The influence and power of the local church
Our society seems to be changing at a hectic pace, especially as we start to emerge from the pandemic restrictions, and church leader Ian Savory believes that the local church has an important role to play in influencing that change. Tony Rothe reports.
Ian, senior leader at Lighthouse Community Church in Sheringham, believes that whilst there has been a big decline in some British churches, there has been much encouraging growth in others.
“There can often be a lack of realisation of what is dead, and what needs to be left behind” he explained, “We are often not honest enough about how consumerism affects the church - It’s natural to want to go to a church that has the best music, rousing songs, eloquent sermons, or even the finest coffee! But if we strive for these things, we are missing the point”.
Does Ian think churches are changing? He pointed out that major disasters, such as flooding and plagues, have always had a big impact on the community, but the local church always rises to the occasion. Not just through on-line services, which in themselves have enabled churches to reach many more people than those who would normally come through the doors, but by serving the needy in their local communities.
“There have been several articles in the local and national press about how the pandemic has brought churches back to life. Churches are genuinely loving and caring, and over one third of people believe the church is making a real difference.”
Ian also feels that people underestimate the amount churches do. “Several years ago, Norwich City Council looked at social action in Norwich and concluded that if the work churches did in the city was removed it would leave a massive hole, and I believe it is the same in many other places.”
Ian spoke of a book he had been reading by Rodney Stark called “The Rise of Christianity”, which pointed out that when plagues came most people laid low, but it was the churches who stayed and cared for the dying. This laid foundations for the growth of the church, and is one reason why Christianity grew so quickly.
When asked how the church in Britain needs to change, Ian said that the pandemic will force churches to move on and realise what’s not working. The church hasn’t been confident enough, and needs to rebuild following the model in Ephesians 4 – recognising the gifts of those that God has placed in His church, such as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, and making sure those people are used.
“We must hold on to Christ and what He stands for – no compromises” Ian said, “Churches need to ask if what they are doing is bearing fruit, and if not, it must change, and cut away all the dead wood, and fruitless activities. The Gospel needs to bear fruit, see lives changed and churches grow in numbers and influence.”
He said that churches cannot afford to prop up what’s not working but need to direct their resources to the front line. Workplace chaplains, for example, such as police chaplains can have as much influence as church leaders.
Ian said he was generally optimistic about the future of the church. “It is, after all, the body of Christ, and there is a huge amount of power in the local church. But we must hold tight to Christ, but loosely to all the things we do.”