A good question: How can Church be more creative?
One question, four answers
‘Jesus has left the building’
Here are three challenges that any church can engage with in its quest to be more creative. Firstly, collaborate, don’t compete. Is your church too busy doing its own thing to look around and see what’s going on around it? Things it could join in with? Conversations it could contribute to? Initiatives it could add value to? Wouldn’t it be great to see churches working together more in their communities? But it’s more than that. Collaboration is about the church making connections with community enterprise more widely, beyond other churches – wherever that enterprise is about human flourishing. This is not about being involved in anything and everything. But it is to pay attention to context, to learn to see where the Holy Spirit is already at work, to join in rather than resist and always do our own thing on our own terms.
Secondly, more theatre, less housekeeping. When it comes to the service itself, think about the drama of the gathering. Save the notices for some other time. This is “curtain up” – make a beginning that is deliberate. Curate a service that has a sense of theatre; with a beginning, a middle, and an end. This isn’t about getting a really cracking worship band in. Instead, it’s about dialing down the admin and housekeeping and dialing up the story and the drama; the movement and meaning. So that people leave feeling like they have really been a part of something significant – the performance and celebration of the greatest story ever told. A story that is as compellingly attractive and inclusive as it is strange and otherworldly…
Paul Northup is Creative Director of Greenbelt festival. In January, the United Reformed Church became an associate partner of Greenbelt
‘We need to lay down the idolatry of words’
My experience is not so much that the church is not creative enough, but that churches use predominantly one vocabulary in their creativity: words. We read words, speak words, sing words; we behave as if exact words are so very important. There is enormous creativity in words; yet, in concentrating on words, we miss out on a wealth of other vocabulary which shares meaning. We miss out on messages delivered visually, or conveyed through sounds. We overlook meaning shared in movement and touch. The creativity that churches need more of is a varied vocabulary in which to share and experience the Gospel.
So, what do we do? We start by realising that words are not the highest level of expression – indeed, nothing is. We follow one who as Word, became flesh – the Word became visual, moved, made sounds, connected with people by look and action. The Word challenged words. For our churches to be more creative, our church people need to lay down the idolatry of words and pick up a range of additional means to communicate and to connect.
Elizabeth Gray-King is Education and Learning Programme Officer for the United Reformed Church
‘We have to find new ways to be out in the community’
Creative church is not just about finding new ways to worship, but thinking about what it means to be church. We need creativity in being church and in creating new disciples. We have to face the fact that if we just keep offering variations of the same old thing, we’re going to keep getting the same old response – from the same people. Churches have to find new ways to be out in the community as disciples.
This is a difficult message for some churches to hear, especially where members have gone to church all their lives, where their lives revolve around church and who struggle to understand that traditional church might not connect with today’s culture. Christians can be bewildered and hurt to find that people don’t want to live life their way. It’s an enormous challenge – we need to leaders who can to take them gently up the path towards doing something a bit different.
There are some great examples of people who are being creative with church. Ruth Maxey runs Church Without Walls in Milton Keynes. They don’t have a building or a regular meeting place. It’s very fluid: it can be church in the pub, going to a quiet place for contemplation, going for a walk. They have cafe church, forest church, dinner church. There are about 60 people – people for whom church is part of their lives, not just somewhere they go on Sunday morning…
Linda Rayner is Fresh Expressions Coordinator for the United Reformed Church
‘The church needs to let people know we are there’
At the end of the Gospel of John, Jesus appears to the disciples when they are in their boat and have caught no fish. He suggests they cast their nets to the other side and they catch countless fish. As churches have fished on one side of the boat for many years and caught little, how might we haul in our nets and cast them out on the other side? Many of us may be tempted to get out of the boat altogether, but Jesus challenges us to stay and fish in a different direction.
I see two approaches to being creative. One is in ourselves. Have you explored the numerous ways there are to pray or read scripture? Have you found out what works best for you, what you didn’t like and where you feel most spiritually fed? Have you shared what you have discovered with others in your church? Practical ways you could try include: setting up a prayer labyrinth, lectio divina, prayer walls, prayer bubbles, remembering the Bible, rewriting Scripture, drawing Scripture, imagining Scripture, holy conversation…. Search online for “different ways to pray” or “different ways to experience Scripture”. (Or ask someone to do it for you and print off ideas.) Sunday morning offers us a very limited experience of how to hear scripture and to pray, and therefore limits how we can encounter God…
Helen Stephenson is a Church Related Community Work Minister at the Sunderland and Boldon Group Partnership, in Tyne and Wear
This is an extract from the March 2016 edition of Reform.