On Saturday (8 July) Fairplace Church had a Community Open Day. This was an opportunity for 15 community groups who use the premises, as well as the congregation, to show us what they do.
This event made me reflect on ‘What is Church today?’. It is often said that people are the church – not the building. However when I ran a community centre used by seven new/emerging Christian congregations (and lots of secular groups) I found that all the churches wanted to acquire their own premises.
New churches are growing in some areas of Britain, but the statistics show that overall only half the population now describe themselves as Christian, and about five per cent attend church on a normal Sunday. Okehampton is near this national average.
There are many good healthy alternative activities on Sundays. So, compared to 50 years ago, it is not surprising that attendances at public church services have declined. Many use online or printed resources to stimulate their private prayers and increase their understanding of Christian teaching.
Banks operate with one aim – to be profitable. So four of the five banks withdrew from Okehampton in recent years as more online banking services developed.
I believe that churches are – and should be – different. We all offer a different style for worshipping God on Sundays, from silent to noisy. But churches offer care and friendship and much more to the wider community, either by organising/sponsoring groups, or simply by providing spaces for activities run by others.
Examples include Okehampton Foodbank, Christians Against Poverty, PLAIT, discussion groups, drama groups, children’s clubs, mental health support, Who Let The Dads Out, recovery groups, dance and exercise, arts, baby and toddlers activities and daycare for elderly.
Jesus started His ministry by affirming that He was here ‘to bring good news to the poor: to proclaim freedom for captives: to release the oppressed: to proclaim God’s love’. In Britain today churches try to follow those aims.