On Friday I went out for a curry with three guys who I had met through the football group, at the excellent local Indian restaurant. I had invited them specifically to take part in what I called a ‘market research evening’ on the subject of church. They know I’m the local vicar and we get along well, and they all agreed to come, bribed by the prospect of beer and curry. This idea came from something that Dave Male had done before he started The Net church in Huddersfield and that he wrote about in his book ‘Church Unplugged‘.
The purpose of the evening was simply to get the opinions about church from a group of men who do not normally or currently go to church. I had a number of questions lined up and the conversation flowed as well as the beer and curry.
All of them were aged mid-thirties, married or recently separated. Two were dads to one child each, and the third was expecting their first child in April. Of the three people there, one was involved in a Boys Brigade connected to a church as a child, another was taken to church up until the age of about 12, and the only experience of church that the third person had was of baptisms, weddings and funerals.
What is your first thought/impression when I mention the word ‘church’? Speaking of experience from a baptism, one person remarked that it was too long, irrelevant, and most of it wasn’t explained. The impression is that they are full of old people. But it can be done well. All three had been to services that they enjoyed. Typically these services were when the vicar or leader had got the young people involved and the service had been more informal. One had been to a baptism at St Giles Church and enjoyed it as it was informal, involving and the music was more contemporary (i.e. – they had a band). Church is boring if it doesn’t relate to today.
What is your impression when I use the word ‘God’? All believed in some sort of higher power, or a power outside of themselves. One person mentioned the word ‘fate’ and the other two disagreed, saying life is pointless if it’s all fate.
What about Jesus? They said he ‘100% existed’. The cross was mentioned, and Jesus was spoken of as a storyteller who spread the word. When pushed with the question, ‘What word is he spreading?’ one person said, ‘Christianity’.
After that discussion, which went down several interesting tangents, I asked the question ‘What would your mates at work say if you told them you were going to church every week’? They would “take the piss”. A story was shared of a female colleague who went to church for a baptism and kept going because she liked it and wanted to take the baptismal promises seriously, and some of her friends gently mocked that ‘she’s got religion!’.
Has anything put you off church? One of the men said that it was simple the stereotypes, coupled with his experience of that bad christening he went to that has put him off a little – namely that the church is boring and irrelevant. Another said that nothing had put him off in particular, but church ‘has to be a family thing’ that you are brought up into. And it is unfortunate that the tradition of the church hasn’t changed with the times. The third member of our discussion said that his family got out the habit of going, so he did too, and as he grew up it went down the pecking order of what is important. With more work pressures, family commitments and more external pressures from a materialistic society there is less time. We then had a very interesting discussion on contentment. All agreed that it is better to be content with what you have rather than constantly chase the next thing as this will not lead to happiness. I mentioned that contentment is spoken about in the Bible (Phil 4:11-13).
Next, we talked about what church should be like: What do you think should happen in church? They replied that it should be informative, and linked to the issues of the day. There should be plenty of interaction and involvement from the congregation. The should be participants rather than observers. Church should be culturally relevant, but not too extreme.
Church should also give a sense of ‘being wowed’ to those who come. There should be some mystery, colour and excitement. One of our group then gave this wonderful quote: “everyone else’s religion seems to be more colourful and exciting, whereas we get a chocolate egg in a wet garden”. This I find extremely interesting and I’ll say more about it later.
What would a church have to me like in order for you to come? We had several answers:
- Modern in style – with the times.
- Needs to involve the whole family. They were talking about kids but I would also say that Dad needs to be able to participate too.
- More explanation and less assuming that people know what it about to happen.
- Relevant to society, to what is going on in the world, and to life.
When is the most convenient time for a service? The first time mentioned was Sunday morning, because it’s tradition. But it was also said that Sunday lunch is also a tradition, and it’s difficult to get lunch in the oven and ready when you’re at church in the morning. The time it is on needs to be good for the whole family. There is too much going on on a Saturday, so Sunday afternoon in the 3-4pm slot would suit, after lunch. This would also free up the morning for children’s sport. I had a hunch that Sunday afternoons might be the best time so it is nice to have that hunch confirmed.
All in all, it was a very good evening and gave lots of things to think about. Many of their answers simply confirmed a lot of recent thinking about church, such as the need to be clear, relevant, inclusive, participatory, and contemporary. It seems that this thinking is on the right lines.
What’s more, I could tell they enjoyed it and might be keen to do it again. I broached the subject of getting together every few weeks and doing the Table Talk for Blokes material, and they seemed keen to do this too. It seems that a group of people sharing a meal together and talking about life and faith is an attractive thing to do!