Speaker: The Revd Tom Stuckey, Past President of the Methodist Conference (2005)
Theme: The Power of the Cross
Dates: Friday 3 to Sunday 5 November,
Connection Brings Life
Will the church fail? This was a fair question to ask in the early 1700s. It was a time of great uncertainty politically, socially, economically and morally. Gin houses were prolific, prostitution was rife, violent crime was widespread and social disorder was increasing. Churches were floundering and faith was at a low ebb. There was general disinterest in the Christian faith and churches were making little headway. Would the Church fail?
As the century developed, people looked nervously across the English Channel at the unrest in France – a country that was plummeting towards a bloodthirsty revolution. Would England go the same way? God raised up two men who had a profound impact as they preached Good News – John Wesley and George Whitefield. It was the same Old Message but it was presented in a fresh way. Under the anointing of God, there was revival and Methodism was born.
So what about the UK in 2011 – will the Church fail? Consider the state of the nation, look at the statistics and compare them with your own experience.
- 85% of the UK population do not attend church (at least once a month)*
- 66% of UK adults have no connection with church (32.2 million)
- 16 million of those with currently no connection used to go to church
- Church attendance is forecast to fall by 50% between 1990 to 2020
- Church Membership is forecast to fall by 31% between 1990 to 2020
- Average age of those attending is increasing (51 by 2010) with more women than men
* Data from Tearfund’s survey on UK church going April 2007, WhyChurch.org.uk
This is not a picture facing a few denominations but one that faces the whole Church.
I thank God for John Wesley and that his heart was ‘strangely warmed’ in 1738. My father was a Methodist Lay Preacher and Methodism is a significant part of my Christian heritage. During the 1990s I met with Rob Frost regarding outreach to young people and found him to be both an inspirational leader and a great encouragement. Little did I know that many years later I would become a church leader and work with other local church leaders across the denominations in a Hampshire town. There were many positive things during my 11 years of leadership, but I was saddened that too many left the church and too few joined. The impact of the Church locally and nationally was still far too small and, despite many prayer meetings for revival, it was clear that the Church was declining and becoming marginalised in society.
In 2008 a surprising thing happened – my heart was strangely warmed! In one of those special moments, I sensed a fresh moving from God in my heart and perceived that the Old Message could be presented to this generation in a new way that could be easily communicated and understood. It was simply this – ‘Connection brings life’. Reading again through John chapters 15, 16 and 17, I could see that the Good News is all about connection. Jesus Christ is the Vine and we are the connected branches; the Holy Spirit is the on-going means of our connection; Jesus came that we might be one with God the Father and be able to call Him Our Father. It was a eureka moment as I considered this generation obsessed by connection – the electronic age of technology relies completely on connection, whether it be mobiles, lap tops or any other gadget.
Connection brings life! Any electronic gadget can only fulfil its Identity, Value and Purpose (IVP) through connection to a reliable power source or network. In a similar way, people can only fulfil their sense of Identity (Who am I?), Value (Who cares?) and Purpose (What for?) through connection to a reliable power source – to the God who cares enough to make connection possible through His Son, the Great Connector.
Not only is this an age which talks the language of connection, but it is one that has started to look deeper for happiness. There is now an organisation called ‘Action For Happiness’ - the media have seized upon this and it comes in the vanguard of hot political interest in ‘Well Being’, raised by the Prime Minister. Indeed, studies have been commissioned for the Government by its source of official statistics, the Office for National Statistics, which now asks people what makes them happy.
Let me ask you, O reader of METConnexion! What does happiness mean to you? My contention is that if you felt loved, appreciated and valued, you would then feel happiness. Come to that, if you have a reassuring sense of Identity, it will bring you much needed security. Furthermore, it is from a clear sense of Purpose that an individual will find the motivation for living.
Connection to Christ brings all of these. Jesus said: ‘I have come that you may have life to the full.’
