Bishop's Letter; Are we good news?

First published 19th October 2013
Bishop Mike encourages us to build our confidence in sharing our faith.

The only purpose of the Church is to go out to tell the world the good news about Jesus Christ. But the Church has got too wrapped up in itself. It is too navel gazing. It has become self referential which has made it look sick. Pope Francis

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is indeed THE good news for our times. God is always good news; we are the ones who make ourselves irrelevant when we are not good news. And when we are good news, God's people see growing churches. Archbishop Justin

Two church leaders. One agenda; growing churches.

We are committed to growing churches in the Diocese of Bristol. Our Growth Programme, focusing on growth in commitment, partnership, influence and numbers, has caught the vision of many across the Diocese.

But it appears were not alone in concerning ourselves with growth. The Times recently ran a feature on a congregation in London, one which gathers in a church building on a Sunday morning, sits on uncomfortable chairs, sings songs, listens to a talk, greets their neighbour, hears about some community action projects and files out at the end to coffee and cake in the hall after shaking hands at the door.

It started as a few friends on Facebook in January and has mushroomed to a gathering of hundreds, with an aspiration towards 30 more congregation plants around the country by the end of the year. Sounds like a church. Looks like a church. Even feels a bit like a church. But this is the Sunday Assembly, a secular event for non-believers, founded by a comedian and a musician. God is entirely absent.

Its quite encouraging, though, that so many young people want to gather together in this way. In many senses they are doing everything the Christian church has always done. They even take a collection! And people want to come.

We sometimes imagine that the church must do things radically differently to persuade people to get out of bed and come along on a Sunday. But Jenny and David, from Richmond in Surrey, attending the Sunday Assembly for the first time, are quoted as saying, Normally on Sunday mornings we are in bed. But this seemed like a nice thing to come to. People do want to meet with others. People do want to discuss the big topics of the day. People do even quite like singing songs together, so it seems.

What we, the Christian Church, have got that the Sunday Assembly hasnt is the living, transforming presence of Almighty God, the power of the Holy Spirit at work, and the Word of God which bears witness to the Living Word, Jesus Christ, who lived and died and rose again from the dead to bring us life in all its fullness. The Sunday Assemblys motto live better, help often and wonder more seems somewhat lame in comparison.

The Sunday Assembly shows us that numerical growth is all too possible. In the Diocese of Bristol any growth in numbers must be founded on something much deeper and more lasting than singing a few songs with some nice people. We will settle for nothing less than growth that is profoundly rooted and grounded in the good news of Jesus Christ and the response of people to his invitation to come and drink from the water of life.

And the church must play a vital part in that invitation.

As it says in Romans 10:14 How can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?

Perhaps one of our tasks, as the Growth Programme gathers pace, is to equip Christians, the Diocese over, with the confidence to share their faith with others, with people like Jenny and David from Richmond. Or Bedminster. Or Corsham. Or Dorcan. People who are seeking for something beyond the everyday, but dont quite know where to look.

The Alpha course is one tool we have at our disposal in the task of sharing the good news of Jesus, providing a forum to help Christians to invite their friends to experience some of the things it seems the people at the Sunday Assembly are looking for; good food, good company, a chance to grapple with the big questions of life. And then to encounter so much more, the love of the Living God shown through Jesus Christ, in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

A major Alpha event will be a key focus of the visit next September (12th-14th) to the Diocese of Bristol by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. More of that in the coming months.

When we are good news, God's people see growing Churches.

Can we be that good news?

Rt Revd Mike Hill, September 2013

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