Tom’s focus is on the special services US churches put on for ‘guests’ at Easter, in the hope they will return. The suggestion by Tom is these special service have the opposite effect and make it more likely people will never return and be involved in those churches.
His reasoning is simple and compelling. People like the special event of a special service and won’t come back until the next one (i.e next year), they get a shot of comfort in the Easter message that keeps them going for another year, and they like the status of being a special guest and don’t want that to change.
It made me reflect my own direct church planting experience and observations. I’ve noticed the same, and not just for Easter, but also for Christmas and other special life events for Christians with no church.
1. Exiles: There are a whole group of Christians who are post-Church and will remain post-Church. Alan Jamieson in his ‘Churchless Faith' and 'Stories for the Journey' tracks and highlights a growing group of Christians who grew up in Church, but are now well outside it. They enjoy and establish themselves in a beyond/post-church identity. Festivals and special events are where they get an annual fix of christian input with others.
2. Vampire Christians: Luke Bretherton highlights in Remembering Our Future (Deep Church) the irony of a whole generation of Christians who grew up in church, who had the training from regular church life and worship to access the resources of the Christian faith, who no longer need church to access those resources.
The irony is they often advocate for others to pick and mix a bricolage of christian resources. But unless one has had considerable training by a church in accessing those resources, people are unable to do as they do, especially non-Christians. If church was about dispensing religious goods and services, it has been further instrumentalist by those who feed off church resources whilst producing none themselves.
Dallas Willard highlights where this began for many christians, with an understanding of salvation that was about getting into heaven when we die. He called these vampire christianity, people who get just enough of the blood of Jesus to get into heaven. How they live now has little affect on their daily reflections and interactions with Christianity.
That instrumentalising of salvation has simply been extended to new levels. People can now download and pick and mix their Christian resources for getting through life, without the trouble of engaging with others over them.
3. Crises Christians: This group turn up at church when life overwhelms their ability to cope on their own. Usually serious illness, major work crises, relationship breakups. Instinctively people in this stage reach for something they cannot download easily; the comfort and support of others. However while church provides an ‘island of social care’ in a crisis once the crisis has passed, church engagement returns to nominal and life as usual away from Church involvement.
4. ’Authentic’ Christians: At present in the West we might see the desire for authenticity at an all time high, with the almost complete disablement to experience any authenticity. The most real thing we can experience seems to be a feeling. If we aren’t feeling it, it’s not real and if we are feeling it, it’s ‘so’ real. For many the most authentic thing about faith is their feelings about not-being part of a church community.
Conversations about church, convictions about what church should be have been traded for the taking part of and in church. It’s enough to feel right about what church should be, without any need to participate in one with others.
5. Alternative Lifestyle Christians: For many Christians, the real religious orientation of life takes place around anything and everything other than any missional life with others. Evenings and Weekend are the time religiously given to dreams and aspirations of life, that seem to have little to do with a life in Christ with others. The myth and lie of secular humanism has been swallowed by many Christians who console themselves with the axiom ‘I don’t need to go to church to be a christian’. Whilst in the rest of their life, they give themselves regularly and at great expense to the things that make up the rest of their lives.
No-one asserts vigorously “I don’t need to go to a football match, or watch football to be a football fan”. We know that logic is nonsensical for the rest of life, yet all to often apply it to the practice of the Christians faith.