Many churches and church leaders are exploring what faith and church should look like in our times, as more and more people leave our churches, and even committed Christians are questioning many of the things we do and believe, wondering if it really is all necessary to know God and benefit from all God has for us. Being unable to go to church during the Covid lockdowns meant that many people discovered how wonderful it was to have our Sunday mornings free of church. Many simply do not want to return.
It was 15 years ago that our church team admitted that the slogan 'Flogging a dead horse' was appropriate for what we were doing, as we endured endless meetings discussing why people did not seem interested in church and why our members looked frankly bored. We never seemed to come up with an answer.
That horse remains stuck in the emergency room.
Our churches have hooked onto the belief that faith must be done in community. That we must meet together in order for it to be genuine, and for us to grow in our faith and not whither. That old chestnut; 'A coal taken out of the fire will quickly go cold,' and bible verses that implore us to 'Not give up meeting together!' encourage this view. And so we believe this is the mandate of our churches, to get people to do that - to come to our churches and live our faith out together. Yet deep down many of us would admit that doing faith in community is not necessary for knowing God.
The problem is the church is not the fire, God is.
Some people are not comfortable meeting with others, either for their own mental health, or in times of Covid to protect ourselves. Others have been hurt by the church in the past, and simply will not come. Still others do not wish to conform to a particular brand of faith or Christianity, and many simply do not have time; there are many wonderful things to do on a Sunday morning and sitting in a dull meeting ticking our religious boxes is not high on many people's list.
Maybe i'm being harsh - there are of course many who gain great strength from our church meetings and find this is their preferred way of expressing their faith. Churches do incredible work all across the world every single day. But what we are not doing is addressing the spiritual needs and desires of the millions of others who would love to experience God, but simply will never go to church.
But this should surely be also what churches are there for? To enable everyone, whatever our lifestyle choices, to find God - not, as it traditionally has been, to get bums on seats - and money in the church coffers. However much we reinvent ourselves, people will not come because life has changed, and a faith that is contextual - that is right for us today - is going to look very different to how it has done. We need to stop trying to make an ancient model fit a modern hole.
It's time to deconstruct faith. It's time to strip away all the unnecessary baggage that the church has wearily carried for two thousand years. It's time to decide what is necessary for knowing God and what isn't.
It's time to find God again.