Last Friday I did something that I have never done before and will probably never do again. I went into the bookies and put a small bet on a horse.
It is all Steve Timmis and Tim Chester's fault!
In our home group we are using Steve and Tim's excellent study book "The Gospel Centred Church". I highly recommend it as a challenging and stimulating way to get a small group thinking about church being both community and missional. Chapter 4 is about stepping out of our christianised ghetto, learning to feel how strange it is for someone to come into our community form outside, and what it is like stepping over a boundary into another community we don't understand.
Here is a quote:
...most people are no more likely to enter a church than you or I are to go into a betting shop...Church is where we feel safe and comfortable. Church is where non-Christians feel embarrassed and awkward. We offer people the gospel, but on our terms and on our territory. Put like this, it becomes clear that we must take the gospel - and indeed the church - out of the ghetto and into the world around us.
In other words the era of doing building-centred ministry is essentially over because our buildings are now something that separate us form the people we are trying to reach rather than something that helps us reach them. They are now an asset rather than a liability, simply reinforcing our comfort. Steve and Tim challenge us to place a bet on a horse just to find out how alien it must feel for a non-Christian to come into a church service.
So what did I learn? Well I didn't know how anything worked. I asked the young woman behind the counter for a tutorial and told her why I was there. She asked if it was preparation for the "vicar" to send me somewhere that I understood even less! I saw a bedraggled little community of 6 or 7 people that I suspect sit there all day, most days. A community who's terms of reference I don't remotely understand, but that felt depressed, lonely and sad. I wouldn't have a clue how to reach these people, but even I could see that they would never be reached by expecting them to come to our church premises.
It was well worth paying £5 to step out of my comfort zone and see a different part of the world right on my own doorstep.
It wasn't worth paying £5 in the hope that "He's a Humbug" would win the 2.30 at Doncaster at 8/1. He came nowhere. Home group leader Matt Ross, having issued the challenge to me to do it, mindful of my soul was praying that I wouldn't win!