In the ‘Village’ pretty much everyone dressed up and gathered in the church building for the Sunday service. During the week they lived and worked in, or in close proximity to, the ‘Village’, either on the land, or in service enterprises (blacksmiths, coopers, shoemakers etc). This proximity meant that they rubbed shoulders with and connected with each other in the course of their daily lives. They were one single ‘tribe’ with one language and the ‘Village’ was the stage on which they played out the dramas of their shared lives.
The community that was a worshipping community on Sunday were ‘church’ every day-either the church at work, or the church at play in village social activities, often in the church building. They lived, slept, worked and worshipped in the ‘Village’, and in the ‘Village’ stood the church building, a symbol of God’s presence and sway over the whole of life. Many were not spiritually reborn no doubt but they were in church on Sunday to be evangelised, they didn’t have to be invited. The church was the centre and integrating hub of community life- in the ‘Village’.
Even when the mine and the factory came to the ‘Village’ there was dirt and grime, and a cough, but the ‘church’ still stood in the ‘Village’, and they still ‘Sunday bested’ and turned up to the service, and they rubbed shoulders at work, rest or play, in the ‘Village’.
Then one day a noisy black ‘carriage’ turned up in the ‘Village’-four wheels but no horse, a thing that soon came to be called a ‘Motor Car’. Few saw it coming, but the ‘Village’ was about to change. Over time, more and more people started to get their own motor car. Then they found employment (it was called getting a ‘job’), increasingly not in the ‘Village’ but often 20 or more kilometres away, and spent a great deal of time doing something called ‘commuting’. This was time that they no longer spent in the ‘Village’ and so there was less time rubbing shoulders with the villagers. The time away from the ‘Village’ was often extended by ‘happy hours’ and after work activities.
The motor car also meant that the villagers could ‘play’ further afield and much time was spent travelling to and being involved in the recreational club, sports club, kids activities and ‘outdoor pursuits’. Those involved in these began to form new communities, even micro-villages, often distant from the ‘Village’.
Work and recreational activities also migrated to consume the activity-free zone of Sunday, which in the ‘Village’ had been reserved for the ‘church at worship’. Of course the church building was still there with its message and invitation to the ‘Village’ that for many families has now become little more than a dormitory. Indeed a new expression was coined – that of the ‘Dormitory suburb’.
Yes the ‘church’ building was still there sending out its invitations, the faded board declaring “all are welcome”, “come and join us at our ‘family friendly’ Sunday services”. These were scarcely noticed by the occupants of cars speeding past to their ‘work and play’ micro-villages where they rubbed shoulders with many people, but no longer people of the ‘Village’ or of the ‘church’. Yes the ‘church’ is still there, but like the vestigial smile on the ‘Cheshire Cat’, it presided over something that has faded from view, the ‘Village’ that is no more.
Perhaps though, it is not exactly true to say that the ’Village’ is no more, more that it has splintered into a kaleidoscope of shards, activity-centred, disparate and dispersed micro-villages, mini replicas of the ‘Village’, except where the ‘church’, its message and presence is not, and where its invitations do not reach.
Many reasons are given for the failing church in the western world, including Australia. It can certainly be argued that one reason is that our current mainline church model largely developed in the ’Village’ where church structures and ministries were constructed not for mission but for the maintenance of existing congregations in the static communities of Christendom Europe. Now however, the ’Village’ has morphed, and if it is to be effective in Mission, as the ‘Village’ has been reinvented so must be the ‘church. We need to go back to ‘Mission basics’ and become what I have called elsewhere an “Unbounded Church” , one set free from forms that bind, and with its ‘bounds’, the walls that separate it from the ‘Kaleidoscope Village, removed.
This Unbounded Church will need to be a Dispersed , Culturally Accessible, Flexible, Mobile and Fluid entity: a truly ‘missional’ model consisting of a network of micro-congregations (micro-cons), groups that can embed themselves in the kaleidoscope of activity-centred, disparate micro-villages, dispersed throughout the community where non-Christians are, in coffee shops, clubs, workplaces etc. These micro-cons will be defined by a spiritual DNA set, Not a fixed Form- i.e. shaped by the principles for Christian community voiced to us by the New Testament that can be legitimately expressed in a multitude of ways.
Yes the ‘church’ still stands, or at least the emptying building does, presiding over the space of the faded ‘Village’. The ‘Village’ now shattered into a Kaleidoscope of 1000 shards, each of which has migrated in time and place, in world view and cultural flavour; to the pagan village, a mosaic of ‘Villagettes’ where the message of Christ rarely ventures; a new ‘Village’ for which a new church must be designed to penetrate, with a new concept of mission.