Challenges of a Suburban Church #2

Peter Cornell wrote a few thought-provoking questions on my previous post that are so helpful that I post his whole comment below. The one that makes me think most is what are you looking for in a church if you are not the typical person for the area in which the church is situated. It leads on to another: what if you are in a sufficiently diverse area that there is no clearly defineable "typical person". How does the church conceive simultaneously of uniting people in mission and meeting the needs of the flock then? Perhaps the biblical picture is that the unifying characteristic is that people with widely different needs, wants and walks of life have chosen to put aside their various needs and wants and joined together with this church for the fulfilment of its vision. In which case the vision, values and mission of the church will be a primary thing that holds the diversity together in unity, rather than its ability to minister to and with "typical people".

I think there is something to be teased out here about how people view church, and whether it is primarily as a receiver or primarily as a participant in a purpose.

Thanks for taking the time to write Peter.


Every truly local church is something of a product of its own area, whilst gathered churches tend to be filled with people who like the particular style - for example an abbey church that majors on the music, or the church of a "famous" preacher.
The truly local church in a "differentiated" area such as the one that you describe will inevitably be limited by the demographics of the area.

By way of example, let me describe a different demographic problem. The church that I attend (not my most local for historical reasons) is in a deprived area with lots of houses in multiple occupancy. As a consequence we have a considerable "churn" in the congregation and few natural leaders. Those in positions of leadership tend to come from the edge of the area. Children's work is difficult as most families don't want to stay in the area long term. Our 20's people are mostly students. There is an affluent part of the parish - this contains gated blocks of flats which, I suspect, are mainly holiday homes or only used at the weekends. Few, if any of the congregation come from this part.

Some things that have worked for us, are to have an extended time of greeting during the services, to meet afterwards for refreshments (we have a cafe area at the back of the church) and, occasionally, to have meals at the mid week meeting. You might need something different.

Perhaps it would be good to find ways that local churches can work together across several demographically different areas so as to cover the needs of those who don't fit the "natural" demographic.

In the mean time, here are the questions you might ask yourself if you are not a typical person for your area.
  • Do you attend the most local church that suits your theology or do you go further to find a church that meets your social needs as well? 
  • If you live in a close knit local community (such as a rural area) do you attend your local "middle-of-the-road" church alongside the rest of the community or do you commute to somewhere that provides something "more challenging" theologically? 
  • If you are a capable person with a challenging job (say a doctor or primary school teacher) do you try to find a church where you can help out (at the risk of burn-out) or one that provides a more restful place at the weekend? It's difficult...You want to serve, but you have your own needs.
A related question is "should you ever change churches whilst continuing to live in the same area, and, if so, what is a valid reason for so doing?" Are we honest with ourselves about our own motives? Do we accept that we may have several different and conflicting reasons for what we do in practice? 
Most importantly - what does God think about all this?