The guts to go barefoot

Michael Kellahan

Something strange is happening in my neighbourhood. The local bowling club is going ‘barefoot’ to attract new and younger members.

They’ve kept the same game but thrown out the stodginess - you don’t have to dress up, its very laid back, and everyone is welcome.They’re advertising in the local papers and there’s a banner on the Roseville Bridge. I got a flyer in the letterbox and two personal invitations!  Six months ago I wouldn’t have known where the club was - now I’ve been along. Members were bending over backwards to be helpful and see us enjoy ourselves. I’m going to accept the invitation to come back again.

Lots of Sydneysiders would see our local church like the bowling club - nice old people who get together for a fast dying pursuit that is of little interest to the next generation. Bowling clubs also sit on some very valuable real estate, are struggling to attract new members, and are being sold for more profitable activities.

Is your church prepared to reform itself as radically as the local bowling club? I was really impressed that the club was not content to see the future as a museum to its glory days. Here are some lessons:

1. It is putting itself though a radical reformation in order to connect with the community around it
2. It is ditching many much loved traditions in order to see the next generation play the same game
3. It has opened up its much beloved club to people who don’t understand or appreciate its history
4. It has made sacrificial decisions for the sake of outsiders
5. It is working hard, taking risks, and is doing whatever it takes to connect with the community
6. The welcome promised on their banners was matched in person

In many ways it would have been easier for club members to sit back in the bar, enjoy the games with your friends, and see the club happily slip away. Why bother trying to reach outsiders who aren’t that interested anyway? It all sounds like too much hark work!

I know that church is more than a club, that Jesus is more important than bowling, and that the church has a future not promised to this club. But just as Timothy could learn about ministry from hard working farmers, athletes and soldiers, maybe we can learn from bowlers?

What would church look like if it went ‘barefoot’?