Happy New Year everyone. I thought I would kick 2014 off with a little document I penned on the back of napkin in 2011. It’s a short reflection on why our church (SPCH) no longer had a voice in the community and a suggestion on how to get it back again.
Interestingly, I only had the guts to send it to the Senior Minister and to a kindred spirit on staff. However, under God, it actually has formed the basis of much of our “forward facing” strategy and given many opportunities to serve and preach the Gospel.
Well here it is…..
As a church we seriously have a public relations problem and because of this, the church has lost the basic right to be heard. There is no doubt that Christ’s followers will always be hated and be the fragrance of death to those who are perishing. This will always be the case when we preach the Gospel and stand for Christ. However, we are to live lives that make the Gospel attractive, give an answer to the hope we have, pray for and make the most of opportunities with outsiders. Even though the latest statistics show that the church is seen to evoke a neutral response by unchurched people, the problem is that they don’t think the Christian church does not have the right or reason to be listened to. Just ask yourself (or the average unchurched person) the following diagnostic questions. If the average unchurched person were asked “What would be missing in our suburbs if Christian churches were wiped of the face of the planet?”, most will answer “Nothing”. If the average unbeliever were asked “Is the local church a necessary part of our community?”, most would answer “no.” We as a church (the corporate identity) have a PR problem.
We lost our right to be heard because we lost the position the church once enjoyed. In Australian history, the church has traditionally enjoyed the position of being quasi-established and had a high rate of weekly attendance and affiliation. For this reason, the church enjoyed the position where her ideas were given heading and even adhered to. Furthermore, the church was at the forefront of schooling, aged care and even social change. However, now is a very different environment. With the rapid decline of nominalism the position the church once held was then lost. The rapid secularisation of society accelerated the church’s decline in public standing. Where the church used to be the forefront of social change, now she was seen as the anchor holding it back; where the church was at the forefront of aged care, now she is just seen as a shrewd commercial operator; where the church was the provider of public education, now she is seen as the creator of religious ghettos. We know that our secular society forms opinions and impressions by primarily judging externals. The problem is that for right and wrong reasons, in our postmodern and utilitarian society opinion, the church certainly comes up short.
Although, ultimately God’s in control of our image, our public “right” to be heard can be regained. We lost our right to be heard so I assume we can get it back again. If our church comes up short for those diagnostic questions, I propose we ought to do the following to change that:
- Get seriously involved in Community Care. For St Paul’s the best way for this to make a significant difference in the ARV Rogan Hill Campus. If we actively participated in the pastoral care of 1500 elderly people in our parish, this mitigates some of our society’s concern that we do not care.
- Get seriously connected in our Community. It is important to capitalise on current fledgling projects like LELJ and JAMA. If we are seen to actively connect with our community then this mitigates our society’s concern that we are “out of touch.” Moreover, from these projects many new opportunities for the gospel ought to arise.
- Get seriously ready for the next natural disaster to hit the Hills. A catastrophic bush fire is only around the corner for the Hills Region. If we’ve learnt anything from our experience in Healesville and Gatton/Grantham, the church must be ready to be on the forefront to provide emergency material relief and pastoral care. In the time of a major crisis, if our church became the operational centre and our people were the key emergency volunteers/workers, then this would be invaluable for future mission.
This is the price of admission that we must pay in order to gain the “right” to be listened to in our society.
Loves Jesus and loves telling people about Him.