I guess the danger of suggesting a high street presence is that I lay myself open to a whole load of good retail analogies - the church is like Woolies in a lot of people's eyes; we cannot compete with big chain book sellers, etc... I think all those are legitimate points. I agree the church is a very tired brand indeed with no commercial future whatsoever.
So, I want to suggest two things about my thinking briefly that might round out what I said in my previous post and point to the thinking that underlies it.
The first is that I want to be a missional presence on the high street. My interest is in making Jesus known to people who don't know him. Those people are less and less likely to darken the doors of our church buildings. And having helped people encounter Jesus to see what kind of groups emerge that help people to be followers of Jesus. I do not think the inherited model of church has much of a future, so new ways of bringing disicples together are urgently needed.
The second is that I am also interested in generating social capital. In the midst of our retail wastelands there is precious little connection being made between people. I believe the church has a key role to play here - meaning 'church' as a community of people coming together because of Jesus rather than an institution that lays on services (precisely what Alan Hirsch talks about in his book The Forgotten Ways).
There is lots of analysis about the reasons for the sense of angst in our society. Both Brown and Cameron have recently laid out their stalls for making our neighbourhoods better places for everyone who lives in them. They don't really add up. Endless think tanks report on broken Britain or versions of it which create vast amounts of column inches in the papers but do little for the growing numbers of lonely and disconnected people in our neighbourhoods.
I genuinely think the gospel has something essential to contribute to the creation of social capital. I saw it in the 15 years I lived and worked in Peckham; I've seen it elsewhere. The kind of community that coalesces around the gospel generates social capital, helps neighbours connect with one another (whether they connect with Jesus or not).
So my idea for a high street presence is about more than retailing. It's about creating spaces where people can hang out, make friends, connect with other human beings, begin to work through issues, etc.
In many ways this is what church buildings did in previous generations but will no longer do precisely because decreasing amounts of people have confidence in the institution of the church to deliver anything they are looking for. What we need to discover are ways of earthing the gospel - which I still believe is the key to helping people get their lives together and satisfy the deep longings of the human heart - in fresh ways that don't carry all the old baggage.
This is a work in progress, so please comment and move the conversation on...