Monday, April 16, 2007

Burn the pews?

“They have these so-called untouchable brown wooden pews. But why not rip them out and burn them? “Country churches can only survive if they are repossessed by the community... Like farmers’ markets, bring and buy sales, for the schools, for meetings. For the village community to be secure the church once again needs to be at its centre.”
Sir Roy Strong
The church owns lots of buildings that hardly get used and cost lots of money. It makes perfect sense to use them for other purposes.
  • What should be noted is that buildings are not special at all - church buildings are just halls, some of them well designed other not. They're not holy places. They're not sancturaries. Just walls and roofs. And it'd be good for the communities in which they stand to realise that they can come inside.
  • The second thing to note is that it would probably help if those who lead the tiny congregations in these places started faithfully preaching the good news about Jesus a bit more - because then these buildings might not be so empty on Sunday mornings. Teaching them to love Jesus, and to love the church that Jesus loves. Nonetheless, even if the building was full on Sunday it may as well be put to good use during the week.
It's still a curiosity that churches own buildings - not sure that ever happen in the early years of the church, and not sure that all that much has been gained since it started happening. Church is about people not buildings. And not just any people, those who are joined together with one another and with Jesus Christ.

Through the Spring we (at Reading University) studied Ephesians. The big theme of the letter is that God is bringing everything under the rule of Jesus - Jesus above everything. The way this is achieved is through the death of Jesus. And the way that looks in practice is the church. The church a people who would have been divided but are united to one another and to God in Jesus. A people who are Jesus' body - in union with Jesus because of his loving penalty bearing death in our place. Love the cross. Love the church.


  1. "It would probably help if those who lead the tiny congregations in these places started faithfully preaching the good news about Jesus a bit more - because then these buildings might not be so empty on Sunday mornings."



    Suddenly I'm glad I'm not a vicar of a tiny congregation, and doubly glad I am not a disheartened gospel faithful vicar of a tiny congregation that God has sent me to serve. And suddenly glad I am not a Christian who hasn't seen many of my mates come to Christ. Oh Crap.... I am not faithfully preaching the gospel :(

    What an encouraging post!!

  2. I'm glad someone said it Dave! I think it's always a great kick in the pants for a church to be out of its building and in search of somewhere new. I find it actually help to re-focus us back on the most important thing: the gospel. I often wonder, if the Anglicans gave all their buildings(liabilities) to the state and went out in search of buildings which were actually suited to a 21st century church, whether a) they would see a shift in focus towards the gospel (I think they would), and b) whether they would end up with a very different type of building to the ones they currently operate in (I think they would).

    That is not to pick on CofE, every groupings has its failings. But this issue is perhaps most relevant to the "church of first resort".

    I wrote on my blog recently that the issue of buildings is one of the few issues Newfrontiers has done a u-turn on over the years. They practically despised buildings thrity years ago, but now there are churches going for multi-million pound projects - as I say I find the process of acquiring and renovating hugely beneficial for a church's faith and re-focusing it on the gospel. And as long as we see the buildings for what they really are (there to serve us, not us them) there doesn't seem to be a problem.

    Obviously, as you say people are the most important thing, and we must reflect that whether we've got a great building, a naff one, or if we're in the middle of an exciting project to get one.

    Are you going to Brighton this year?

  3. Anonymous:

    Not quite sure what you're saying... phrasing deliberately includes "probably" and "might" based on fairly strong anecdotal evidence that much rural anglican ministry isn't true to the gospel - I grew up in the midst of rural Anglican ministry....

    We need more gospel preachers in these places - but as noted this might not turn things around entirely or even quickly.... but it might make some difference.

    For those who are faithfully working away and seeing no change much encouragement is needed, and no discouragement was intended - merely a reflection on Sir Roy Strong's comments. Size isn't everything.

    Luke: - not sure on Brighton - deppends on my diary and whether day visits are allowed this year. I'd love to see Newfrontiers go rural church planting - maybe they could acquire some of the buildings that the Church of England aren't making much use of...

  4. Rural church planting is an interesting thought - I think currently the feeling is we need to go for the places of most influence, to help re-define the cities because cities are the primary culture-changers. And a natural outworking of strong city-churches will be emerging rural gatherings.

    Having said that David Harper and his guys in the Peak District near me, have an impressive vision for their rural community. Church In The Peak is almost a new model of church planting especially for rural areas. He took part in one of the church planting seminars at Brighton last year, free to download. It's interesting and much needed, but not very well profiled.

  5. That's good to hear about. I think sometimes we can overplay the significance of cities - God uses the insignificant and the weak... when you look at the rural ministry of Andrew Fuller and John Newton and William Carey in and around Northamptonshire, for example.

    I'm locked into student work but I feel strange pangs when I look at cities with several good churches and then see a village (like the one I grew up in) of over 5000 without an evangelical church within a few miles of where William Carey used to live... and it doesn't get much better in other places.

  6. Hey! What's wrong with old buildings, Luke? Personally, I find that ancient houses of worship help me to focus on being part of the church, the body of Christ - you are reminded of all those who have come to worship God in the same spot over hundreds or thousands of years.
    I've been to plenty of non C of E churches and not found that many with buildings that don't distract me with its cold functionality.