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The importance of poor strategy

by on July 14, 2010

We evangelicals do a lot of worrying about the tidal wave of secularism that’s engulfed our society, and the growing marginalisation of the church in modern Australia. So many people just aren’t interested. So many doors get closed in our faces.

Of course we are concerned. But I can’t help wondering if we’re asking the right questions about this. Rather than asking how can we combat secularism (we probably can’t) or what strategies will enable us to reach people who are happy without us, wouldn’t it be better to be asking, “Who is there out there that might welcome us into their lives?”

As soon as you ask this, our traditional strategies of targeting the well educated, the successful, the rich, or at least students who are on the path to being that, start to look like doing it the hard way. These are the people that don’t want or need us. These are the guys leading the charge towards a secular Utopia where Christ is banned from the public arena. (The ‘ethics instead of SRE’ push didn’t come from the western suburbs.)

We need a serious rethink of our strategy. I know we feel more comfortable on a uni campus than a TAFE one. I know we relate better to white professionals than to unskilled migrants. I certainly do. But it’s time to ask, why are we expending so much of our energies on the most hardened section of our society? On the areas where it’s almost impossible to get traction?

I know of a church that has done serious hard yards in their trendy inner city suburb, door knocking, inviting, giving literature, they’ve been creative, they’ve run classy campaigns, they’ve mobilised for mission, they’ve got high congregational participation in evangelism. Result? Negligible. People just don’t want to know.

This isn’t an argument for giving up on the inner city. It’s about rethinking our focus.

Isn’t it time we redirected our efforts to the people who might welcome us? There are a stack of people in Sydney who feel lonely. Lonely. Doesn’t that suggest any new strategies to us? Like a ministry of friendship? Who is talking about a minstry of friendship to the lonely?

There are people who feel down-and-out, or marginalised, or discriminated against, or just generally needy and vulnerable. Any ideas? Not hard, is it. How about offering love and grace, inclusion and acceptance, help and support. Maybe advocacy? I’m told there are even poor people in Sydney, people who can’t make it through winter without help. Don’t currently know many of these. But they’re out there. How hard can it be for us wealthy people to give them a taste of the grace of God? There are surely needy people in every part of Sydney, if we look for them.

Why can’t we seem to join the dots here? We stay well clear of the people who would welcome us, and put our energies into those who don’t see any use for us. And we make no headway! (smack forehead at this point)

Why is a good question. Why do we do this?  Maybe the answer isn’t  simple. One factor springs to mind, though. The openings we have are a lot more costly and a lot less glamorous than the ones we wish we had. They are going to involve giving ourselves, and our time and our hearts. To people we wouldn’t normally choose to hang out with. That’s what it will cost us.

I’m guessing that when we are ready to pay that price, we’ll find gospel work isn’t so fruitless and frustrating after all.

From → General

  1. Again I agree. I’m an agreeable person! : )

    But consider other implications. Our worship and discipling are very much oriented towards literate people – Bible reading, long sermons (anything over about 5 minutes of mere talking is long), reading song words off a screen, discussion, etc. Contrast with secular communication, which is much more visual, multi-media, involving.

    There are many good reasons to change our methods of discipling and re-thinking what “worship” means, but ministry to the slightly less literate who are more familiar with different forms of communication, is just one more. We need discussion rather than monologue, action more than theory, involvement rather than passivity, magazine style rather than linear, multi sense rather than verbal, etc. More challenges!!!

    • Yep, bring it on, we’d better learn how some time, might as well be soon.

      I’m not too confident that I know yet what changes our particular patch at Canterbury will need, I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be learning on the job and responding as we go – i.e. accepting that we’ll start off pretty green and clueless. Some of the changes needed for contemporary anglo culture may not apply for us to the same degree. There might be others we can’t quite predict.

  2. I’m not sure. I see a few sides to it. Generally I agree that the Anglican Church in Australia has neglected poorer suburbs in favour of wealthier ones, but you’ve demonstrated how this could be down to local migration of socio-economic groups instead of anything else in particular.

    I think Christians are called to friend the lonely without distinction, and that often our focus on ‘who is in which group’ cuts both ways. I don’t ever want to be in a place where I’m so focused on meeting the needs of one group that I’m ignoring the needs of another. But I think it’s a valuable and necessary work for the church as a body to meet the needs of everyone, and I’m glad of posts like this which remind us who the marginalised and under-served are.

    Thanks for posting!

    • I think Christians are called to befriend the lonely without distinction,

      Amen to that, John! That’s what I’m trying to get at: help the needy without distinction.

  3. Ivan Chow permalink

    Hey Jon, great article! It seems to me that the strategy of reaching educated, young, white-collared professionals in the hope that they will then be mobilised to be influential for the gospel wherever they go has not gone as well as planned. The trickle-down effect has not happened! We’re reaching the ‘influential’ people in order to reach the rest of the ‘influential’ people.

    • Nice that someone noticed the flaw in the plan! I wonder if anyone ever thought ahead and asked, ‘When do we flick the switch? When do we say, ok that’s enough important people, now let’s reach the others.’ It doesn’t take much thought to realise that that time will never arrive. There will always be more rich and well-spoken people to reach, it’s actually a closed loop. Maybe this is just the wisdom of hindsight. Either way, time to blow the whistle on this one, acknowledge it wasn’t such a great idea, and get back on task.

      Time for a new generation of evangelical ministry that does what Jesus did: hangs with the marginalised and the nobodies, embraces weakness, and prays for the Spirit to come in power.

      Thanks for the comment, bro.

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