I appreciated hearing from the inventive pastor of a downtown Amsterdam church today named Henk Leegte. He was helping us Mennonite World Conference attenders figure out how to be the church in a postmodern and postChristian context, like the Netherlands (and probably like the U.S. if we don’t pray up the alternative).
He named some reasons the Dutch have overwhelmingly deserted the church in all its forms.
- The scandals in the catholic Church
- Hypocrisy among church leaders and members
- Fear mongering preaching by Dutch Calvinists, especially
- The charitable aspects of society used to be funneled through the church. But the government took that over after WW2 and that function of the church is now part of the state.
- They just don’t care. The people are not bad, unethical or uncompassionate; they just don’t care about the church. 60-70% don’t even know what Christmas and Easter are all about, anymore; they still are holidays, but they don’t mean anything Christian. Strangely enough, the Dutch all do one religious thing every year. At some time they go listen to Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion. Go figure.
What does this church do to connect?
1) they keep their doors open (literally). They don’t just say they are open, they actually provide a place that is open. They also have a café where people can experience artistic expression. They try to stay close to the culture that way. This is also a safe place in which people can belong before they believe.
2) They tell people Bible stories. Not knowing them (like they don’t) can be crippling. For instance, people like going to the Van Gogh Museum because they don’t need to know any content. If you go to the Rembrandt Museum, you need to know the Bible. They help remedy this deficit.
3) They are prepared to meet people when God comes up in their lives. This happens around births, death and marriage. There are questions at the crossroads. People pray then: thank you and help.
4) Maybe their most innovative idea is their challenge to people of influence or power to give their sermon one week. This usually fills the church. Whether the person is a Jesus follower or not, the pastor challenges them to put their opinionated self in the pulpit. He gets to know them a bit and suggests a Bible passage that might suit them. He gives them the meaning of the passage. Then he let’s them lead that part of the meeting, including a prayer (even if they never pray). It is always interesting and often moving. They make sure they have the special meeting in November so people can still remember where the church is at Christmas.
All over the Eurocentric countries faith in Christ is diminishing. It takes creativity and passion to learn new ways to communicate the truth and love of Jesus. Where people don’t care anymore, we are introducing the gospel like they never heard of it. In some ways this is a great advantage.
What do you do in your context? What needs to be done?