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February 2020

March 18, 2020

Thoughts From The Cottage

Dear Friends

The front page of the Bromsgrove Standard recently carried an article about the reduction of First Bus service 144 from half-hourly to hourly between Bromsgrove & Birmingham. The article talked about the difficulty it would cause some people. The reality is that the service is carrying less passengers as people choose to use train or car and also that the service is being destroyed by traffic congestion. In a bizarre turn of irony Birmingham City Council has decided it wants to restrict car use and promote public transport yet is not willing to help public transport by creating bus lanes. People wax lyrical about the ‘good old days’ when the 144 ran every twenty minutes through to Malvern with significant duplication on summer Sundays then hop in their cars to drive from Rubery to Bromsgrove. More people are making the journey than ever but they are not using the 144 to do it. In many ways this situation has parallels with the church.

We have become used to decline and this shows itself in reduced attendance and the spreading of ministerial resources ever thinner. We remember the old days with a fondness that forgets the reality. We see lively, growing churches and we are envious yet rather than learn from them we say that their way is not for us. There are an ever increasing number of ideologies and activities competing for our time, money and attention. Yet we still long to see a turnaround for us, as long as it does not involve change to our familiar way of doing things. We find comfort in the familiar. As the old-style ‘hell-fire and damnation’ preacher said as he thumped the pulpit ‘we have just sung “change and decay in all around I see”, if we don’t change then we will surely decay’.

What the users of the 144 want is a service that meets their needs with comfortable, clean buses. Good time-keeping and state of the art features such as USB charging points and video displays. Other people want it there in case the car is unavailable or trains are cancelled, a bit like an insurance policy. Many people want the church there in case they need it whilst others are attracted to large mega-churches. What is that they offer which the traditional church doesn’t? Most of them started as house fellowships or small groups in hired premises although some are traditional churches that transformed themselves. They enjoy good Biblical teaching that does not omit or modify Scripture presented in a lively way that demonstrates its relevance to the issues of the day. This comes in the context of relaxed, informal contemporary worship, where people expect to meet the living God and be challenged by what they hear. Testimony of changed lives will be regularly shared in midweek life groups and there will be a culture of invitation whereby regular worshippers invite friends and family to attend worship with them. New initiatives will be tried and tithing will be the norm. Planting of new congregations will be a regular occurrence.

In the traditional church in the country we are confused. We try to launch new initiatives, revamp what we do and plant new congregations whilst planning for decline and reducing ministry. It simply won’t work. We have to stop managing decline and go for growth. It will work – because it is God’s will for the church.

Ian Ring