Last night I watched the final episode of ‘Robert Peston Goes Shopping'; through the three part series he has tracked how shopping has developed in the UK over the last 150 years, ending up looking at how the Internet has impacted our local shops and our shopping habits.
His conclusions were that we are heading into a time when we will have national or multi-national chain stores that make full use of the internet (think Tesco/Amazon/H&M) – but alongside those will be small ’boutique’ shops on the high streets that will offer something to people that is unique and impossible to find online or in a chain store.
This got me thinking about church. As someone who has been leading missional communities for over ten years in different countries and different contexts, and now planting church in two housing estates in Stockport, I thought the distinctions made in the programme were insightful for church.
Over the last few years we have seen some churches grow quite large, becoming media savvy, connecting with people through social media, developing multi-site worship – and the list goes on. I would compare these churches to the larger businesses Peston described, and the thing I like about the comparison is that these churches can be seen as a huge benefit, actively sharing the good news of God in Jesus to the world through a variety of ways; ways which usually demand significant investment and staffing.
Fresh Expressions, meanwhile, has focused on the more ’boutique’ style, and offering something that the larger churches cannot. Aimed at a particular group, or taste, or local community, and developing a particular style that cannot be found in a larger setting, these churches are an essential part of the so-called ‘mixed economy’ of church.
Perhaps the key is to stop seeing either as a threat; both are an opportunity. Some boutiques will really strike a chord, and grow, setting up new outlets elsewhere; let’s not forget that this is how Tesco, Sainsbury’s and most other chain stores began. Others will remain boutiques. The key is making the most of the opportunities God has given in our contexts, and celebrating other developments: if people are responding to the good news of Jesus, that’s a great thing to celebrate, whether it benefits my church or not.
Right here in Stockport we planted Glo Church, which in this scenario would be comparable to a boutique shop. Our intention is to begin a new missional community in the next-door housing estate which is quite different to the one where we work right now – which means the boutique will look and feel different. But the principles will remain the same.
It’s these principles we are trying to share in our day conferences and learning intensives through The Bridge School of Mission and Planting Church; you can find more on www.glochurch.org.
And whether the boutique grows into a chain or remains local and focused is not the question; the big issue is how can we best offer Jesus to people? That will take a variety of strategies, large and small, and we have the opportunity to celebrate them all.