Probably an author that you are not to familiar with goes by the name of Pete Ward. Pete is a professor at Kings College over in London and my professor mk made me familiar with some of his work a couple years ago. This particular book, Liquid Church, looks at a vision for the church in the increasingly transient culture we live in today. Pete delves into the book in two separate directions but brings them together in the end. Pete not only looks at the church from a theological angle, but also a sociological level. This insightful combination is not something one comes by all the time. I found there to be both negatives and positives to this approach. I greatly appreciated the holistic approach that Pete brought to the table. At the same time however, I often found myself having a difficult time following all his assessments of culture in sociological terms. By the end of the book, he brilliantly bridges the gap of this divide.
I think a good place to begin in summarizing this book would be to define what Pete means when utilizing the language of liquid church and solid church. Maybe the most distinguishing mark would be how we broadly view church. Here, liquid church would be seen as network of relationships (think of Jesus’ words: when two or more are gathered in my name, I am there). To Pete, solid church has come to mean a central meeting place, a location where people gather together. But solid church extends beyond simply the physicality of the location. It has also been a place of membership, a community where one’s identity is (con)formed to fit in with the group. He places three sub-categories under solid church: church acting as heritage site, as refuge, and as nostalgic community. When saying solid church acts as a heritage site, one could conclude this to mean that the church has become a museum, where the pastor is the curator, and the most important task is to conserve and display the traditions of the past. Church as refuge is pretty self-explanatory – a shelter to escape from the world (for example, look at all the self-sufficient mega-churches that never have to go outside of their doors to meet a need). And last, the nostalgic community fills the same capacity as a membership at a country club or being a member of the Red Hat Club.
The church has become ingrained in these three lines of thinking of what the church should be. And honestly, they worked well at a certain time and place. However, culture is changing at epic speeds now, and the church has fallen behind. Instead of adapting to these changes in order to thrive, the church is simply mutating to survive. Churches have succumb to providing a bland middle-of-the-road form of Christianity; thus, nobody will be offended and ‘seekers’ will feel comfortable within the church. Indeed, this has its place. But Pete proposes that the middle way is not what people are seeking and if we are serious about being the aroma of Christ to the world, if we are serious about being the embodiment of Jesus Christ, then environments must be created that stimulate desire within the congregants, rather than providing them their next religious fix (Pete Rollins writes a wonderful passage in his book How (Not) To Speak of God on this idea). The church will be relationships that foster the creation of this desire but for this to take place, and for the church to truly be the church, it comes down to this: the communication of Christ. This may take a multitude of forms. Nevertheless, the church is the church when Christ is communicated through relationships.
That’s just a short summary of the book. I didn’t want to spoil it all for you (if anything, I wanted to create a desire within you to go read the book yourself). A thought-provoking book that will give you hope for the church in the years to come. And possibly, help you not only imagine what the church will be, but participate in the (re)creation of the church in the 21st century.