Rural folks are very loyal to ‘their’ church, in ‘their’ village, so persuading them to get in their car on a Sunday morning and worship in another village in the benefice has always been tricky. We’ve tried just about everything to encourage them to move around the benefice. The rota is constructed so that each church has a range of services throughout the month. If you are a fan of BCP communion there will always be somewhere providing that service on a Sunday in the benefice. Equally if cafe style informal family worship is your cup of tea, that will be happening somewhere too. The only Sunday when there may not be a service in ‘your’ church is the fifth Sunday in the month when one church in the benefice hosts the service and there is the opportunity perhaps to do something different.
The trouble is, that although one congregation is very good at moving around,( a group that take their faith very seriously), the rest treat it as a Sunday off. On most Sundays the average number of worshippers in the benefice is over 100. On Trinity Sunday we managed about 40.
There is a huge loyalty to ones own church even if the service provided may not be your preferred style of worship. We share the same benefice service booklets so worshipping in a different venue should feel very familiar. I certainly don’t adjust my style of preaching between the four churches, only between the different services.
It is worrying as soon, the small numbers in one church mean that providing a service every Sunday (unless they are willing to do something themselves) is not viable. If this place has a communion service only once a month will that mean that the other 3 become Sundays off? Is this the slippery slope to making a place redundant? The community would be horrified because the place is packed at festivals but how long can can sustain things with a regular congregation of 6 people? (Two miles down the road we get more than this at a mid week communion).
There are very fuzzy boundaries between what is church and what is community in the countryside. It seems to me that there is a type of surrogate worshipping that is going. Folks in the village want a congregation there on Sundays praying for the community but they don’t quite believe in God enough to get out of bed every week to worship him themselves. Someone else has to do it for them!
I worry sometimes whether we are worshipping God or the church building.