Please Worship Somewhere Else! (Why our church may not be for you)

Please Worship Somewhere Else! (Why our church may not be for you)

Niddrie Community Church sits right in the centre of a housing scheme in the East of Edinburgh. We are too small and not ‘cool’ enough to be student friendly. The odd student type who does come along to our services is usually very focused and dedicated in the Christian faith. We are not a pool that young men can go ‘sharking’ in. There are bigger and better and sexier churches than ours in the city centre who cater for the affections of the many students in the city. We do, however, have a tendency to attract visitors now and again to our services. We can break them down as follows:

1. The church shopper. ‘I am just looking around to find the right fit’.

2. The church hopper who can’t settle anywhere.

3. Those on the run from some sort of discipline issue in their previous church which has a ‘terrible pastor‘ and has real problems with ‘heavy shepherding’. WAKE UP PASTORS!! Are we so desperate for bums on seats that we actually believe this? (yes, it appears we are!)

4. The eager rubbernecker. They have heard about our ministry in Niddrie and have come to have a look.

6. The disappointed rubbernecker. They have been to a Sunday service, concluded that this is the apex of all we do and are about (hymns, prayer, word), and leave broken and/or relieved that we’re just like any other church.

5. The charismatic. ‘God sent me here to help the poor.’ I wish he would have warned me you were coming. As one travelling ‘apostle’ said to me recently, ‘I have come that He might increase and I might decrease.. That’s good,’ I said, ‘so why don’t you just decrease out the door. Tata!’

6. The paternalistic. ‘God sent me here to help the poor.’

7. The patronising. ‘God sent me here to help the poor.’

8. The bandwagon jumper. ‘I heard there were great things happening here and I decided to come and see.’

9. The (troubled) ‘friend bringer’. ‘My friend has has had a hard time and I heard about your church and thought they would be better off here than our place.’ Translation: this person is a fruitcake and we can’t handle them, so here you go. Bye!

I am sure there are others but I can’t be bothered to continue with the list! The danger of having a small congregation is that ‘bums on seats’ becomes a big pressure for us, particularly on a Sunday morning. After all, how many of us measure the success or spiritual vitality of a place by how many are ‘gathered’? Coupled with that, many of the people above may bring problems but they also bring much needed finances. It is so tempting just to accept people and worry about it all later.

There is a paucity of information on church growth and planting statistics in the UK but I am willing to stick my neck on the line and say that much of the growth in many of our congregations is what I call a ‘reshuffling and a re-dealing of the deck’. In other words, just random, disenfranchised believers and/or people with some sort of religious background moving into many of our churches. I think it is dangerous and I think it is going to have a long term damaging effect, particularly on small congregations like ours unless we take a stand. What do I mean by this?

If we truly want to establish a community church in Niddrie that reflects the demographic and cultural nuances of the locality then we need to have the bigger picture in our minds. We need to be fighting against the trend that accepts any old outsider into membership because every extra outsider is putting more distance between us and the culture we are trying to break into. Not only that, each person comes with their own baggage, sins, presuppositions, traditions, ways of doing church and opinions of what a pastor should and shouldn’t be doing. We then get sucked into the babysitting trap and distracted by the care of those who have little or no impact on community life outside of a Sunday meeting. I remember one such individual, amazingly, incandescent with me for being ‘obsessed with Niddrie people’.

That being said, we rely almost totally on the finances of many of our members who still do live outside of the estate. But, I am happy to say that the numbers moving in are rising slowly year on year. As we move on into independence in the coming months these are some of the issues we will need to be grappling with.

Sometimes, I wonder what would happen if every Christian in the country decided to go to or form a church within their immediate local? I know, I know. Highly impractical. But it would be interesting wouldn’t it?

Please continue to pray for us and with us.