Mark Griffiths reminds us that it’s time to remember what Jesus actually calls us to do

I attended the licensing service of one of my friends last week. He was being made vicar of a gorgeous few churches on the Gower in South Wales. A wonderful occasion, full of pomp and ceremony, but also full of joy and celebration. The Bishop of Swansea and Brecon preached. He started his talk with the sobering words, “only three in every 100 adults in the diocese have connections with the gospel through regular attendance at a church!” It is a staggering figure. It’s even lower than the Scripture Union figure that only 5% of children and young people attend a church on Sunday.

So, I want to talk to you about mission and evangelism and our mandate to communicate Jesus. And I want to talk to you about ecclesiology – the Church – God’s primary vehicle for changing the world. And I really want us to talk about it because it seems clear that throughout our country and across many parts of the world, Christianity has lost traction. And that means there are billions of children and young people who have not encountered this amazing God that you and I worship. And if we believe that an encounter with Jesus allows us to become everything God created us to be then it would be selfish of us not to communicate Him.




We’ve always been one generation from extinction and it’s looking a little bleak right now. But I wonder how that statement feels to you. That statement may not sit easy with you because we all have a difficulty with perception sometimes. I hit this all the time. That Book of Common Prayer service that happens on Sunday evening and only the choir come. But if you are part of that choir and like singing on Sunday evenings, you’ll fight for that service despite the fact that nobody ever comes. If a particular style of worship is your thing, then you’ll be keen to preserve it because it feeds and nourishes you. I’m not saying there is anything wrong there, I’m simply saying that there may be a distinction between that which nourishes us and that which will help communicate Jesus to others. But that is simply to flag up that we will construct all sorts of theological stories to protect the things we like. Coincidently, that’s why the song or hymn you like best are the ones you think are the most anointed!

Maybe that’s why Jake Mulder from Fuller Seminary California made the insightful and somewhat provocative statement:

The Church is calibrated for a world that simply no longer exists

I would love us to explore this properly. The are some glorious exceptions, but on the whole, we are not reaching, keeping and discipling young people and families. So we need to ask some big questions. What are our children and young people and young families looking for. And this has to be a bigger conversation, and please, let’s have it. But what if I get the discussion started by advocating three principles:

  1. The need for heart communities
  2. The need to chase the significant and not the spectacular
  3. The need to hold onto hope




1. The need for heart communities

Any move in any direction has to be heart motivated. The love of God must compel us. Not just another list of great ideas or even our book of fundamental truths or book of rules and regulations to beat each other up with. It’s about allowing God to shape and direct our heart: to recognise the ‘why’. We’re doing it because we love God and we love those who have not yet encountered this God and they are missing out. The ‘why’ is key, because my contention is if we nail down the ‘why’ we’ll work out the ‘how’. Heart shaped communities, not formula-built communities. Communities compelled by the love of God. So, the goal becomes creating Christian communities where the primary focus is not heaven, that’s just a perk, but a place where we accept people despite their imperfections. A place where the worship is accessible to all, our children, our young people and our young families as well as everyone else. Even to those who just walked in off the streets. Places where the preaching is relevant and

talks about the relevance of Christianity in the everyday and the ordinary. And that the goal of every church is transforming communities for God. And that people are worth loving. Acceptance is such a massive word. The writer of the Song of Songs wrote, “with one glance of your eyes you captured my heart.” And that’s what God is like, one glance towards him and we capture his heart. So Christian communities should look like God, and be marked with grace and kindness and compassion. By our love for one anther people will know we are followers of Jesus (John 13:35). But to have in mind that this is about making disciples and we need Christian communities to do that. And I want to talk (or invite others to talk) about what our worship and our liturgy and our preaching should be like to achieve this. But the headline is this, we are creating heart shaped Christian communities. So, this whole thing needs us to have a right heart. Rising generations are attracted to heart, not rules.


2. Significant not spectacular

I did an entire article on this theme not so long ago. But I want to apply that thinking to this idea of church size and church growth. You see most of our theological college trained ministers would like to lead a mega church! And it is very difficult to shake. Big equals successful. In my season as senior leader I instinctively knew that church planting was the way forward. So we planted and planted. We arrived with a central church of 300 people and five church plants of 80 to 120 people each. But the pressure and tension you feel. If I brought these together I could lead a congregation of 1,000+ within the year. And they are all struggling. Not enough musicians, so we have to use the ones that often get the chords wrong, not enough youth workers and children workers and welcomers and preachers and leaders and …. And most of our worship is intergenerational because we don’t have the kids workers. But if we could step away and look in, we’d recognise that we had stumbled into a good thing. In fact the best thing. Here it is: the best place to disciple children and young people and adults is not the mega church! It’s that church of 80 to 120 people! And if you begin to grow beyond that, plant a new one. And keep planting. It’s so much harder work, but it makes disciples of all ages, and I seem to recall that was the gig in the first place!


3. There is always hope

And to my final point summed up nicely by Cornel West, a Princeton professor. He was some years ago, “Are you hopeful for the coming decade?” He responded, “The categories of optimism and pessimism do not exist for me. I am a prisoner of hope.”

Jesus said that he will build His Church and the gates of hell do not win. And I’m getting a little fed up with the statisticians and futurists (whatever they are) telling me otherwise. Do we believe them or do we believe Jesus because one of them is not telling the truth and I suspect I’m leaning towards the one who has truth in his name, alongside the way and the life. Right there at the very heart of the gospel message is the idea that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness will never overpower it. It’s wonderful really. And it is transformative.

Therefore, we are looking for people with the right heart, who recognise that the significant is so much more important than the spectacular and have become prisoners of hope.

But I need to make a general observation. In terms of our general populations, there’s not a lot of Christians kicking about. We need to own up to this, let’s not pretend otherwise. Take the coloured spectacles off. And hold up our hands and say, whatever the model we’ve been using, it has lost us generation after generation.

And maybe we also must own the reality that, the church is calibrated for a world that simply doesn’t exist.

Let’s recognise we really are back at the start. How do I re-evangelise nations? How do I connect this gospel with children and young people and families. We’re all discipled in a particular way of doing church and it’s hard to shake it off. But what if you could start again? Rethink the whole thing. Recognise that discipleship is the primary goal. How would that look?

Because that’s where we are. The blank sheet of paper. A world to win.

How would it look to recalibrate?