A few years ago the great Nick Pollard wrote a book I have raved about ever since. It was called Evangelism Made Slightly Less Difficult. Click to view or buy on Amazon. He introduced the idea of positive deconstruction. Put simply (therefore not doing justice to the fact it takes a book to explain properly) he asks those of us with any Christian belief to use techniques to make others dissatisfied with their own world view before we start imposing our world view on them.
There are a number of ways to consider how the vast majority of the people of the United Kingdom feel about proclamation preaching these days.
There is inoculation. They had a bit of the disease (church schools, visits to dull churches, bad experiences of church weddings, Songs of Praise) once and it has prevented them from ever catching the real thing. Hearing an evangelistic preacher they think 'I know this one' and walk on (or tune out).
There is disinterest. That story doesn't talk to my world. The proclaimer seems to live in cloud-cuckoo land where having Jesus in your heart fixes everything. As Bishop David Jenkins used to say, 'Jesus had Jesus in his heart and it didn't fix his problems; they crucified him.'
There is passive disagreement. The plethora of writing and broadcasting that disses theology of all hues gives the impression that contemporary atheism has won and there is no point giving believers the time of day. I won't accept your invitation to hear the Gospel preached and I will be pissed off if you invite me under false pretences.
There is active disagreement. Some continue to take the fight on. They argue vigorously, inter alia, that religion has caused more harm than good, science has disproved Genesis and God is a crutch. They laugh when their opponents try to defend such positions and ignore those of us who agree with them but don't feel they have picked their battle with the right people, or god for that matter.
There are all shades in between.
Two things have led me to want to revisit this and write again on the subject. First of all I find myself having a number of conversations with a fellow minister who takes the view that it is the job of the church to continue saying and doing the same thing - more about Calvin than contemporary culture for him too - and to allow God to be in charge of the results. But it was Einstein who said that a sign of insanity was to do the same thing again and expect different results. The parable of the sower is a tale Jesus told about a spreader of the word of God who seems to be indiscriminate with his sowing. Some seed does fall on the path or in the weeds but he just keeps on chucking. But I ask myself, if I have found some good soil would it not be good to concentrate there? If I have discovered a new method of growing food would I not invest in it?
Secondly I was pointed toward this little YouTube video from 2010. It lasts just under ten minutes. I think Chris would be happy for me to describe him as a friend although we haven't been in touch for a while. It is worth listening to the first minute for the very good joke and after that he will have suckered you in and you won't be able to avoid listening to the rest.
Notice how he explains why the church is not a franchise - you don't just do the same thing in a different place and expect the same results. You watch, look, listen and learn. And notice the last line - that for any one of the few people he has reached he would do it again and it has been worth it. He eschews the results business entirely.
I don't think preaching is dead. It is what Chris is doing and he does it well and engagingly. But I think evangelistic preaching, preaching for a response of conversion, may be.
My heart's desire is to get people to the point where they think for themselves about the great stories of God without my personality getting in the way. And since most people prefer to reflect on big decisions it is probably not good practice to ask for an emotional response after an emotionally charged presentation.
Chris suggests that he is slightly embarrassed about the facilities his church building now offers - because he does not want people to come and see a building but to come and meet God.
I work amongst the relatively wealthy. I tell the tale of one who had everything but money to many who have nothing but money. I have found, over six years, two thin gaps - I am not talking to the lovely Christian friends I have made here.
The first place there is a gap for the gospel is in the area of busy-ness. I have found that in lives that are full of noise and content people yearn for space and quiet. I have found that in a very samey church culture people yearn for quiet and sacred space. People do not want programmes, they want release from them. They do not want a Gospel rally but a chance to have time to think things through for themselves. The opportunity for quiet is helpful.
The second gap is in having a place to gather where encounter is possible, invitation is safe and content is quality. The whole cafe thing with gathering and occasional input or entertainment also seems to meet a need.
The vision at Trendlewood was once of building a church. Possibly there is no need. We are church already, building or not. But to build or find some permanent sacred space, for quiet, for questions, for discussion, for meeting, for safety and yes, to come and meet God. An arty place? A crafty place? A place that developed a reputation for great musical beginnings? Such a building may be necessary. It could contain talks and speakers but probably not proclamation. All input to end with... 'Please think about that and ask questions if you wish.' Other world views welcome? Would that be a step too far, to give others a pulpit too?
And given that there is no such space available in the area of the country we are responsible for (within our parish boundaries) it may be necessary to talk and co-operate with others to find a venue. There is this space I know, see. Anyone got lots of money they don't want? Again. Nailsea's sacred space.
Contributions to this seed idea very welcome.