The churches of the UK are in freefall. For years membership, however that has been defined, has been in decline. Church attendance has also been in massive decline. In many church communities it is terminal decline. Covid certainly didn’t help. Most churches are now much smaller. Many people seem to have given up on church. As we know, Christians today are in a minority – less than 50% of people in the UK perceive themselves to be Christian.
It is in this context that the Church of England developed a model for mission. At the heart of the ‘circle’ was a church that was ‘Christ centred and Jesus shaped’. A renewed church, with a deepening prayer life and a new delight in worship, yet at the same time outward looking and overflowing in loving service for the world.
From this ‘hub’ emerged three spokes within the wheel, pointing to three strategic mission priorities: to be a church of missionary disciples; to be a younger and more diverse church; and to be a church where mixed ecology is the norm. The first two priorities speak for themselves. However, the term mixed ecology needs unpacking: it refers to a church prepared to experiment in new forms of church.
The vision underlying this mission is a church that is bolder, simpler and humbler. The hope is that within ten years the number of children and young active disciples will be doubled, and that the church will be fully representative of the communities it seeks to serve. It is a bold vision, involving a simpler church in the sense that it does away with activities which are peripheral to mission and instead focusses on the basic tasks of transforming lives of those whom it seeks to serve. Inevitably this kind of church is also humbler, a church where God is allowed to work.
How precisely this mission is expressed will vary from place to place. Pope Francis put it this way: “The church is a people with many faces, and expresses (its) truth in countless different ways, according to each culture. He went on: “That is why I like to think that evangelisation must always be in the dialect of each place, with the same words and sounds of the grandmother who uses to sing lullabies to her grandchildren”.
As a Baptist minister of many years standing, understanding of mission appeals to me. It is not a ‘top-down’ model imposed by a hierarchical leadership. Rather it is for each church to discern what is appropriate for them. What’s more it asks each church to think through their priorities in such a way that the needs of the whole community are met – the need to young people is clearly vital, but older people must not be forgotten either. What’s more, there is the recognition that one style of service is a limiting factor to effective mission.
Unlike Anglicans, who tend to operate with a parish system where the focus is on the community as a whole, Baptists make much of the fact that they are a ‘gathered church’. The downside of the Baptist concept of the gathered church is that the needs of the wider world can be forgotten. However, unlike a typical Anglican church where mission tends to be limited to those within the parish, a Baptist church need not limit its mission to a local parish, but rather can appeal to a wider grouping of people.
Whatever the denominational allegiance, if the tide is to be turned and communities are to be transformed by the Gospel of Christ, then appropriate strategies need to be put in place for Christ’s new creation (2 Cor 5.17) to be realised.