01 November 2009
Our theory of change
The Alliance's General Director Steve Clifford encourages us to start sharing good news stories about the Church...
As we sat having coffee together in a London hotel, John asked me, "So what's your theory of change?" I wasn't sure I had one, but I wasn't going to admit it.
He realised I was struggling, so began to explain by way of a story about a young North American business executive whose life was turned upside down by the death of a close family member in a random shooting. He felt like he had to do something about it, and a conversation some months later with a young mother shaped his strategy. The mother explained her concern at her child visiting other homes: "Who knows?" she said, "They might have a gun in the house."
So a theory of change began to emerge: perhaps mothers asking other mothers if there's a gun in the house could create a climate where people begin to feel embarrassed and put pressure on the owner of the gun, usually the father, to get rid of it. In this case, maybe mothers could help change a culture.
"So," said John again, "what's your theory of change?"
Suddenly it became easy. "It's the Church," I said.
I believe that God's primary agent for change right across our society is the Church. God is committed to change, and He instigated His change theory thousands of years ago in His people, empowered by the Holy Spirit to bring change to the fallen world in which we live.
The Evangelical Alliance is absolutely convinced that the Christian faith and united Christians are good news for the health and wellbeing of our nation - physically, emotionally and spiritually. As such we want to champion Jesus' Church (it's not our church), tell the stories of the Church, speak with and for the Church and provide resources and support where appropriate to enable the Church to be even more effective (Square Mile, Slipstream and Simplify are just three examples).
And it's not just church on a Sunday morning - it's church 24/7 in the work place, in educational institutions, leisure centres, our streets, neighbourhoods and homes. It's not just for a few special trained people either - it's for all of us.
These stories can both inspire people with ideas that work and show the world that the Church is making a positive difference. For example, I recently met a young woman who is married with a small child and wanted to reach out to other mums and children in her area. Nearly nine years ago she and others started Danceabout, a fun-filled, action-packed pre-school club that's now attended by some 75 children each week. Last term they started an informal Alpha course with themed conversations about the God behind all that the children and parents were experiencing.
One of the leaders is a young woman whose faith had been completely renewed through contact with the team, and she subsequently joined the church. Through her desire to invest more of her time and energy, a place called ABC grew out of Danceabout. Here parents can come for a chat and a coffee, hear a relevant talk by a health professional, encourage each other and be refreshed.
These two initiatives have over the years connected with more than 500 families. This is the kind of remarkable good news story that can show society how relevant the Church is to a community. And we need to be telling these kinds of stories, as they can help open people's hearts to the message of Jesus Christ.
Of course, the Church doesn't always get it right. For me and my family, Church has at times been a source of pain along with some of our greatest joys. But I can't get away from the fact that God has decided to use the Church as His agent for change. And this is a privilege as well as a challenge.
I agree with Willow Creek's Bill Hybels when he says, "The local church is the hope of the world." So let's stop knocking the Church and let's challenge the media, which just loves to stereotype this Godgiven, Spirit-empowered family of Jesus' people.
And there are many more stories to be told. Last year as I travelled the country as chair of Hope08, I saw some wonderful examples of the Church positioning itself at the heart of communities, being good news as well as preaching good news through events from large, citywide missions to clean-up days at community centres. We need to tell these stories of the Church getting outside its buildings and hitting the streets (such as Street Pastors working in some 100 towns every Friday and Saturday night), offering debt counselling and running courses like Alpha, Christianity Explored and Lyfe.
I am making it my job to gather these stories and share them. I'm also looking for the stories of the unsung Church heroes, people who are humbly making sacrifices to transform the lives of others. And I'd like to hear personal stories of hope, redemption and transformation - how God has helped individual Christians through difficult times in ways they could never have even imagined.
If you have a story of what's happening in your church or churches together in your area, please write to us: firstname.lastname@example.org