I find church… anywhere except in church

I’m a Mission Pastor, which means, yes you guessed it, I oversee our church’s missional outreach in the community. Most of what I do is about encouraging people to get outside of the church building. So my title for this post is a tad tongue in cheek, obviously I do love being in church too, and I’m also about to get ordained – just incase you thought this might be an anti-establishment post. But more and more I do think we just need to get out there, outside our comfort zones, beyond the barriers of bricks and mortar, signs and labels to just reach out and love our neighbours.

My passion is for finding ways of doing church that are new and interesting, that reach people where they are at, and that are relevant to people who, let’s face it, might never step foot in a church. You see, I think it’s just no good expecting people to come to us, then learn all our rules and funny ways, and maybe after all that, even ‘join up’. I mean, this is the age of Google, where we all want instant answers, new experiences and greater knowledge, often from the seat of our comfy old arm chair or blasted out through our latest shiny iPhone.

However this is also the pluralist age where people are more likely to call themselves spiritual than admit to signing up to any one particular religion. You know the type I’m sure – those who say they feel ‘at one with a higher being when out in nature’ (yes, hands up, I was one of them once) or that to them God is just the ‘essence of good’. We make God in our image, just like everything else – because in this day and age that’s what we do. Interesting though that research shows that of those people who call themselves ‘spiritual’, hardly any would seek to find any answers in a church.

So, I want to challenge the idea that church is a building that people come to, to meet God. It’s not a new challenge of course. You will probably know that the word church comes from the Greek ekklesia, usually translated as either an assembly or called out ones so it’s really always been all about the people and not the building at all.

As a bit of a pioneer I want to challenge what the word church means to people – all people. If Jesus is our role model, he went from place to place, from field to temple, market place to fishing lake. He went where people were and spoke to them of the things they knew and understood.

So then let’s ask ourselves, what does that look like today?

Well, how about church in the pub? Or down at the social club? Or in the community café? All of which our missional outreach currently involves. Sure these things don’t look like church and often don’t sound like it either, (and hey there’s beer in more than one of them which is practically heretical) but they are where the people are. They are where people are gathering. And in those places people are meeting Jesus right where they are at.

There is still a large portion of the church that believes mission is all about inviting people to come to church on Sunday. Well, it’s not, never should have been. And if I offend you with that well, sorry – not sorry. The years where we had a ‘captive audience‘, where people came to church out of tradition or duty are soooo long gone. Sundays (or any other day for that matter) there are so many other pulls on people’s time, so many more attractive things to do than go to church. Yes we might love it but we already know the Lord, we already have friends there, we are part of a community. Just think – why would someone come to your church if they had never been to one before or had never heard about the gospel? Why would they go to church instead of to the cinema, shopping, or out with friends?

So if you are asking me (which Katie has!) then I want to find church anywhere except in the church. What about in the cinema, down your local Lidl or at the gym? ‘Really?’ you say? ‘Well why not?’ I would answer. Why on earth not…

Jules MiddletonJULES MIDDLETON: Jules  is Mission Pastor at the The Point Church in Sussex. She is a wife, a mum of three and an Ordinand (training for ministry) in the Church of England. She is passionate about taking the message of Jesus outside of the church. She blogs about this and lots of other stuff at www.pickingapplesofgold.com and tweets @redjules




  1. drbexl says:

    Shock horror, how about finding church on the internet 🙂

  2. Michael says:

    This is good as far as it goes and I welcome the writer’s sincerity and enthusiasm but this approach has been around for at least a couple of decades and has made little difference to faith and belief in the UK. It does not address the core problem that Christians of most varieties ignore: very many people simply find the way the Christian Faith is understood and presented not credible. No amount of rallying the troops will compensate for faulty ammunition.

    1. Jules Middleton says:

      Hi Michael, thanks for the comment. The Fresh Expression movement which really saw this kind of idea get going in the CofE (not saying there wasn’t before then) is about 12 years old, and actually has had some amazing success stories in finding new ways of sharing the gospel, with groups of people who wouldn’t otherwise have heard it – do check out their website for some examples: http://www.freshexpressions.org.uk So I think it’s unfair to say it has made ‘little difference’. I’d be interested to know if you have a particular reason for saying this?

      My own experience as a Mission Pastor has seen people engage with the message of Christianity in contexts that are far outside the church and it’s a joy to see lives transformed in these contexts. Of course some people do find the Christian faith ‘not credible’ and that is indeed a challenge to us all as Christians, but is not a reason not to try and find new ways of reaching them.

      Statistics and research shows that for decades the church has relied on ‘returners’ – i.e: those who either went to Sunday School as a child, or who had some limited previous experience of church or of hearing the gospel. Now, we are seeing that there are very few ‘returners’ as so few have been to Sunday school or heard the message previously, so we *must* seek new ways of reaching out to them.

      That isn’t to say that people can’t find faith in existing church, of course some do, but I believe that we are all made differently and therefore it is understandable that we all meet God in different ways. For those who have never experienced church or formal liturgy, actually coming to church on a Sunday morning is often (not always) not all that inviting. Why would we come to church when we can go shopping, or play sports or go out with friends? Unless you’ve a particular reason to go, you won’t. So how do we reach those people? that is why I think trying to do things outside the church is so important, we have to find people where they are at. That’s when it’s easier, as I have found, to present Jesus as ‘credible’ – just being with people in their own hurts and pains, and yes maybe sometimes offering to pray for them too, but on their ‘patch’, on their terms and where they feel comfortable…

      I’m not sure what you mean by ‘faulty ammunition’? can you clarify? is that aimed at the church or the message of the gospel? would like to respond to that if you can give me a bit more to go on…

  3. thank you for sharing this, especially as I am exploring signing up for a pioneer course – really interesting, thank you!

  4. Thank you for sharing this, I am considering applying to a pioneering course in my area. I’m always interested in hearing about pioneering mission!

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