Over the last year we have seen the beginning of a new phenomenon – the pop up: the pop up store, the pop up bar, the pop up art gallery, the pop up Christmas decoration store. What happens is that a venture that had no previous existence in a space suddenly appears, usually in an obvious place, offering something interesting, and then after a limited time it closes down again.
Why have pop up operations become so popular?
Here are some reasons I can think of:
- they offer their product at a time when people want them. We see this in the seasonal stores that open for that time, or for products that for a short time are really popular.
- The cost of establishing and maintaining them is low. There are not the huge fit out overheads associated with stores that are here to stay. They are normally housed on recently vacated sites and so pay minimal rents.
- They are located where passing traffic occurs, so they are very visible.
- Their short life span means that if you miss out now, you may not get another chance to procure the product; and this enhances the sales opportunity
- It fits with our current cultural desire to have it now and have it delivered immediately.
And our churches?
And why should we think of pop up stores as we consider church life?
The churches of our city are a great testament to the work of God. They generally teach the truth, and are populated by people empowered by God’s Spirit to love and serve.
But they are also places that are very difficult for people new to church life to break into. We have habits and practices that are strange to the onlooker.
Our churches also have a history of being slow to change, which is great when it comes to theological drifting but it does make us look out of date and an artifact of a bygone era.
We have often huddled ourselves in our building that has been standing for some considerable time so that the person who is not part of our group doesn’t even notice our existence. It is very difficult to engage the ‘passing traffic’.
Perhaps our churches should consider creating short lived, pop up churches for specific activities and times.
What would need to be different to do ‘pop up church’?
We would need to think about what is going on in our area and society. What are people interested in/ What sort of season are they in – what things are consuming their minds? Where are they milling around and passing through?
We would then need to think about how we may engage people with their interests and concerns with the true answers that spring only from the gospel of the Lord Jesus.
We would then need to be ready to act. We would have to have people ready and enabled to man the pop up with the right ways of interacting and the time to do so, people actively seeking locations and others able to administer and muster people together. We would need organisers who would know when to start, how big to make the effort and when to close the operation down.
We already have some examples of this, for which we should hold our heads high. At time of natural disaster or community need the church has popped up to help: bushfires, high fatality incidents. During World War 2 tents were erected by CENEF outside St Andrew’s Cathedral as part of the contribution to serving people engaged in the war effort. But there is so much more we might do. At times of high financial stress such as when a large industry closes down devastating a community, or when people plunge much needed funds in excessive gambling, or the loneliness that many feel on New Year’s Day when the sadness of yet another year awaits, or at times of thankfulness when the drought breaks.
We should be visible and present at such times.
The problem with pop up churches
Pop up church is not what God is about. He is making a people of his very own, eager to do what is good. God’s work results in people being gathered to him and each other for extended periods of time as we await His return. We must not be like pop up stores that are here for a moment and then leave; so that the guarantee on items sold cannot be honoured!
Our task must be to enfold people into the family of believers for the long haul.
But could we perhaps use pop up churches as a doorway to engaging with people so that they might become engaged in church life.
Or can we be even more adventurous! Could we consider establishing new ways of gathering that are different to our Sunday Services and weekly Bible study groups. I recall a natural evangelist working in the hospitality industry who saw many table staff at restaurants converted. These people could not come to morning church as they arrived home at 3am, and they were working at evening church time, so the evangelist began a gathering for hospitality folk at 2am in the morning!
The Challenge for Us
A generation ago Coca Cola had a vision of something like “a can of Coke in the hand of every person on planet Earth”. When the Berlin wall came down Coca Cola was there handing out Coke to every person they could find.
Our vision is something like ‘the glory of the Lord extolled from the East to the West’. We need to think of ways that God may use our efforts for this to happen.
Archie Poulos is Head of Ministry at Moore Theological College and Director of the Centre for Ministry Development.
[This article first appeared on SydneyAnglicans.net http://sydneyanglicans.net/blogs/churchlife/pop-up-church]