Putting the Church in its Place
It is a truism that the Church, in its Christendom form, is no longer at the centre of political and cultural influence. But in the blend of activities that make up our “Christian witness”, should the same fate befall the “church event”? I’m defining the “church event” as a time when Christians gather deliberately and publicly to worship God.
Against the background of plural worldviews and competing interests, the church event is assuming an increased profile in the struggle to maintain Christian identity, a bolstered status as the marker of what it means to be Christian. In the face of a secular culture, church events become sharply focussed as a way to remind ourselves who we are. Churches pour huge amounts of energy into the music, preaching, environment and promotion for church events. Compare this to the time of Christendom, when most went to church on Sunday and Australia was a “Christian nation”. The church event had less focus and less energy, because it was not the only reminder of Christian identity.
In Christendom, the church and its purpose was affirmed by other cultural markers of Christianity, such as public prayers, significant media comment by church officials, no Sunday trading, honouring of Christian holy days.
Now, the range of cultural markers of Christian identity has reduced. So, the church event has acquired increased importance. But should it be this way? What are the alternatives to spending huge amounts of time, energy and money on an event that still requires people to come to us? I still think the church event is crucial as a public opportunity for people to encounter God through the community of Jesus, but we need to spread our resources around. There are other expressions of church that need our attention.