You see, I'm stuck. I didn't give myself the most specific topic in the world, but I had in mind the specific area I wanted to write about. So I've been trying to answer the question "What is Church?"
Broadly, that doesn't seem like too difficult a question to answer; I can hear you all now saying things like "Church is the people of God", or "Church is the sacred act of worship", or "Church is that really dull place that my Grandma used to take me". And the truth is, none of you would be wrong. But that's not quite what I'm getting at.
When we walk into the sacred space, we each come with our own set of expectations. And despite what we may think, these expectations don’t differ a great deal from person to person; very often they are simply degrees of the same thing. Some may feel more comfortable with an hour long expository sermon, for example, while others prefer a discussion approach, while still others are looking for something more interactive, kinaesthetic experience. On the surface these seem like different expectations, but in reality, all of these are expecting some form of teaching. Similarly, it is important for some to spend the first forty minutes of a service singing worship songs, led by a group of talented musicians in order to get ‘lost in worship’, whereas others require the robust theology found in the hymns of old, and others still find their peace in singing the great Psalms. All have an expectation of sung worship. Again, some enter the sacred space with a desire to speak the words that are familiar to them, to follow a liturgy that is well used and well known, while others expect to be led in extempore prayer, drawing on the emotions that have been built up in the preceding song, and others find the church service to be a place where the silence pervades, and their conversation with God can be personal and self-governed.
Now I suppose why it is that we have come to expect these things from "Church" is by the by (or at least the work of another section of this essay). The question I seek to answer is what, of this very long list of things that we have come to expect from church the world over, is actually non-negotiable. By which I mean, what are the things that we cannot throw away, we cannot strip back, without losing the very essence of “Church”. In some sense we live in a culture today in which all things are up for grabs. Generation ‘Y’ is a seeking generation, experimental, questioning, technological, sceptical and politically disillusioned. I'm not totally convinced that they are looking for the kind of structure that "Church" in this rigid form offers. I don't have any answers for this, and to be honest, I don't believe that there's just going to be some model that we can all copy which will rectify the problem once and for all. But I get the feeling that if we want to connect with Generation Y, it's going to be important to think like them (which is somewhat easier for me, being a part of that generation myself), and we're going to have to do church in a way that works with some of those attributes.
At EBC we recently opened a Craft Cafe. A bunch of us (some Christian, some not) get together, enjoy some home-cooked food (thanks to my good friend Tracy, who is a much better cook than I), have a chat over a brew, and get creative. Most of us are addicted to pinterest, so we usually just experiment with things we've seen on there. And we talk. We talk about all sorts of things; the news, our health (several of us suffer from depression, bi-polar and other mental health issues), our families, our neighbours, and very often we talk about where God fits into all of that mess. We don't sing, we don't pray, and we don't read the bible. But I can't shake the feeling that on a Friday afternoon, we're doing church. So far, though, no one agrees with me. At best it has been described as a stepping stone to church, like an Alpha course, to get people interested in coming to church. Except (and I probably shouldn't admit this), I don't really aim to get them to come on Sundays, because what we have at that cafe each Friday... works. It's relevant, and interesting, and fluid.
Could it be that this is as much an expression of Church as St Paul's Cathedral, or St Aloysius Oratory, or Bloomsbury Baptist Church, or Spring Harvest? If the answer is yes, then it would seem that pretty much everything is up for grabs, and what gets the label "church" is much less obvious than we first would have imagined. If the answer is no, then I can't help but feel that the "Missing Generation" are going to be permanently AWOL.