July 2014

Going Fishing

Over the years the relationship between Church and its surrounding community has changed. It wasn’t that long ago that ministers conducted many weddings for people who had no other association with the church. A generation or so back, by far the majority of weddings were conducted in a church building. In 2010, according to the Office of National Statistics, 68% of all marriages where civil ceremonies. The proportion of civil ceremonies first exceeded religious ceremonies in 1992. Though the majority of funerals still have a religious celebrant, there is a similar trend.

The upside of this is that people are being more honest. If Christian faith means little to them, why pretend? Why go through the motions if that’s all it is?

One downside, however, is that ministers and engaged lay people have much less contact with the non-church community, and less opportunity through those weddings and funerals to connect with many people.

I came across an illustration of the issue, that of blue and red water fishing. The idea comes from Blue Ocean Strategy, a marketing/business book by W Chan Kim and Renee Mauborne, which has sold over a million copies over ten years, has an apt message for the church. Most people go fishing within view of the shore, where the water is relatively shallow, the fish are smaller and fewer, and consequently in greater demand. Few venture beyond the horizon where the water is deeper, the fish bigger and more abundant, and there is less demand. It is almost as though the closer you get to the shore the redder the water from the blood of all the fishers fighting for the scarce supply. Yet the further you go, beyond the horizon, where the water is bluer and the fish in greater numbers and size, the fewer fishers are there.

However, its far harder work to go blue water fishing. You can’t just turn up with a pole and some bait when the tide is right. To go blue water fishing you need a larger boat and a crew and the knowledge you might not get home by dinner time. There is far more investment in time and energy and, unfortunately, there is still no guarantee of success, but there just aren’t many fish left near the shore.

The Gospel is still the same. The mission of God is still the same. But the situation on the ground (or is that in the sea!) has been changing for many years.

It wasn’t so long ago that churches ran children’s Sunday Schools for the whole community. People knew their denomination and would drop their children off for religious instruction on a Sunday morning. And when they grew up those children would do the same for their children. By and large, our society no longer buys into church in this way, or wants a church wedding, or, increasingly, a religious funeral. You can’t just ‘stick a fishing pole in the water and catch a fish’ anymore!

In the last month after some long church meetings when we examined the future of the church, we affirmed that ‘Christ Church needs to discover new directions of ministry’. Over three quarters of the membership were involved.

Over the next months (and years) we will need to think and pray about these new directions – or to rephrase that – start doing some blue water fishing. Who knows? We might just find that the nets (no longer fishing poles!) are threatening to break with the large catch of fish just as the disciples discovered when they put their trust in Jesus one day in the middle of a lake.


July 2014