Church – Rain, Hail and Shine

RHS1I’m troubled by the recent tendency to refer to times of corporate singing as “the [singular] worship”. The biblical textbook on the matter of worship, Romans 12, describes “intelligent worship” as the act of “giving God our bodies as a living sacrifice, consecrated to Him and acceptable by Him”. It then goes on to list what this looks like – intellect (“let God re-mould your minds from within”), spiritual formation , preaching, serving, stimulating the faith of others, generosity, leadership, empathy, affection for each other, hard work, prayer, magnanimity and hospitality. Something I like doing as worship is cost-benefit analysis.

In recent years, there’s two seemingly unrelated concerns I hear when around pastors.   Firstly, the definition of ‘regular attender’ has been diluted, evidenced by the National Church Life Survey (NCLS) downgrading it to someone who turns up once a fortnight. The other concern is that church camping programs are much harder to pursue these days because people have more commitments on the weekends. (It seems this does have quite a bit of relevance to the first concern.) I started to put these two concerns together and wondered if QCCC couldn’t flip the concept of church camp on its head by commencing a camping church. Someone who turns up to two church services and a home group every week commits, at most, 25 hours of their month to their church. A group of people committed to spending a full weekend with each other every 4–6 weeks can tally up a lot of hours together, very quickly. Encouraged by Colin Stoodley and his thoughts on simple church, the concept of a ‘Rain, Hail and Shine (RHS) Church’ was born.

In his book Sacred Pathways, Gary Thomas presents nine different pathways through which people might enjoy connection with God. It has been an exceptionally constructive journey to consider each of these pathways, and rank their importance for my spiritual walk, on a scale of one to ten. This process helped me understand two things. Firstly, my lowest ranked pathway is ‘ecstatic expression’ which helps contextualise my aversion to corporate singing and its trimmings. Second, it’s made me wonder if we might have a bit of a ‘wheel wobble’ in Christendom, where some of the pathways are very well-catered for, and some aren’t.

RHS2One of the great dangers of the NCLS is that it’s only surveying the people within the building, not the ones who have chosen to leave it, or have simply never been. Thus we’re only obtaining the opinion of the rusted-on congregationalists, or the people who primarily enjoy what’s on offer already. The NCLS isn’t gathering the hard data from the 90% of Australians not attending, or the people who once attended and have left. For many, the institutional church serves the following pathways of connection to God well: traditionalists, caregivers, enthusiasts and intellectuals amongst them. Activists can also find expressions in church, and I think it’s fair to say they can also gravitate towards the works and programs of the para-church and the not-for-profit sector to express their devotion to God.

This leaves the naturalists, sensates, ascetics and contemplatives (all pathways with a heavy reliance on nature) on the outer (pun intended) when it comes to meaningful connectivity to God during a typical organised church service.   As a child, I went to numerous Youth for Christ camps where the tradition was a ten-minute silence in the outdoors after each teaching session. These times combined each of these ‘outer’ pathways into one powerful punch, and, inevitably, the majority of campers would have their life-transforming moments in these times, and still speak of this, decades later. RHS is a church that has more emphasis on the pathways of connecting people to God not often seen in traditional Sunday church and is proudly built around the Godly pursuits of hospitality, relationship and recreation.

The QB guidelines for mission and witness suggest ‘when the church has the gospel at its heart, the best way to send that gospel is to transplant the church into the new area. Church planting is a form of evangelism and is not an unrelated activity’. The Great Commission suggests the first stage of the discipleship process is to ‘go’. If we want to reach our culture and society, we need to understand what it is they value. One of the most obvious ways Australians form community is to recreate together. If you want an inkling of why church attendances have declined over the last two decades, take a Sunday off and go to Rainbow Beach for a drive, or head to Kenilworth Homestead where thousands of people descend on the Mary River to camp every long weekend. There you’ll find hundreds of decked-out 4WDs, people around the barbecues, kids playing and sunburns accumulating in shallow water.   RHS is an opportunity to ‘do church’ amongst the people and to reinforce the pleasure God takes in his children enjoying His Creation. It’s also an opportunity to form meaningful relationships in languid and enjoyable ways, with the shared meal the centrepiece.

This model of church is not intended to be for everyone, particularly those who already enjoy what they have. There’s plenty naysayers can say about this model too, chief amongst them being that 4-6 weeks between gatherings is a long time. Social media and shared meals are ways for the congregation to keep in touch between camping weekends, but ultimately RHS will succeed or fail on the relationships people build, and their willingness to invest time and love in each other.

 Rain, Hail and Shine Church is a church planting partnership of Mission to Queensland and Queensland Conference and Camping Centres.  For more information on the first plant of RHS on the Sunshine Coast email rhskenilworth@gmail.com.

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