Posts Tagged “Society”

I was invited by the good people of Angus Presbytery to come and talk about the stuff I’ve written about Missing Generations last weekend and they kindly filmed all the seminars.  So, here’s my seminar…

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What if over the past 50 years an organisation had lost the majority of its members?

What should it do?  What should it change?

The decline in membership of the church in the UK has been well documented and plenty of words have been used on diagnosing the problem but I wonder how much time the major denominations have spent actually thinking about how they need to adapt and change to meet the challenge of being the church in a new way for a different kind of world?

There are two areas in which the church spends the vast majority of its ever dwindling resources: buildings and ministers.

It seems less than controversial to suggest that ancient church buildings are at best a mixed blessing and at worst a millstone around the necks of congregations.  They are expensive to maintain and inflexible.

It would also seem less than controversial to suggest that as the world has changed that the job of minister has also evolved.  It would seem strange perhaps that there is a continued emphasis on theological training, almost to the exclusion of anything else, when the role of minister requires so much more.

The Church of England has gone some way towards addressing the new world with its new category of ‘pioneer minister’ which frees people from the bureaucracy of the parish and allows them to build communities in new places and in new forms.

That was a bold step, and it seems to be working.

Something else has been quietly happening… some churches are growing.  I know, surprising isn’t it.

We’ve known for a while that charismatic and pentecostal churches have been growing but it also seems that churches which have positioned themselves as ‘open and afirming’ are adding members.  It would be great to see what it is that these churches are doing that is attractive but I’d hazard a guess that engaging with the wider community and providing spaces for people to build community and actually get to know each other beyond formal times of worship would be common to most of them.

My concern is that this kind of development is hugely dependant on the minister’s personality and interests.  Sometimes it is strategic, but not often.

That’s not good enough.

When will denominations recognise that more of the same will lead to more of the same?

As funds become scarce we retreat into sustaining what is and what has been.  We merge, link and unite so that we can continue to provide ‘ministry’.  No-one seems to be asking if that kind of ministry is what is needed.

Some denominations have community workers.  These people have training in both theology and community work.  These are recognised ministries and the people who perform them have the primary task of engaging with communities, organising projects and enabling people to meet the needs of their communities.

There are a growing number of youth workers and children and family workers who study both theology and community work.  These are not recognised ministries but they engage with people outside traditional church structures and work to enable people to meet the needs of their communities.

These community ministries are often viewed as extra, peripheral, something to be done if there is time and money to spare.  You could add chaplaincy into the same category.

Which brings me back to my initial question… what if?

What if we flipped our view of essential ministry?

What if rather than spending almost all of our money on crumbling buildings and ministry of word and sacrament we spent 90% of our funding on community workers with some theological training who had a strategic mission to engage with communities, build capacity and resource worship in those communities?

What if, rather than investing everything in maintaining a building for people to come and sit for an hour once a week we sold the buildings and we invested that money in places for homeless people to sleep, for hungry people to eat, for lonely people to meet others, and people’s homes became places where people gathered to worship, to plan and scheme random acts of kindness and deliberate acts of grace?

What would that kind of church look like?

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Yesterday I wrote about running alone and how parkrun might give people like the chance to ‘run alone together’ (as Leo said in his comment).

John Orr took the thought and expanded it to church. I like when that happens. His question was ‘How can we create opportunities for people to join in without having to join up?’. I think that’s a great question and it strikes to the very heart of some of the conversations the church (almost all of them) is having.

I join in without joining up every day. I use Twitter and Facebook (and sometimes Google+ but it seems a bit too much like joining up) to see what my friends are up to. Sometimes I see that they are where I am and we arrange to have coffee. Sometimes we don’t. There is no pressure.

Today I’ve been attending the New York Times Schools for Tomorrow conference in New York… from my desk in Hamilton, Scotland. I’ve talked with people about the issues being discussed on Twitter and Facebook and over dinner with my wife. I’ll take some of those thoughts to ICC next Tuesday and share them with my class.

I don’t have to sign up for anything.

I didn’t have to pay anything.

No-one asked anything of me.

I was free to take part as much or as little as I wanted to.

When I ran the Great Scottish Run I eventually took my earphone out of one ear. I like music when I run, but felt like I was missing something of the experience. My iPhone doesn’t cheer you on like the people lining the streets did, it just told me I was running too slow. Music is great but doesn’t give you water or hose you down. My iPhone doesn’t reach out a hand for a hi-5 or take your photo or hug you and say ‘Well done’ even though you are soaking with sweat.

Running a race is about running alone together.

But so is life.

We seek out places where other people are. Beaches, parks, cinemas, shops and churches. We don’t need to speak to people when we are there but there are few feelings as unnerving as when you leave your house and don’t see a single living soul for 10 minutes. At times of tragedy and celebration people feel a need to join together, often with complete strangers.

I was at a church that had lunch after the service because it was a special Sunday, a celebration. I heard an elderly lady say that ‘This is great. It’s so much better than going home to eat alone.’

