices in terms of infection control and that created problems for those they were supposed to be helping. One doctor who saw what they were doing on the ground really struggled to reconcile this to the public persona of a saintly old woman who led a team that helped the poor.
The lack of transparency about their finances did not help either. To some, it seemed that a lot of money was given but that did not match the money spent on the poor. Another criticism was the push to encourage people to join the Catholic church. What looked like a good image at the time is now being questioned.
Awareness raising to me has to be done with integrity
The aim of Messy Church is to get people into the church and it is honest about its intentions. One of the problems I had with the offline craft group that I ran was that the new minister’s gold standard was to have a congregation where there were bible songs and bible stories.
We were doing crafts and demonstrating bible-based values in action was not enough. We listened to people and tried to respond in a godly fashion. We prayed for them when they had a problem sometimes there and then. We discouraged things like witches and other things that did not align with biblical values but tried not to be unkind in the process.
Whether we could have had both a congregation and a craft group was not explored before the craft group collapsed due to Covid. My fear was that we would end up with just a congregation as the craft group would slowly be turned into a congregation. This was a million miles away from our original intention.
Whose needs are we trying to meet?
I must admit I have been somewhat disillusioned by church folk who have struggled to love people and meet the needs of others. I have seen many who have focused on meeting their own needs e.g. increasing attendance so they can keep the church open.
I know that within groups of churches one of the things that is used to measure the effectiveness of a church is attendance. Do more people come this year than did last year? It is also said that ministers compare themselves using this measure.
Could a craft group be something that helps to improve the image of the church?
Not just any craft group but one that is designed to meet the needs of those who attend. Their needs might be to combat loneliness. It could be to provide a structure to a chaotic life. It could be to temporarily escape an abusive husband and build up the strength and contacts needed to escape that situation.
In one sense it does not matter what the craft is or what the venue is. It is something that can be done in such a way that people do not realise that they are being helped. In fact, if you advertised a group to support victims of domestic abuse you would not get many people coming as few would actually admit that they have a problem. Well, at least I did not. A craft group that provided friendship with people who could slowly walk me out of the situation would have been a godsend.
It is subtle but…
The idea that a craft group can have a therapeutic purpose is so subtle that not everyone sees it as such. In some ways that is both a help and a hindrance.
It is a hindrance as people struggle to see that running a craft group could impact the community. They cannot see that it could fulfil their desire to support the community. It seems too little and too simple for there to be any point in bothering with it.
It is a help because people cannot see the intention behind what you are doing. It is just a craft group rather than a project intended to change lives. I think of it as feeding a carnivore a tablet wrapped up in a piece of meat.
It is simple. You build up a relationship that can then enable you to do other things. Our offline craft group helped people deal with all sorts of issues including difficult teenagers and ageing parents. Carers were able to share information that helped other carers.
In other settings, it would be useful to develop a list of contacts for things like domestic abuse, financial hardship, and to know where to direct people so they could find the specific advice they need to deal with the current crop of problems.
The therapeutic aspect also means that it is useful to build up relationships with the local mental health services. In other words like any other professional or amateur people helper, those running the group need to be able to signpost and preferably refer people to places with more expertise or resources to ensure that they get the help that they need.
What comes next?
You know fine well I have an ulterior motive in writing this post. Well, here it is. I would like you to join me.
In case you have not come across it before this sort of challenge is an idea developed by a Christian businessman. It is based on what he calls taste and see marketing. In other words, you taste and see what sort of things will be included as part of an online learning and support package. If you like the taste then just as in the supermarket when you have tasted that new product you will be given a good deal to buy it.
To register for the challenge you will need to fill in the form below.
P.S. If one or both of those books sound interesting, scroll back up and click on the book cover. This will take you to a page on Amazon where you can purchase a copy of them.