Last night we finished a three week advent series using film as a way into exploring certain big advent words - Signs helped us look at losing and finding faith; Chocolat gave us the opportunity of examining rejecting and finding grace; and The Shawshank Redemption of giving and receiving hope.
It was an interesting series to prepare for - Jonathan and I team-preached the theme and we tried to allow the films to move the argument on. Many people found the approach stimulating with a good number saying that if we do it again, they will bring friends who are exploring faith for themselves.
The series has exposed the fault lines in the church, however, with many older, more traditional members reacting very negatively to the whole approach.
This clearly gives us some questions to ask in the new year. At the top of the list is 'can you meet everyone needs in one service format?' The obvious answer is 'no' (the question really is a no-brainer!) but it's amazing how many churches - including ours - continue to believe the Holy Grail of one-size-fits-all service formats are just within reach. I think this brief series has told me (again) that it's not.
More than that, I think I've learned that everyone is very intolerant of styles they don't like. We all know that the young vote with their feet, going to meetings, services, events that capture their imagination and look as if they'll scratch where they itch rather more than what's on offer at their home church this week.
Indeed, some of our own young people were at an event across town that featured a band and visiting roadshow. I hope it was good.
What I've seen over the past three weeks is that older, more mature Christian people are equally intolerant and picky about what service format they'll put up with. Some have boycotted the advent series saying they don't like movies, that they come to church to hear the bible read and preached on in a traditional way (well, in a way that's been traditional since Victorian times).
One size does not fit all. And churches that try to stick to this model will wither and die. The reason is simple. If we allow what we do to be determined by those who want the traditional menu - albeit tinkered with at the edges - those wanting more radical change will look elsewhere or more likely stop coming to church altogether, reasoning that the Christian faith offers nothing to help them navigate their way through the world they live in from Monday to Friday.
Eventually, those who champion the traditional model, will die and the church will be empty.
So, it seems to me that we need to revisit conversations we had a year or so ago about having a variety of styles of Sunday service, meeting the needs or suiting the tastes (take your pick which) of those who attend.
Our proposal then was that we have four services on a Sunday morning with fewer people attending each - thus enabling greater interaction between attenders. Each service would have a different feel and focus - though the teaching programme would be common across the day. So those who want a classic style service can have one; likewise those who want a swinging from the chandeliers celebration. There'll be opportunity for a quieter, more reflective service and for a more exploratory, liquid worship style.
Inevitably everyone will have to give a little. For example, timings will change, so people will have come to church at a different time on a Sunday. We'll have to think about the needs of families and which service (or services) has Sunday school provision. But hopefully, everyone would gain more than they would have to give up.
Of course, even this amount of change is only a half-way house to a much more flexible, smaller more federal church structure that I think most churches will have to move towards in the coming generation. But it's a start.
Watch this space as the debate kicks off again next year. Pray for us. And join in the discussion.