If you are with me to any or some degree so far, then let me suggest that all the people you know can be defined in terms of connection! There are those who are ‘connected’, those who have become ‘disconnected’, those who are seeking or open to ‘reconnecting’ and the majority of your work colleagues, friends and neighbours who are ‘unconnected’ (having no meaningful experience or context of church). Connect4Life has a vital message for you and for all your friends and acquaintances – Connect4Life! Life in all its fullness comes ‘in Christ’, a life in which IVP can truly lead to security, happiness and motivation that is not just a passing phase but something that endures.
The new ministry of Connect4Life (also known as C4L) was the outworking of my heart being strangely warmed and the resources for all the four groups experiencing different aspects of connection have been developed over the last three years. The essential vision of C4L is to see: ‘Churches, Leaders and Christians connected to the Person, Power and Mission of Christ’. Imagine a society, our society, having churches, leaders and Christians who live in the freedom, joy and glory of this – life as it was intended. A life connected, joined up, making sense, one that is secure, happy and motivated – in Christ. What a glorious life – the best, to which nothing comes remotely close! Joined to God through Christ and living in the presence and power of The Holy Spirit.
This is what Jesus was talking about in John chapters 15, 16 and 17. It is the message of the Gospel in a way this generation can understand. C4L resources are for every church size and denomination. They have been piloted and have gone through trials. Here’s what a few people have said:
Former Archbishop Lord George Carey of Clifton: ‘Britain needs the Gospel more than ever and so I am pleased that there is this exciting resource for churches to use in reaching out with the Old Message in a new way.’
Revd John Carne (former Chair of the Plymouth and Exeter Methodist District): ‘I am impressed by the scope of the initiative. The strength of the scheme is that it is aimed at a number of very real discipleship targets in an age when the Church is:
- challenging its committed people to deeper discipleship
- seeking to reach the many who are unconnected
- regaining a connection with those who have lost their connection with the Church.
In each case, this idea hit the mark; it is user friendly and is deliberately seeking to be an affordable product.’
Debbie Thrower (Broadcaster): ‘C4L reinterprets for new generations the gospel imperative to “abide in me”. Step-by-step it shows what Jesus meant by “abide in my love”. Here, though, there’s no archaic language, only plenty of fresh ways to get a handle on what it means to be a Christian in the 21st century. I hope the message gets through to many more people who’d otherwise be “out of the loop”; none of us should miss out on our God-given opportunity to be the best that we can be.’
Revd Stephen Gaukroger: ‘C4L really is excellent material giving a refreshing new way forward for relevant outreach to supplement Alpha and Christianity Explored. I love the clarity of the visuals, the layout of the questions and the user-friendly, accessible style. I pray that it will be widely used and am pleased to commend it to churches, leaders and all who want to help people connect or reconnect with God.’
Lesley (a user of C4L materials): ‘I thought I led a good, kind life – I knew right from wrong, good from bad ... However, I would sometimes react badly and unhelpfully to what life threw at me. This was unattractive and not the way I wanted to be. A good friend introduced me to C4L. I found the course searching, insightful and full of hope. It opened my eyes to a whole new way of living. With the prospect of becoming “connected” I joined an Alpha course.’
If you want to be reinvigorated in your own connection, ‘21 Days A Personal Study Guide’ for those who are already connected has been written with you in mind. If you want your church to go after the ‘disconnected’ and ‘unconnected’ where you live, then I invite you to look at Connect4Life’s web site and resources to help you. There are resources here for discipleship and outreach, with two very effective feeder events. One is for the ‘disconnected’ (A Better Connection), which leads on to Freedom in Christ, and the other is for the ‘unconnected’ (The Connected Life), which feeds into courses like Alpha or Christianity Explored.
Will the Church fail? No way! Once connected, always connected – and He will never fail.
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For free sampler and flyer contact: Connect4Life, PO Box 297, Alton, GU34 9GN