Well, we’ve invited our neighbours (the houses within sight or along the road) round on Friday again – something we do each Christmas, so it’ll be interesting to see how many come along this year. What’s always amazing is there’ll be some people here whom I probably wont have even seen since last Christmas, never mind spoken to. Although these are our neighbours, but we drive into our drives and get out to go into our houses and it’s just so easy to not see, or speak to, one another.
OK, OK, I realise saying I’d be worried if I didn’t have roughly three times the number I’d expect to see as part of the Church community, turn up over Christmas, wouldn’t be popular. Let me explain a little further:
I’m not a scientist – I don’t mean literally three times, but roughly. So, for example, I’d use three times the adult average attendance as a guide (why do most people I ask this question of not know the answer?).
The Carol services and other Christmas activities are an ‘indicator’, not an exact measure of the degree of engagement going on beyond the Church walls. The reason ‘guest services, meals, concerts, etc. – the kind where you get the message ‘bring a non-Christian friend – are not working as well as they might is down to the fact there are not enough Christians, who have enough friends, who trust them enough, to respond to an invitation. We all know it, but Christmas reveals it big time! After all, a Carol Service is the thing people want to go to, where all you literally need to do is ask.
Where does all this defensiveness from Ministers come from? One thing it suggests to me is we (Ministers) think it’s all down to us rather more than we usually care to admit. Why else get so uptight about such questions? After all, whether people are invited to a Carol Service, or not, is more down to the congregation than the Minister. However, there is another way of seeing this. If the leadership (note a deliberate change of tack at this point) do not create the environment which nurtures people to be friendly, welcoming, inviting, etc. it doesn’t happen.
Anyway, the reason why I see Christmas is so crucial an indicator is because if there’s a good level of wider engagement, it’s reasonable to put on events to draw such people closer to Jesus during the year. If there isn’t, it’s back to canceling ‘church’ commitments and encouraging some subversive missionary activity.
Of course, if you’re in a more ‘emerging’ context, you’ll take issue with the whole gathering, counting mentality. Fair game – but the issues remain – engagement beyond, which co-operates with the nature of the Spirit of God, who desires to draw people to the Father.