I am spending the next nine days in Sheffield, England studying one of the most powerful movements of God going on in the world today and what it means for the church in America. Follow my blog as I post reactions to what I am seeing and learning and what God is doing as a result.
Picture in your mind what you think a relevant, missional, and effective church looks like. Got it in your head? Ok, great. I guarantee you St. Thomas Crookes of Sheffield, England is nothing like what you picture.
St. Tom’s is the church I travelled all this way to study. It was billed as every one of those qualities. It has the largest ministry to young adults (age 18-30) in all of Europe. In a nation that is only about three percent Christian, it has experienced exponential growth. It is known in Sheffield as a church that sincerely loves its community.
As I got out of the taxi, I stopped dead in my tracks. “Was this it?” I asked myself. I had flown 3600 miles for what I thought was a trip to see how a successful church was reaching young adults. I have been to several of what we would consider “successful” churches in America. None of them look like this. Far from the picturesque European cathedrals you’ve seen in movies, St. Tom’s looks ever bit of the over one hundred years it has been standing.
Outside of the church is a small graveyard, presumably of church members from the late 1800s. The inside of the church is quaint and lacks the bold color schemes and directional signage church growth experts tell us is required for newcomers to feel welcome. The other main driver of growth according to experts, parking, is completely absent, unless you count the street.
The sanctuary would remind you of a church grandma would go to. There are organ pipes at the front that over look the communion altar. There are no pews, but there are also no cup holders for coffee or comfortable armrests on the chairs. On the sidewalls, there are even (gasp!) stained-glass windows.
The head pastor’s name is Mick, and with a name like that, you would think he would be a young, hot shot dressed in garb from Urban Outfitter. You would also expect him, in order to be relevant, to use slick videos produced by professional video technicians, run around on stage as means of keeping the audience’s attention, or sit on a bar stool and talk to the audience like they are all buddies discussing faith over a beer.
Again, you would be mistaken. Mick is actually a grandfather dressed in a classy sweater vest and jeans (think Rick Santorum) who meanders slowly around the altar space as he preaches. I am pretty sure he actually used PowerPoint for his illustrations! Don’t get me wrong, he is very engaging and relational in messages, but he doesn’t yell like Driscoll, crack jokes like Noble, or dance like Jakes.
And yet, St. Tom’s is a church that passionately worships God, intentionally pursues deep relationships with each other, and effectively ministers to the city around them. And they are growing, and have been for a number of years, in spite of all the ways they do church fly in the face of what the experts and what we in America think it means to do church. Why? Because they don’t do church, they BE church.
It’s not just some program. It’s a culture, a lifestyle.
What if everything we knew about what HAD to be done in order to grow a church was really just window dressing? What if the way we produce disciples is a mile wide and an inch deep? What if, in our pursuit of the most attractive worship style, we have lost what it means to worship God with our lives?
As I continue to learn what God is doing here in Sheffield, I am bothered by the real question I flew 3600 miles to get the answer to: what if we have got it all wrong?