Finding the right way to present the unchanging message?

Below is an article from Relevant, it is from last year but an interesting read in the year that we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

How One Church Is Reaching the Most Secular Society on Earth

The story of Holy Trinity Brompton

For American eyes, Holy Trinity Brompton, a church in the heart of London, looks stunning and powerful. Tucked away off of the city’s busy Brompton Road, its historic, cathedral-like architecture and affluent Knightsbridge district surroundings give it an iconic, distinctly British feel.

But behind its walls, something truly remarkable is happening: There, in the heart of a country seeing Christianity become less and less influential, a resurgence is taking place.

Last year, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord George Carey, told The Daily Mail that the church was “one generation away from extinction.” HTB is spearheading a revolution—they’re bringing Christianity back to English culture, and might just be reversing the trend.

Something Different Here

When you enter a service at HTB, you could be forgiven if you forget you’re in an Anglican church. You can’t help but notice the lack of formality. Instead, you see all of the hallmarks of a contemporary church, from big screens to the decided lack of pulpit.

The congregation is diverse in age, race and class, though you wouldn’t know it based on how everyone interacts with one another.

Of course, you won’t walk away without being struck by HTB’s charismatic vicar, Nicky Gumbel, who assumed the leadership of HTB in 2005.

The 61-year-old is humble and open. His own sincerity and passion bleeds over into the church he leads: Since 2005, it has exploded into a megachurch, with four campuses—they call them “centres”—spread out around London and a truly global reach. This year alone, HTB has plans to plant another four churches outside of London.

And for a generation of Christians who grew up in more traditional church settings, Gumbel is doing something different. He’s not just trying to bring people to church. He’s bringing the church to the people.

“I heard somewhere that 2 percent of people like classical music, and 98 percent like modern music,” Gumbel says, using the metaphor to explain how he and HTB go about reaching the culture.

The Church of England, in Gumbel’s eyes, has things the wrong way around. The emphasis needs to shift from being “out of sync” and entirely foreign to culture. And although he says there is nothing wrong with the “classical music” model of the traditional church, leaders need to be willing to adapt in order to reach this generation and actually engage the culture around them.

“If you are going to appeal to most people, you have to have modern music,” he says.

It’s a kind of music that culture is desperate to hear.

The Church in Crisis Mode

The Christian community in England has historically been one of the most influential voices in the global Church. For more than 1,400 years, Christianity informed almost all aspects of life in English culture. But in recent years, a crisis has been unfolding.

The Church of England is declining at free-fall speeds.

According to reports that came out this spring, the Anglican church loses 12 followers for every one conversion. And even among the Roman Catholic Church, the trend holds: They lose about 10 members for every conversion.

These figures illustrate the challenge facing a church whose congregations are aging as the millennial generation increasingly spurns organized religion.

Gumbel has led HTB to think hard about how it can reach a generation many churches around them are simply missing.

Anyone who follows church trends is aware that so-called “nones,” who don’t identify with a religion, are on the rise. The most recent study of England and Wales (2014) reported the percentage of nones at 48.5 percent, compared to 43.8 percent of the population that reported affiliation with Anglicans, Catholics and other denominations.

Pew Research found virtually the same is true in the United States.

In May, the Church of England’s finance chief, John Spence, said the church’s decline is expected to continue for decades. An 81-year-old, he said, is eight times more likely to attend church than a 21-year-old.

If Christianity is going to survive in the U.K. for another generation, millennials will have to re-embrace the faith, even if it looks different than their parents’ church experience.
And redefining the church experience is exactly what HTB has set out to do.

A New Kind of Church?

Gumbel has led HTB to think hard about how it can reach a generation many churches around them are simply missing.

But what’s perhaps most distinct about HTB isn’t what’s different about it, but what’s familiar. For Gumbel, it’s not about innovation or presenting a certain image—it’s about finding the “right way to present the unchanging message,” he says.

Gumbel pioneered the widely used Alpha course, a set of resources and curricula that explore the Christian faith (typically over 11 weeks). Today you can find Alpha running in cafés, churches, universities, homes and bars around the U.K. Much like the church it comes from, Alpha is not like anything you’d normally associate with church curriculum—which is why it has exploded with over 29 million people participating globally.

The courses are based on down-to-earth conversations about Jesus and faith, not just theology lessons. Like many things HTB does, Alpha is about speaking the language of the culture, instead of forcing the culture to conform to old traditions.

HTB has embraced social activism and campaigns to help those in need in their communities. They put an emphasis on evangelism. They’ve converted traditional prayer and worship services to evangelical-style musical gatherings.

But Gumbel is adamant that everything HTB does is grounded in Scripture and a correct understanding of God.

But, all of the change isn’t without its critics.

One of the things that you’ll often hear thrown around at churches such as HTB is that their desire to relate to culture winds up with services that end up looking like concerts.

For some, the worry is the church will begin to lose some of the traditions and roots it has grown over the centuries, and the message of the Gospel will be watered down and replaced by lights and fog machines.

But Gumbel is adamant that everything HTB does is grounded in Scripture and a correct understanding of God. That’s because despite his status as a global church leader, Gumbel fundamentally views himself as no more than a local church pastor.

“The bit I love most is … being part of a local staff team at a local church,” he says. “HTB is like a volcano—all these ministries come out, but we need to keep the heat going here. The local church is key.”

Uniting the Divided

Gumbel’s commitment to the unchanging message of the Gospel means that he and HTB have come to the conclusion that in order to reach people, the historically fractured church in Western Europe needs to unify.

“What is the barrier to the re-evangelization of the nation?” he asks. “Everyone fighting each other. If we are going to do it we have got to work together, and it’s just not going to happen if the churches are fighting each other.”

That’s why he’s spent the better part of the last several years calling for a “truce” between formerly bitter factions of the church.

Nowhere was this on display more than last year’s HTB Leadership Conference. There, Gumbel shared a stage with Raniero Cantalamessa, a Catholic priest, and Joyce Meyer, a speaker and author with ties to the American Charismatic movement. In an unprecedented move, they, along with others, called for unity among different streams of Christianity.

Gumbel doesn’t deny that theological and traditional distinctions are important, but he urgently believes that “what unites us is stronger than what divides.”

The London Revolution

HTB isn’t alone in its efforts to bring Christianity back to prominence in London.

Hillsong London and Jesus House are both large churches within the capital. Elsewhere in the country, churches such as Audacious Church Manchester, Life Church Bradford and Trent Vineyard are seeing more and more people come through their doors.

The rise in large churches throughout the city reinforces the principle Gumbel has driven into HTB: The church needs to speak a language that its culture will listen to.

And it appears that’s happening. A survey of greater London by the Brierley consultancy, published in 2013, found that since 2005—the very year Gumbel became vicar at HTB—average church attendance in the capital had risen from 620,000 to 720,000, and the number of places of Christian worship had grown by 17 percent, too.

Christianity in the U.K. is still in need of revitalization, but the numbers seem to confirm something Gumbel truly believes about the spiritual revolution currently happening in London: “We are at the start of something amazing.”

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