[St.Stephens Jameberoo]

Christianity in retreat

 

Another church hits the dust. The little Presbyterian church in the quaint country town of Jamberoo, south of Sydney, Australia, is up for sale. The minister says "it's just a building", but he intends to use the proceeds of the sale to renovate another building. So, the Presbyterians have given up on Jamberoo, even though it has a growing population.

Throughout the Western world Christianity is in retreat. We are abandoning our outposts and pulling back to the security of our main castles. We are no longer engaging with the world, no longer out there; it's up with the drawbridge and down with the shutters.

Our retreat to the main church center, to the main population base, is justified on the grounds of consolidation. We have taken on board the Church Growth principle which links growth to a minimum congregation of 200 and have quietly forgotten the Biblical principle of two or three meeting together. Better to be in the fortress than in the highways and the byways. Getting out there leaves us vulnerable.

Yes indeed, I hear the protests. The world is changing, internet church is just around the corner, in fact, on a mobile phone in someone's pocket on the way to work. Will believers be sitting on a pew, in a church building, in a hundred years from now? Will the church center give way to house church, special interest church? A fellowship of doctors meeting for breakfast once a month is a valid church, just as valid as the little handful of Presbyterians who once met at St.Stephens Jamberoo. Maybe the answer is to squeeze a thousand plus people together in a renovated factory complex, wind up the troops and sell off the redundant church properties.

In my church, the Anglican/English church (Episcopalian), we have been madly selling off surplus properties for years, often when the congregation numbered forty or fifty people. The strange fact is, that we have done this with a long history of waning and growing congregations. A short tour of English parish churches shows that over the last thousand plus years, the churches have been full and then empty, numerous times. Thankfully, past generations didn't think it was a good idea to consolidate when the congregations were small. Yet, our generation has so little faith in the power of the gospel that we cannot imagine that the five ladies sitting in the pews each Sunday, could be fifty people in ten years time. Is it so inconceivable that a technologically advanced family of the future may find it spiritually uplifting to sit in a beautiful old church building for Sunday morning prayer and after, stroll down the street for coffee and donuts?

May I suggest that we have lost the plot.