Had we known how long we were going stay here, we would have bought better carpets!
For this Sunday marks my completion of 25 years as vicar of Christ Church, Aughton! Twenty five years! Why such a long time?
I guess the essential reason is that God didn’t move me on. However, from my perspective the reason is the Ministry Centre project. From beginning to end, from acquiring the site to getting the Centre up and running, this venture of faith took some 20 years.
An important project, of course. However, what is important to hold onto is that the Ministry Centre is merely a means to an end. But what is the end?
One of my first priorities as the new vicar of Christ Church, Aughton was to articulate what Christ Church was about, what it was seeking to do even as we arrived.
Once I got the feel of the people and place, it seemed to me then, as it still does today, that our key task is to share Jesus with everyone.
However, there’s more to it than that. For Christ Church is essentially a local church – a parish church with an evangelical ministry.
This was demonstrated as part of the planning application for the Ministry Centre our consultants were able to demonstrate that 73% of the church membership lived within 1.2km of the church site while 84% live within 2.0km of the church site.
So we added that our key task is to share Jesus with everyone beginning with our parish. Later, as parish awareness faded, we changed this to “beginning with our community.”
So this was the broad goal. How would be best go about it?
As I arrived I took a detailed look at the church statistics, especially Sunday attendance. To my surprise there had been an abrupt drop in Sunday attendance two years earlier, in 1990, from about 400 to 300. And no one knew why.
In fact, this was classic church growth theory. Christ Church had grown too big, too big for the way we do ministry here. And so the church reverted to its natural size.
As church growth guru Tim Keller observes: “Size has an enormous impact on how a church functions. There is a ‘size culture’ that profoundly affects how decisions are made, how relationships flow, how effectiveness is evaluated, what its ministers, staff, and lay leaders do.”
So one of my goals for Christ Church was to break through this 400 ceiling by seeking to change our ministries, procedures and expectations.
Now I realise that in the Kingdom of God numbers aren’t everything but to quote Bishop Paul: “We are asking God for a bigger church so we can make a bigger difference; more people knowing Jesus more justice in the world. This is how we express our mission.”
So here we are, 25 years later, have we attained this goal?
The answer is that I don’t know. For the simple reason is that over these last 25 years church has completely changed shape. While Sunday attendance here has fallen (especially at 6.30 pm), the number of people involved in the life of Christ Church over the week has risen.
Just think 1992: it was a different world with a different mindset. No Sunday shopping and no Premiership football (until that September). Air travel was expensive. I didn’t have my first cappuccino until 1999.
Social attitudes were conservative – at least by today’s standards. A bygone age.
And since then has been the huge, epoch-making transformation wrought by digital technology. Even the way our brains are wired has changed.
In 1992 there was no way you could readily communicate with the whole church family. Now, in a few minutes time, I will press SEND and no less than 282 of you – nearly all Christ Church members at one time or other – will receive this blog. And that’s not even counting those who will read this through Facebook or Twitter.
It’s not so much that we live in a much more individualised society; it’s simply that we now belong in a very different way. No less than 184 people belong to the Christ Church Facebook Group. The Christ Church Twitter feed has 259 followers.
Moreover, the Ministry Centre with Café Vista has shifted Christ Church into a seven day a week operation. I have no idea of the footfall but it is going to be more than 1000 pairs of real, not virtual, feet per week.
So what does it mean to “belong to Christ Church” in 2017? Difficult to say.
However, the more important question is what does it mean to belong to Christ?
Very simply – whatever our church culture, whatever our social background- the answer is one word: discipleship, that is, godly mature Christians.
For as church growth practitioner Kevin DeYoung concludes: “The one indispensable requirement for producing godly, mature Christians is godly, mature Christians.”
And that is what we’re about.