Over the last couple of generations, lifestyles have increasingly become really compartmentalised. It has been commonplace for people to live in one community, to socialise in another community, to work in another and to shop yet somewhere else, and often these never mix. The struggle for many churches has been that while many (most?) churches have traditionally believed that the best way to be church and to proclaim the gospel is to focus on the community in which they are placed. However, even believers have shown a preference to “commute” to church just as they do to work, or the shops, meaning that many Christians living in a community will often travel OUT of that community to fellowship in a church elsewhere in preference to worshipping with their own Christian neighbours. The influence of the “community church” has diminished to the point that many churches, especially in rural areas have struggled to survive at all. We all know stories of small churches closing, often leaving communities with no Christian witness at all.
The Seed is very small, and even amongst the few we have, folk gather from 6 separate communities within a range of about 8 miles of where we have been meeting, people have chosen to become part of us not because of where we gather, but rather because of the character and type of church we are, from the style of worship, the house group structure and so on. The church is an outworking of our relationships with one another rather than based on our location. As a result I have been considering whether we should recognise that we are, in fact a “gathered” church and not a “community” church, and thinking about how that will impact and mould the type of church we are.
And then Covid-19 struck and the government introduced a lockdown.
I believe that this may trigger a change in our communities. According to the office of national statistics, in 2019 of the 32 million in employment about 12.5% worked from home. In April 2020, this figure had risen to 46.6%. Many of those who have changed their working habits during Covid will not return to a place of work, but will continue to work from home. Anecdotally, I know quite a few people who have already been told by their employer that this will be the case.
Given that the workplace is often a place of social interaction for many people, the place where they make friends, and for many even find a partner in life, this growth of home working will inevitably result in the reduction of opportunities people have to meet with and socialise with one another. There has already been a growth in loneliness during the lockdown, and for some, there will be no end as they no longer have a place to which they can go for social interaction.
For me, one of the biggest strengths of church has and always will be the relationships we build with one another. Church can be a messy place as we work out our faith with others who may rub us up the wrong way, people who we have to work to get along with, but we mix with people from other families, other generations and even other cultures which enrich our lives and our perspectives. It is also where we are (or at least we should be) loved, accepted, valued and supported. If a church has a lonely member, I would say it is failing badly.
So. An increase in home working in our society generally resulting in an increase in people who are no longer just sleeping in our communities, but working in them as well, an increase in loneliness amongst these people, and we, the church have a antidote to loneliness – relationship. Relationship with God and relationship with one another. A very real answer to loneliness.
How then, can we as a church reach people who no longer commute to the city during the day, but are working at home from their kitchen table, spare bedroom, garage or shed in the garden?
This is the question we ponder, and the answer we come up with may transform our nation!