Gillian Scott at “God and Politics” has looked at the church scene in Great Britain and come to a few conclusions.

Although Scott is reflecting on the Church in Britain, it is likely the scene is not so different in Canada, so Scott’s thoughts bear reflection.

His analysis of the situation faced by the church today is simple and important. Scott writes,

The more churches realise that they are now placed in a post-Christian environment, where they are seen as largely irrelevant unless they prove otherwise, the better their chances of having a future.

We need to take seriously the reality that the church in the western world is functioning in a primary mission field. Again and again I meet people for whom church is completely foreign territory. They have no idea what we do or why we do what we do. They are unfamiliar with the basic outline of Christian faith and have little idea how Christianity might connect with the genuine spiritual instincts they experience.

How can we address this reality? Interestingly, for inspiration in answering this question Gillian Scott turns to a Muslim:

Focusing only on internal issues is a recipe for extinction. Ajmal Masroor, a Muslim iman in London wrote this in the Standard yesterday:

‘I believe the real reason why Christianity is doing so poorly in fast-moving, materialist, secular Britain is that it has failed to fill the spiritual vacuum in the lives of British people… Christianity has lost the heart and soul of people.’

It is true, there is a deep “spiritual vacuum in the lives of” people in the “fast-moving, materialist, secular” western world. This is the most important piece of information the church needs to take to heart. We live in a land of opportunity. But, if we are to take advantage of this opportunity, we must have something capable of addressing the spiritual hunger people experience.

Gillian Scott suggests what it may look like for the church to address the spiritual need of a new generation:

They may be pretty clueless when it comes to making sense of religion, but  studies have found that young people and adults are more spiritual than their parents’ generation, they just don’t know how it all ties together and unless churches and Christians reach out to explain their message, what hope have they of finding it themselves? There is a spiritual hunger amongst the young, but being preached at or sitting through lifeless services won’t cut it with them – they want to have a tangible spiritual experience of God in some way. Those churches that look to grow disciples, who encourage an intimate relationship with God through the Holy Spirit, who turn a desire to serve and demonstrate God’s love into practical action and who have a confidence to share the Gospel have a future that will most likely see their numbers grow significantly.  Radical Christianity remains hugely attractive to those wanting to find a deeper meaning to their lives.

So, it is true, as Scott contends, that

Any church that is not consciously investing time and energy in mission and evangelism is likely to fade away.

But, at the same time, if churches are to participate in supporting people in coming to a “a tangible spiritual experience of God” they must have “a tangible spiritual experience of God” to share. We cannot give what we do not have. We must begin by building communities of vibrant spiritual life in order to have a vibrant spiritual life with which to address the real spiritual hunger that surrounds us on all sides.

If, however, our experience remains confined to the church community, we will wither and die. As Scott points out, a “tangible spiritual experience of God” will compel us to move beyond the comfort of our like-minded spiritual community.

As churches continue to engage with their communities, especially with the poorest, their standing in society will continue to grow as it sees Gospel values and commitment being played out in public. A confident Church speaking out effectively against injustice in a way that other institutions fail to do will continue to gain credibility that will give it the opportunities to explain the faith behind its actions.

We need to start in the right place, with “a tangible spiritual experience of God“, but then allow that experience to lead us out, in whatever way we are called, to encounter the real world in all of its need and poverty. This is a vision with the power to move the church forward into a strong and meaningful future.