Last year the Bristol Diocesan Bishop’s Council received with enthusiasm a presentation from Stuart Murray Williams around the Diocese’s Growth Programme in the context of a post-Christendom culture.  Members of the Council described the presentation as ‘thought provoking’ in a way that made them want to think some more about what he said.  Basically, he highlighted three things from the Growth Programme which he thought were of significance.

1.Getting out of our comfort zones

2.Preparedness to take risks

3.Connecting with those who have never been a part of Church

All three of these things ask very big questions.  Douglas Holt, our Director of Training, has quoted memorably from the Harvard Business Review which stated unequivocally that ‘leaders constantly underestimate the strength required to get people to leave their comfort zones.’  In my experience this is true.  We like what is familiar.  R.T. Kendall describes my comfort zone as that place ‘which feels like home.’  We shall have to give some serious thought as to how we give people the vision and the courage to leave behind some of their comforts in order to more realistically engage with the world around us.

From a Biblical point of view, it is clear that Jesus threatened the comfort zones of the respectable religious establishment, to the point where they actively plotted to kill him.  My own sense is that good leaders empower people to leave the safety of their comfort zones, but I would be interested to know if you have any further thoughts.

Being prepared to take risks is a close relative of leaving behind comfort zones.  To take risks seems to be part and parcel of living faithfully.  The Bible is full of stories that involve individuals who were prepared to take significant risks.  In a society that is in danger of becoming risk averse, taking risks can feel very scary.  Yet God calls us to take risks as we seek to follow Him and it is surely a challenge to the ‘safety-first’ approach of many local churches and communities.

Finally, the very big issue of how we connect with those who have never been a part of Christian community.  There are a growing number of examples of groups seriously seeking to engage with the unchurched.  Churches aimed at young adults; the concept of network churches where specific interest groups and networks are targetted, together with imaginative chaplaincy initiatives eg. the chaplaincy to ASDA in Swindon, are but a few examples of this, but we need more.  A key question is whether exisiting Christian communities can be transitioned?  My sense, on the whole is not.  My guess is that we shall have to work out new ways to connect with the unchurched.  What do you think?  More coming soon on emerging church.

+Mike

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