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By Paul Beasley-Murray.

The Boring Church

Last night I was visiting a couple new to our church. In conversation they mentioned that their son gave up attending church at the age of ten. "Church", he told his parents, "bores me stiff". Sadly that young lad was - and still is - typical of many. In the words of TV entertainer Noel Edmonds, "The church is the dullest experience that we have in this country". Not surprisingly young (and not so young) people are leaving the church in droves.

The question, therefore, arises, 'How do we ensure that as churches we hold on to our young people - let alone attract them?' For if we lose our young people, then there is no future for us.

Last summer I visited two churches other than my own. The first was a small country chapel, where the congregation was happily singing out of Ira Sankey's 19th century collection of 'Sacred Songs'. When afterwards I made a mild comment on their choice of hymnbook, I was told in no uncertain terms that this was what they liked. Not surprisingly there were no young people - indeed, nobody there was under 60. The second was a town-centre church, where the congregation was happily singing out of a hymnbook published in 1991, but the beautifully crafted service failed to include any of the songs associated with charismatic renewal. Not surprisingly, I could count the children and young people on one hand - the congregation was for the most part made up of the over-sixties. What future do such churches have?

If churches would have a future, then they must have the needs of the younger generation in mind. Indeed, we must have the needs of children in mind, for whereas in the past teenagers used to leave the church, now it is children. We need to structure our church life and our church services in such a way that the eight, nine and ten-year olds find it attractive - otherwise they will become bored and cynical and give up on church.

How do we ensure that church doesn't bore young people? Perhaps in the first instance by middle-aged and older ministers recognising their limitations. Maybe I am fortunate, but in all the eleven years I have been minister of my present church, I have only had to take one of our monthly family services. Instead, I have delegated family services to a group of young teachers. Nor have I ever taken responsibility for any of our monthly youth 'events' - they too I have delegated to younger people. Although I like to think I relate well to the younger section of the church, the fact is that I cannot fit into a pair of 32" waist-sized jeans, and I am therefore past it as far as they are concerned. Instead, my job is to ensure that younger people in the church are encouraged to take responsibility for reaching children and young people.

Second, it means that I don't allow my tastes to dominate in the way in the hymns and songs which we sing in our 'ordinary' services. There are times when I squirm at the style of the music group or the triteness of the words on the screen, but if it enables young people and young families to worship God the better, then so be it.

But it's not just a matter of devising relevant services. Church generally needs to be a fun place. So as a church we are always keen on celebrations - with plenty of cakes! The other Sunday evening, for instance, we celebrated my 60th birthday and in so doing trebled the normal attendance, for after a short (35 minute!) family-friendly service, in which I used a video of Eeyore's birthday party to introduce the thought that the Kingdom of God can be likened to a party to which all of us are invited, we went straight into three games (e.g. Chinese laundry and musical mats) followed by chicken and rice. What gave me the greatest of pleasure was to see a normally cynical and somewhat rebellious nine-year old thoroughly enjoying himself. "Church", he said, "is a good place to be".

So how do you retain your young people? Indeed, how do you attract young people? Why not tell us (350-1000 words) and we'll tell everyone else.

Now let me turn to this present issue. First, if you want to read a different perspective on the theme of relevance, you should turn immediately to Hedgehog on page 40. I confess I do not always agree with what our Hedgehog writers say, but they always stimulate thought and reflection on some of the ways we behave and things we do as Christian leaders. Liz Gulliford has contributed an excellent article on the theme of forgiveness and a thought-provoking article by Ian George in which he imagines what would happen if we discovered the DNA of Jesus and managed to produce a clone of our Saviour!

Ian Gregory wonders what to do with redundant church buildings and John Smith wants to turn the church inside out. David Wise reflects on a journey of discovery as he has tried to make his local Baptist church genuinely representative of the community it serves, and our editor, Alun Brookfield, has kindly agreed to include one of my offerings, this time on the subject of how to care for those who have lost a family member or friend to suicide.

As usual, there is plenty to get your teeth into, all of which will inform and support your ministry in your parish or church.

Paul Beasley-Murray

Senior Minister of Central Baptist Church, Chelmsford<br>and Chair of Ministry Today

Ministry Today

You are reading Editorial by Paul Beasley-Murray, part of Issue 31 of Ministry Today, published in June 2004.

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