The supermarket church?


“People travel to their nearest town to go to the supermarket.  Why shouldn’t they travel there to go to church?”

This is one of the arguments for closing rural churches and concentrating on town churches.  As villagers are prepared to go to town to do their shopping, insisting on keeping their parish church open is considered to be difficult.  Town churches could be developed as a hub for local villages, functioning (presumably) in a similar way to the supermarket.

However, this argument misses the fundamental difference between shopping and church going.  We all need food and clothing; most of us also need petrol, household appliances and the chemist.  People are prepared to travel to meet the needs of daily life.

Spiritual life is different.  Many people seem unaware of their spirituality, or think that it is sufficient to go for a lonely walk along the beach.  The church’s message that there is more to life than this and that encountering Jesus is life changing and life enhancing passes them by.  Even committed churchgoers can miss this; they may come to church because they value the church’s role in the community, for friendship and support or because they think it is the right thing to do.

These people are unlikely to travel to the town church, for they will not see it as having a role in either their spiritual or community life.

Only a few committed Christians are likely to make the transfer – and even they will find it difficult.  They are used to thinking about their own community but instead they will be asked to think in very different terms.  The focus of the town church is on the town (where there are more people) and those from the villages may be left feeling the poor relation.  This may be especially difficult for those involved in their local community (school governors, parish councilors, WI, Brownies) as many Christians are.  Even if at the start efforts are made to find good ways of working together, how long are these likely to last when the predominant group will inevitably be focused on the town?