|Some ancient things endure|
Throughout the spring and summer, as Aldersgate explored the possibility of becoming a combination house-church and intentional living community, links to articles on alternative forms of church began appearing in my e-mail. Sometimes a person familiar with our situation sent the link; other times, the link came from Duke Divinity or a United Methodist organization. The district superintendent also gave me the address of a website called Fresh Expressions: http://freshexpressionsus.org/.
Church is changing, although some "new" forms of church are actually quite ancient.
There are so many new ways to be a church! Farm Church, Simple Church, Dinner Church, Pub Church (also called Theology on Tap), Jogger Church, Mountain Biker Church, Coffee Church (pastor is called “pastorista”), and Café Church were some that caught my attention.
There are videos of Coffee Church and Café Church that make them look too chaotic and gimmicky for my taste. The churches devoted to outdoor exercise made me feel tired (I didn’t find a “tennis church”). Often, these new forms of church are endeavors launched by large churches trying to attract millennials.
Farm Church in Durham captured my interest, although it’s not something I personally would want to do. As near as I can tell, people meet to pray and read scripture, and then get their hands dirty in the soil – planting, gardening, and harvesting fresh produce to give to poor and/or hungry people. These are Presbyterians (PCUSA), but I had to search to find that. Check it out: www.farmchurch.org.
I’m surprised that some young Methodists in our conference seem to be on the cutting edge of Theology on Tap, or Pub Church (or some people call it “beer church”). My, how times have changed.
Simple Church sort of blew my mind. According to the article, Simple Church began when a declining U.M. Church in Massachusetts wanted to close but instead was sent a young “planter” pastor, who re-organized them to be a dinner church eating potluck suppers with Eucharist on Thursday evenings. A 3-year grant initially paid the pastor’s salary, but now the church tries to supplement congregational giving through baking and selling bread. The five elderly members who stayed with the church through the transition eventually dropped to just one. ONE! But in three years, 70 new members joined.
Read about it -- https://www.faithandleadership.com/simple-church-blends-dinner-worship-and-enterprise-create-new-model.
The thing that haunted me about Simple Church was the mere five original members who tried it, and the one member who stayed. I suppose the 3-year grant allowed the pastor to keep at it. This speaks to a church’s inability to change, I think. Three years down the road, there is something new and wonderful – but Simple Church struggles because the pastor is full time, and the church has an annual budget of $100,000. Seventy new (young) people don’t tend to give that kind of money; hence, the baking and selling of bread. I’ll bet it gets old.
I kept turning over the article in my mind. If the money were there, could a church really shrink to five members? I was concerned the potential “Aldersgate House” membership might fall dangerously low, at least in its early days.
Links to articles on Dinner Church kept landing in my e-mail, and I kept deleting them. Dinner Church is dinner and worship combined – much like Simple Church. Most new expressions of church involve a weekly congregational meal and Eucharist -- two practices original to the early church that were combined in its earliest days (see 1 Corinthians 11:17-34). In Dinner Church, gone is the sermon and most of the singing. Instead, the focus is on meal preparation and conversation around individual tables. The idea wasn’t all that appealing to me because Aldersgate members are elderly and don’t much like to cook.Eventually, I gave the concept a closer look.