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Glimpsing the church of the future?

(Pete Ward in his book Liquid Church, envisions how the church of the future could be. Ward poses these possibilities out of strong sociological and theological research. The following are excerpts  from his book pp2-4. This book is well worth a read if you are interested in the church for the future.)


What is Liquid Church?


To get the imaginative juices flowing I suggest that we need to shift from seeing church as a gathering of people meeting in one place at one time - that is, a congregation - to a notion of church as a series of relationships and communications. This image implies something like a network or a web rather than an assembly of people. An example of this was given to me by a research student who saw nothing strange in the idea of a liquid church made up of informal relationships instead of formal meetings. He explained that before we met for our academic seminar, he was in a coffee shop with one of his Christian friends. As they talked, he said, he felt that Christ was communicated between them. for him this was church. This is a familiar notion of fellowship, but when one adds the definite article to the word fellowship, it takes on a different character. “The Fellowship” indicates a more structured, static, and formal notion of church. My phrase for describing this shift toward structures,   institutions   and   meetings  is solid church.


So the first move in imagining a liquid church is to take the informal fellowship, in which we experience Christ as we share with other Christians, and say this is church. Maybe this idea is neither threatening nor revolutionary. However, the implications are profound. First, it implies that church might be something that we make with each other by communicating Christ, so it is not an institution  as such. Second, it indicates that church happens when people are motivated to communicate with each other. In other words it's basis lies in people's spiritual activity rather than organisational patterns or buildings. Third and more controversially, I suggest that a liquid church does not need or require a weekly congregational meeting. In place of going to church, the emphasis could be on living as Christ's body in the world. Worship and meeting with others will still have a place, but worship and meeting will be decentred and reworked in ways that are designed to connect to the growing spiritual hunger in society rather than being a place for the committed to belong (i.e., some kind of religious club).


This description raises the question of social organisation. What will liquid church look like? My response is to point to the way in which contemporary media, business, and finance are based on networks of communication. The argument is that communication of Christ through informal fellowship creates connections, groupings, and relationships. These can be seen as a kind of network where the Holy Spirit is at work creating church. Stuart Murray described this to me as the shift from church as a noun to church as a verb. So we can say, “I church, you church, we church.” For too long we have seen church as something that we attend. We might sing a few hymns or even play a more active role, but there is something passive and even a little alienating about the externalised and rather monolithic idea of church. If, however, church is something that comes about when we make it, then walls come tumbling down. Suddenly being church and doing church become an exciting adventure….Liquid church is essential because existing patterns of church fail to connect with  the evident  spiritual interest and hunger that we see. For some people, church as we know it is rewarding. Sunday worship is a meaningful activity, and the fellowship is a place where we can serve Christ and establish our identity with other Christians. For these people and for those who lead their congregations, liquid church is not a matter of urgency. I understand this, and am sympathetic to the successful church. It lacks credibility to claim that these churches will wither and die in the face of cultural change (whatever term we use for it - post-Christian, post-Christendom, postmodern). The problem is not with those who come to church, since it seems for them church is generally a positive environment. The real issue must be for those who no longer attend church or those who have never set foot inside one. How do we connect with these people?

(Pete Ward., Liquid Church. USA: Hendrikson Publishers & UK: Paternoster Press 2002)
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