Big city church (3): Intimate church isn’t us

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If you’re Christian, or exploring Christianity, and you’re about to move to the inner city, you should know about a bunch of great new church plants. White Horse Church, in Pyrmont.  Resolved Church, Newtown. Vine Church, Surry Hills. And, of course, the great transformational work happening at York St and St Stephens, Newtown.

(As an aside: if you’re not moving into our area, or if your networks don’t intersect in the city, don’t move to one of these churches and don’t move to Barneys. We don’t need more immature Christians signing up for the latest thing.)

What connects many of these church plants is their tight focus. Young, inner city hipsters, arty professionals and musos (along with the engineers, financiers and lawyers who love to be part of a cultural crowd). This is gold. Globally, these are the least likely modern Westerners to count Jesus as their King and church as their community. They need the gospel, and I take my hat off to the laser-like focus of the godly guys leading these ministries.

At the moment these churches are on the smaller side, but from what I’ve heard, they are rapidly growing. This is good news for the kingdom. Only 15 years ago you could drive over the Harbour Bridge and not hit a decent sized ministry for young adults until you crashed through the east wall of St James Croydon. Now the inner city is littered with churches that are, in my mind at least, awesome. Before they swell to Barneys’ size and beyond, though, many people have commented on the intimacy of their vibe, and the ease of belonging on a Sunday night.

These are great things.  But they aren’t us.

Our congregations are big (well, not big in a world that includes Hillsong and Willow Creek, but big for a Reformed, evangelical Anglican church south of the equator. Which is a little like saying big for a dachshund): the morning is around 250, the evening up towards 300 and our little afternoon Mandarin/English service is popping up above 50 (and I hope it will see 200 by the end of next year).  I’m praying we hit 700 on Sunday before the end of the year, and that almost all the difference will come from people who weren’t at church before.

Our congregations are deep: although the average age of Barneys is slipping beneath the 27 mark even as we grow, we are parents, kids, professionals, tradies, Anglos, Asians, South Americans, Iranians, postgrads, undergrads, doctors and drummers.  Late last year I ran an orientation for 26 new members who came from Indonesia, China, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Iran, India, Italy and Camden. What this means is that we don’t have a ‘sweet spot’ for our services. I think about 30% of what we do at church will never float my boat, but it will float someone (and they’re probably a much more interesting person than me).

This combination of ‘(middling) big’ and ‘diverse’ can have an unintended side effect, though. Every now and again, someone says: ‘I don’t feel connected/I don’t belong/Church doesn’t need me/I’m going to move somewhere intimate.’

And, sooner or later, the question is asked: why don’t we just plant a smaller congregation?

My answer is: not in the foreseeable future. We have no plan to do small services. No plan to pursue intimacy on Sundays. No plan to create cosy around a sermon.

And there’s a reason for that. I think it’s a good one – even an important one. But you’ll have to wait for my next post.


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