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Hallo again to all.

Every few months during our exploration of world news to find relevant Anglican news for our News Centre, we come across a high-energy upbeat story of some church somewhere in the world that has established a 'mission to young people' by holding worship sessions in skateboard parks, on street corners, or wherever else unchurched youth might be expected to congregate. Once upon a time we used to note these stories in our News Centre, as we found them inspiring.

We no longer note in our News Centre any stories like 'Youth Minister conducts Anglican worship inside video arcade' because we've not seen anything come of it long-term. We're not aware of any missions in oddball locations that have caused a permanent growth in church attendance. Like Jackie Paper moving beyond Puff, the youth featured in these well-publicised Youth Outreach ventures grow up and get mortgages and grey hair and stop attending church.

Last week the Diocese of Oxford announced, and the Church Times reported on, a project to create missions to men, having noted that church attendance there is two thirds women. We chose not to include that story in our News Centre for roughly the same reason that we no longer include unusual youth-ministry missions: we seriously doubt that it will work. We remember the 1963 pop song 'Surf City' by Jan and Dean, in which they sang the praises of their Surf City by noting that it has 'two girls for every boy'. So we figure that if the mere knowledge that there were twice as many women as men in the church wasn't enough to bring the men in, there must be some deeper reason why they aren't there.

There's a centuries-old tradition of Christian missionary work, of taking the church to where the unchurched congregate. Having watched this process for a mere half century, we believe that it matters just why they are unchurched. When Paul went to Ephesus, the Ephesians generally didn't even know of the existence of Christianity and had certainly never been in a Christian church. They were unchurched because that was all they had ever known. By contrast, we suspect that every one of the unchurched men being sought in Oxford has been in an Anglican church and has probably worshipped there more than once. You might be able to convert Ephesians by bringing them the Good News of Christ, but you aren't going to re-convert six lads in a pub the same way. They're absent for a reason, not because they've never heard of Jesus.

We wish the Oxonians well, and we hope their creative plan succeeds. We doubt that it will. The wry cartoon in the Church Times (bottom of the page) isn't far from our view of it. We'd wager an abandoned monstrance that the only way those men are going to become regular churchgoers is for the church to change to meet their needs rather than travel to meet them at their location.

And there's the rub. So much of the contemporary church is all about resisting change. If we had a half-sovereign for every time we'd heard someone angrily denounce change as being inconsistent with 'the faith once delivered', we'd be able to buy Rievaulx Abbey and turn it into a theme park. Or we could save our money, trusting that most of the change-resistant churches are busily converting themselves into theme parks so that they can be relevant to someone.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 23 January 2011

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