Falling between the cracks (Luke Larner)

Monday, 8 June, 2015

Luke Larner reflects on disillusionment with church and how to deal with it.

I love God, but I really struggle with His fan club sometimes.

I remember writing words to that effect on my MySpace page many years ago in a moment of desperation.

Since that time, my wife and I have worked through some of our disillusionment with established forms of Church, and have found joy in joining one locally. That said, there's still a little itch in the back of our minds that there must be more. We've spent the last couple of years scratching that itch - and discovering that we're not alone.

Our first experience of a fresh expression of church was visiting Zac's Place in Swansea, and a lot of stuff started making sense after observing the beautiful chaos of the place.

My wife and I have been walking with the poor, marginalised and excluded in Luton for a number of years now, and something of Richard Rohr's notion of being on the 'outside edge of the inside circle' resonates with us. As we journey with our friends on the margins, and we see God working transformation in the most desperate of situations, there is one major stumbling block we regularly come across:


We so desperately want our friends to become part of a community of Christ-followers, and are so regularly disappointed when they don't make it. This shouldn't come as a great surprise given that we have struggled with this journey too. 'Severe multiple disadvantage' is a term often used by statutory bodies to describe some of our friends, and it describes quite well the situation of their relationship to Church. It has a totally alien culture, requires the ability to sit still and silent for long periods of time (described as 'my life's aim!' by one of our friends), and as the old saying goes, often answers questions people simply aren't asking.

So what is the solution? I recently undertook a group theological reflection on the subject with a variety of local Christians (including a Bible college lecturer), and was quite surprised at the results. Despite the open-mindedness of most of the participants, they came to a pretty unanimous decision: we need bring change to the institutional Church. This shocked me, as like any good research gatherer I tried to point them in the direction I had already made in my mind (starting a fresh expression), but they just wouldn't bite. They could only see change in terms of what they know as 'Church'.

Much has been written about what we could do differently to improve the status quo by the great minds of folks such as John Drane, but this degree of change isn't going to happen quickly. Rome wasn't built in a day and it won't be unmade overnight. This leaves us with some questions:

  • what do we do for now?
  • what about those whose faith and life is hanging by a thread, who are falling between the cracks?
  • do we love them enough to step out into the unknown?

If you have any ideas, let me know…

Luke Larner is a 'Ragamuffin Chaplain' in Luton and is studying for a Diploma in Theology, Mission and Ministry with the CMS Pioneer Mission Leadership Training Course.


I recently spent some time talking to church 'insiders' on ways to bring such change, and the majority view was that many people felt things were already changing as fast as they could cope with, if not faster, and there was a risk of leaving these people by the wayside in our rush to try to attract others.

I suspect that a short to medium term approach has to be multiple church communities meeting different people's needs, combined with ways of building cross-group community linking very different groups together into one Church. A partial key to that might be getting institutional churchgoers to let go of the conviction that their way is the only true path to being Church, which everyone else has to eventually sign up to.

I herd a woman say if your not prepared to get spat on or get your hands dirty helping befrending brotheers or sisters in the gutter dont bother if your not finding church helping or thay are not trusting you to use the building to care then start up a group up your self and get cracking zacs place is a flag ship to the new church of our day blessings and god be with you

"So what is the solution?" Perhaps God-gatherings (Gg) are the solution!

Attend or start a Filling Station. http://www.thefillingstation.org.uk/ . This is NOT a church it is for all denominations and none. mid-week meetings are designed to be overtly spiritual but presented in a manner that those outside the existing church would feel comfortable in experiencing. Meetings are held on a monthly basis

Hello Luke and all, my church in Colorado recently did a parish wide survey to help us listen to the folks who are not happy with the way we are going. Turns out we are not surprisingly a church divided: those of the establishment church..liturgy, hymnal and people like us above all versus;
The God's calling us to ministry in the neighborhood with our Hispanic brothers and sisters and the many other ethnic groups that are around us.
The Spirit is pushing us out of the building into relationships, shared stories, laughter and tears. God is calling us to be disciples once again. This neighborhood ministry is growing and is a source of joy as well as hard work.
The establishment folks are feeling left out,(by their choice) withholding their giving and other gifts just hanging around and being unhappy.
Its a real challenge..because I believe this movement out of the building is truly the work of God and the Spirit I struggle to let go and trust God and on the other hand to plead with God to show us how to bring some healing so we can move forward. It takes energy to deal with grumpy folks and its hard as the pastor to simply brush the dirt off my sandles and move on. I really believe God is on the move and so here I am.

I once suggested we survey our neighbourhood - using the results only of those who were not in church. The question ' what would make you want to be in church? Then we would use the results to re model what we did and go back and tell our respondents what we had done. Too many Christians know exactly what should happen in church.

From my own experience, I don't think it is only those who experience 'severe multiple disadvantage' who struggle with the experience and constraints of traditional models of church. I'm part of an eclectic group of church-leavers who hate being told what they must believe; kinaesthetics who need to do rather than listen; those who have mental or physical health problems which makes the noise, positivity and length of church services a struggle; creatives who just find it plain dull; and others who feel they don't fit in. We have grown something that involves eating together, talking, doing stuff, creativity, film-watching, reflective activity and the like, taking bits from the historic resources of Christian history that we find work. It is small, organic, chaotic and evolving, but it has held those who church seems alien to. We have found it hard going to get accepted by our denominational authorities - they don't really get it. But to me it seems full of life and faith and hope. On the whole - I think trying to change existing models of church like trying to change the political system in this country - too much vested interest, too risky, too little imagination, too slow and painful. Go grow something new with this fragile, wonky bunch of outsiders - something that has the beginnings of Christian Community and belonging and possibility.... and doesn't ask them to enter a whole new culture or to become people they are not.

Thanks for all your feedback folks. Glad to hear I'm not alone on this journey! Much peace to you all.

Luke Larner

Hey, about twelve years ago I initiated and ran a cafe church service instead of evening services at my church. Attendance quadrupled, both regulars and 'edge' people. however, not everyone thought it appropriate and after three years it was brought to an end. I fell off the 'edge'. Possibly surprisingly, I find myself and my faith still alive and well, although with no desire to climb back on board. I miss the community and sharing, I don't miss the the structures and expectations of conformity. I occasionally come across other people like me - people who have fallen off the edge and whose faith is strong but who wander along. We sometime seek to join the club again, but then realise it is simply not going to happen that way for us any more. I'm content, although maybe just a tiny bit lonely.

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