Rev Dr John Squires and Rev Elizabeth Raine were the keynote speakers at this year’s Summer Spirit, held at All Saints Floreat Uniting Church in February. They led guests through discussions around ‘new ways of being church.’ Reminding us that “change only takes place at the edge of chaos,” John and Elizabeth shared with ‘Revive’ ways in which local congregations can refresh and energise their church.
1. Relationships are foundational
Similar to the way that furniture is arranged in the main worship space of a church building, it is through building relationships with other people that successful churches grow. Simply opening the doors and expecting or hoping that people will walk into the church, see what is there, and ‘sign up’, is not enough. We need to be proactive in ensuring that people feel welcomed and valued, and that they recognise the church is open to what they contribute as a person – and not just as a name on the roster.
2. Shifting from ‘club membership’ to ‘disciples in a movement’
Does the church assume that it can function like a ‘club’? Such an assumption means thinking that people can come along, join up as a member, pay their annual subscription, and then expect the staff to provide for them. It means that, as ‘members’, people are able to make regular use of the facilities and participate in the activities provided, and perhaps they might even encourage other people to join. But this way of operating no longer holds sway for so many people today. Instead, we need to consider ourselves as a collection of disciples, travelling on the way, following Jesus in what we do, and engaging with others in a variety of ways.
3. Searching for community connection and engagement
In past decades, the church was the centre of community life, especially in days before films and internet. Now, however, church activities are at the edge of what many people are looking for. But in every local community, there are things happening. The role of disciples is to seek out what is happening, go along and check it out, and offer to be involved in activities that look worthwhile. Rather than setting up ‘religious’ activities within the walls of the church building, discipleship involves travelling outwards, beyond our comfort zones, finding places where the spirit of God is already at work in the local community, and joining with people in those activities.
4. Working for the common good
This phrase is itself a biblical phrase (see Nehemiah 2:17-18 and Galatians 6:10). Our activities alongside of other people of good will in our local communities are to be oriented towards those things which will benefit the local community as a whole. They are especially to include activities that will strengthen the resilience of people who are hurt, marginalised, or oppressed. That is living the Gospel, surely.
5. Working towards community transformation
In a previous placement, the establishment and nurturing of a Friday night community youth group in Wauchope led to some wonderful instances of personal transformation. As the young Aboriginal kids who attended realised that they were welcome, appreciated, and valued by people of the Uniting Church, they started to behave differently and develop a more positive outlook on life. The ultimate consequence of connecting with these kids, and working for the common good of all, was that the local community began to be transformed. And that was because of the faithful involvement of disciples of Jesus, seeking to live their faith in small and achievable ways.