A sandwich lunch is an opportunity to be alone together. It costs nothing to do. People bring their own and you can sit in the corner if you like or speak to people if you want to.

Church services are a chance to be alone together. You can sit, not interact much and go home. But there is a sense of an underlying pressure to Join Up, not just Join In.

There are lots of issues that people coalesce around. Jubilee 2000 and the Make Poverty History campaign are great examples. I believe in that. Hold a protest and I’ll join in. It doesn’t matter that we disagree about other things, we agree about this so let’s work together.

Community is a good thing. Being connected to each other is important.

My wife has gone out to meet her friends. I’m pouring our my thoughts to a computer, alone. We are both building community.

I’m just doing it Alone, Together with you.

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HT to Steven

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white iBook

Photo: Rob GT

The Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Committee are hosting a day looking at ‘Virtualisation & Society in Edinburgh on Thursday 21 January from 10am – 4pm.  The day is FREE.  To book your place email vcano [at] cofscotland [dot] org [dot] uk.


  • How has virtualisation impacted on notions of identity?
  • How has virtualisation impacted on our values as human beings?
  • How has increased connectivity impacted on the nature of our organisations?
  • How has increased connectivity and virtualisation impacted on our ability to develop meaningful communities?
  • Is a regulatory framework desirable?
  • What are the theological implications of the changes being brought to individuals, to society and to organisations by increased connectivity and virtualisation?


  • Prof. John Eldridge. University of Glasgow. Dept. of Sociology, Anthropology and Applied Social Sciences
  • Prof. Phillip Schlesinger. Professor in Cultural Policy. Institute of Cross Cultural Studies. University of Glasgow.
  • Dr. Heidi Campbell. Texas A&M University. Department of Communication.
  • David Pullinger. Head of Digital Policy. COI.
  • Prof. Michael Northcott. University of Edinburgh. New College.

Come and say Hi! if you’re going.

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Today we are talking about media and power in class.  Any thoughts on the role of the media?

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This morning the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland heard the report of the Church and Society Committee.

First up was the ‘Growing Up in Scotland‘ report.  I was on the group which wrote the report so I was glad to see some good deliverences (motions) coming from the report.  I’ll pick out the highlights for me…

Child Friendly Churches

3. Instruct the Church and Society Council to work with other Councils to introduce a Child Friendly Church initiative based on the United Reform Church’s model.

This was amended to welcome the work the Mission and Discipleship council has already done on preparing a Child Friendly Church initiative, based on the United Reformed Church model.

Hearing Children

4. Urge Scottish and UK Governments to evidence as a matter of course how young people’s voices are heard in the development of legislation and policy.
5. Instruct the Church and Society Council, together with Presbyteries and other Councils of the Church, to bring to the General Assembly of 2010 a report on the ways in which each is enabling the voices of young people to be heard in their decision-making processes.

Great to see an emphasis on listening to children in decision making.  I wonder how congregations and the Assembly will make that happen?

8. Instruct the Church and Society Council to work with representatives of the National Youth Assembly to develop awareness of models of support in congregations on the issues involved in mental illness among young people.

This issue is one that has become ever more important to me.  My wife is a soon to qualify mental health nurse and her training has confirmed my belief that the church can and should play a role in supporting people with mental ill-health.  Like the other deliverence, the question will be how?

10. Urge Scottish and UK Governments to strengthen their commitment to end child poverty by 2020 and ensure that policies and adequate resources are in place to achieve that aim.
11. Urge the Scottish Government to ensure that resources, including partnerships with Churches and others, are in place to deliver the ambitions of the Early Years Framework.
12. Demand that HM Government uphold, respect and protect the rights of children who are asylum seekers or who are trafficked into our country.

For me these show that the church is where it should be, campaigning on behalf of the poor and those who’s rights are overlooked.

Engaging with Technology, Science and the Environment
Climate Change

16. Instruct Presbyteries, in association with the Church and Society Council, to produce a plan for each congregation in their bounds, setting out how they will measure energy consumption in their church
buildings, ascertain their carbon footprint and achieve a year-on-year reduction of 5% of their carbon
footprint using the Eco-Congregation Scotland carbon footprint module; and instruct the Church and Society Council, in consultation with the General Trustees, to report to the General Assembly of 2010 on the implementation of this instruction.
17. Welcome the proposed incorporation of Eco-Congregation Scotland as a Charitable Company and continue to support the work of eco-congregations.
18. Affirm the current commitment of the Church and Society Council to the ‘Responding to Climate Change Project’ and instruct the Church and Society Council, in partnership with other Councils, to complete the review of this project with a view to its development.

The climate change debate threw up some interesting discussion around how ambitious the church should be about targets, with 5% perhaps not being nearly enough of a reduction.

This raised the question again about the suitability of buildings for me.  Is the reduction of carbon footprints the catalyst needed to get rid of unsuitable buildings once and for all?  Can the church really claim to be good stewards while pouring money into drafty and expensive to heat buildings?  And the church’s central offices in Edinburgh won’t escape the carbon audit…

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