Engaging the local community: the answer to church irrelevancy
Panic over the ‘death of the church’ in Australia is subsiding and in its place is a humble, sober realisation that it must re-engage with the local community to regain its relevancy, according to Karina Kreminski, a guest speaker on the last day of the Living Church Synod 2019.
Rev Dr Kreminski said for many years there has been a lament about the failure of the church to grow in the Australian community, amid fears about the death of the church in the Western world.
“When there is this sort of panic, the church focuses inwards, it concerns itself with preservation,” she said. “We can deceive ourselves and believe the church can become relevant again if we can only get our marketing strategy right, if we can tweak our communications or make our sermons more relevant.”
“Unfortunately, the church is simply not in the minds of Australians today, they don’t wake up on a Sunday morning and concern themselves with what the local church service is offering.
“We are completely irrelevant and there needs to be a radical shift in our approach.”
Dr Kreminski is a Lecturer in Missional Studies at Morling College and a minister. Her book Urban Spirituality was released in 2018. She spoke on the final day of Synod on God’s Mission in the Neighbourhood.
She told delegates the church needs to focus on their local community, to focus on their neighbourhood and identify the small changes that can be made there – and that is how you ‘change the world’.
“Once we discern what God is doing locally and we connect with his Spirit there, we will be able to embody Christ’s love to our neighbours. In an increasingly polarised world we can begin healing though our daily interactions with the people who we live with and bring change into that space so that we see the reign of God manifest before our eyes.
“When we embody the gospel locally, only then will people begin to see the church as a place of refuge, transformation, peace and beauty in our world.”
Dr Kreminski said while here message may be challenging to some churches it was a message of hope.
“My message is one of hope. I believe the church has learned this over the last 5 years. That there is a humble acknowledgement that we have become irrelevant in our communities and we need to take radical action,” she said.
“And when we do this radical things happen, our language changes, we are challenged about where we put our resources – our time and money. This can bring about strong reactions within churches, but it is something we must do.
“Our call is missional, we are saved, we are sanctified … so that we can go out into the world. We are, all of us, missionaries.”
Dr Kreminski said there was no ‘three point strategy’ for churches to follow. Instead it was about undertaking deep, non-judgemental listening and spending time in the community.
“It sounds simple but it is very hard to do. And from this God-inspired projects will come forward. It will be different projects in Maroubra, from what will emerge for churches in Campbelltown or Oran Park or Bathurst,” she said.
And she said this posed a new challenge for denominations and how they would support the projects individual churches identified. There were also profound challenges with understanding these new, grass-roots projects against the direction and priorities of denominational welfare and service organisations.
“There are no quick fixes, pop up churches, and strategic solutions but instead we must look at spiritual formation where we live this in our own contexts,” she said.