I can be described variously as a ‘musician’, a Christian, a nerd, an extrovert – my driving-force is my Christian faith, and my attitude, learning and understanding stems from that, not only in church, but in social activities as well. So I try to consider what a follower of Jesus should do.
The church should be teaching and living by Jesus’ values, but sometimes I have found better examples in other groups of fellowship, mutual support and understanding. I realise this is just my story, but it may demonstrate why the church is not reaching people.
Theologically, the position of inclusiveness and hospitality is a very Methodist position (FOR ALL), and reflects the position of ‘many have entertained angels unawares’, and the earlier monastic tradition of hospitality.
Musing about the Community choir I have attended for over 5 years, I’ve attempted to compare and contrast with what church should be like.
I discovered practical, emotional and spiritual support when I went through problems the other year, from choir leaders and members. The only other group from which I got this support was my local church. I am ashamed to say that I feel many other churches would have been unable or unwilling to give support of this nature.
I found out about the choir from a flyer, which advertised time, place and basic details. Although it had a contact number, I decided I would just turn up, having been in a choir in the past. How many people do this, I wonder, with our churches? Churches SAY they are welcoming, and advertise their service times, but do they expect visitors? What about the time when a service is cancelled or held at a different time – is there a notice to say so, or might someone turn up to a locked building?
I turned up and was welcomed, both informally and formally. I had no problem in finding the venue or entrance. Many churches would fail here: one local church has a roadside entrance that is always locked, and no sign indicates that access is from the other side- would a visitor give up? Some churches have people at the door, but are they the right sort of people, adequately trained to welcome people and explain such important things as practicalities of access, arrangements for children, direction of toilets, etc.?
I picked up early on the atmosphere of fun and mutual support. People were welcomed, and allowed to decide if it wasn’t for them. There was no joining process or voice-trial – if you wanted to sing, they wanted to help you do it – I felt included straightaway. Although I understand musical jargon/notation, there’s no requirement to do so – most of the music is taught as we go – only on very rare occasion have we been handed musical scores (and even then, the essentials have been explained; the rest is left for you to use if you want) – I discovered (it should have been obvious earlier) that the leader is highly qualified, and plays several instruments. Many churches don’t have an atmosphere of fun or conviviality – some even complain if you sit in the ‘wrong place’. Many don’t put things in everyday language, and don’t attempt to explain unusual concepts or words. For example, a church I have been in explained, when announcing the offering: ‘We are going to take a collection of money. This is how members give to support the day-to-day running of the church. If you are a visitor, don’t feel obliged to give, just pass the plate on.’.
I found out later that some, including the leaders, are Christians, from various churches; and that the initial funding for the choir came from yet another church with no strings attached, no exclusions and no specific ‘evangelistic outreach’. It is a choir FOR ALL. (After a while, it moved to a church venue, offered rent-free, but there is no religious commitment required.) There is a difference here as to how the church should act. Whilst the church IS called to asked people to commit and does sometimes make evangelistic outreach, it should think of all that it does as being evangelistic, but not heavy in its application. For example, my own church runs a ‘Darts and dominoes’ evening at the social (drinking) club opposite, for men. This is done purely to build bridges with men outside the church. The men know that the church organises it. They are free to ask questions. But are not required to.
Each member of the choir is valued, and their opinions matter – the leadership team took on board some members’ concerns about a song, due to the sexual proclivities and court case concerning the popular singer who had sung it – the song was dropped, with an explanation at the next rehearsal.
The choir uses practical forms of communication to keep its members up-to-date with an increasing number of events, including a private Facebook page, texts, emails and phone calls, being careful to not miss those members who do not use one of those modes. Many of these events are ministering to others – care homes, and so on – most have been for no monetary gain. Because, being a community choir, we aren’t just there to minister to one another, but to everyone else.
The church, also, should try to use whatever means of communication are used in the wider society. There should be several means of receiving information, and people should not feel that they have to sign up to a method with which they are unfamiliar. The church is the only organisation in society that is SUPPOSED to exist primarily for the benefit of its NON-members. As is the case in the choir, you actually grow together as a group when you are looking outward by ministering to others.
In summary, I consider the choir a good example of a ‘church’ in the broadest sense: a place where people are accepted; welcomed; cherished; allowed to come and go; organised, but leaving room for individuality; and trying to be of service to others (members and the general community). Practical considerations are well-organised, making it easier for people to participate.
The choir isn’t, of course, a church in the fullest sense, because there is no Biblical teaching or direct references to Christian moral absolutes, and that’s because it isn’t a church; there are some things that the choir can’t do that a church has to, including proclaiming the gospel and caring for the underprivileged in our society. But, I would say that this is a place where I find God, in the welcome, acceptance, fun and care, and suspect many others would too.