I know that this is quite a broad theological question and we could spend a lot of time reflecting on our own theological thinking as we consider it. For now, however, I am seeing it as a practical question. The kind of question that individual churches might ask from time to time.
When I was Vicar of Thornbury in Bradford it was one of the questions we would ask ourselves every few years. We often decided that the answer was one of the following
- The church is about growth and encounter with Jesus
- The church is about discipleship and the journey of faith
- The church is about being helpful and committed to the neighbourhood.
Of course, the reality is that a church must do all of these things. The great struggle is about how we hold them together creatively.
The legacy of the early church
The New Testament is full of examples of what authentic faith might look like – invitations, healings and generosity towards people who were often overlooked because of their health, gender, poverty, ethnicity, or reputation.
People were drawn towards the early church as they saw the way Christians loved one another and took care of those who had been on the margins of society. People who were invited, helped or included by Christians often became those who invited, helped and included others, too.
So, are social action and church growth still inseparable?
At CUF, we are embarking on a three-year project that will explore the relationship between social action, discipleship, and church growth. In particular, we will be looking at how ‘believing’ and ‘belonging’ connect with social action. We will be asking,
- Is social action a means by which people become part of the church?
- If so, how did that happen for them?
- How has social action shaped people’s beliefs about God?
We are delivering the project in partnership with Theos and staff from the National Church Institutions. It will gather and share stories of people’s recent experiences about church, faith, and social action.
We want there to be plenty of opportunities for you to get involved and hear more about the project as it develops, so please keep an eye out for more blogs from us and Theos in the months and years to come.