The English church that went up a mountain but came down a hill

I have lived in USA for ten years and UK for five. In both countries I worked for the churches. They are different, the churches in USA and UK, something that became more evident this weekend after Mark Driscoll suggested the UK church was the poorer for not having any well-known teachers. Interview is here.

Somebody say CULTURE-CLASH!

“The problem for us is not that the church is full of “cowards”, but the problem affecting the way Driscoll sees it is that he doesn’t know any “big names”, which he feels we need to have.. . . As a nation, we are extremely uncomfortable with personality cults surrounding leaders and “celebrity pastors . . ” We Mixed our Drinks

“To write off a whole nations worth of preachers based on the criteria that they need to be “well known” is unhelpful anyway. It plays to the celebrity culture that Driscoll has become enmeshed in.” Krish Kandiah

Some differences I have noticed that affect the way we do church in USA and UK:

While Americans memorize their presidents during school and expect other countries to name the most famous of them, the British do not see politics as a celebrity sport but more in terms of policies and parties.

While many [although probably not you, if you are currently writing a nasty comment on my blog] Americans are attracted to spectacle and superlative, the British feel more comfortable with balance and understatement. They would rather call the mountain “a hill” and be corrected, than being accused of making something bigger than it really is.

Back to church cartoon

While Americans stress innovation, the British stress continuity.

While Americans audiences were getting rocked by loud bands on a stage, the British developed club culture in which the stage disappeared and was replaced by a DJ in a booth, putting the lights not on the artist, nor the music, but on the participants themselves. The alternative worship movement in British churches developed along similar lines.

While many American church leaders see thousands of church attenders as the sign of success, some British say 40 is the highest number of church attenders that will still allow an acceptable working dynamic of interaction and intimacy with each other. Any more than 40, and people slip through the cracks or become mere spectators.

While Americans saw the emerging church embodied by a few celebrity pastors and top-selling authors, the British point to the small alt. worship churches and the Fresh Expression movement. Interestingly, out of those 3000 Fresh Expressions that have emerged in the past few years, most Americans could probably not name a single leader. Tell me if you disagree.

Interestingly, while American church attendance has decreased, the British church has noticed “significant increases”.

The church in USA is different than the church in UK. While both countries can learn from each other, exporting value systems across the Atlantic does not always help.

Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name "Precious" :-)

23 Comments

  • Thanks for this post, Andrew. Good stuff. I’ve taken a different tack in responding to this issue, I think that both Mark Driscoll and Krish Kandiah need to be learning from the church around the world, rather than debating the different merits of the UK and USA. http://www.kouya.net/?p=4511

  • I fear that Driscoll does not speak for all Americans. Although, I admire his fire and passion. He, like all of us, are prone to weakness. There are movements in the US which are similar to the UK. We much be cautious when we say the church is shrinking in the US as well. I personally believe that it is simply changing and renewing just as it is in other parts of the world. (At least, that is what I believe. It is not a movement lead by men.) I don’t think I need to say more in simply stating that God is bigger than Driscoll, the UK or the US. Success is not measured by a worship service. It is measured by a divine man dying on a cross. Let’s not delude ourselves or each other.

  • Thank you for pointing out the differences so graciously. I appreciate that the Church looks different in every nation. Like you, I’m interested in how we can learn from each other rather.

  • Amdrew – this is why I have been attracted for some time to the work of Jonny Baker, Karen Ward, Ian Mobsby and this intermixing of the UK-US Anglican stream of new forms of church. Here’s where I find many similarities between the two countries as they’re united by a common Communion – but as you noted, those communities with long-term sustainability are not led by the author/speaker church gurus. IMO, it’s the unique flavor of American evangelicalism (and also strains of prosperity Pentecostalism) that has infused the church planting structure to the point where you can’t really throw out the bathwater without somehow losing the baby as well. No matter how you slice it – new monastic, organic, missional, emergent – it still has that US Evangelical structure and smell to it. 🙂

  • I lived in America for two years and it was only then that I could begin to understand some of the traits that characterise some of its people. I have to admire the American “get up and go,” the desire to press through, but I also found that self-belief difficult when Americans apply it to situations that they do not really know. There is not just one way to do many things, there are culturally relevant ways to do many things and just because it is different doesn’t mean its wrong. Life is not all black and white and I for one am grateful that in front of the throne will be every tongue, tribe and nation – distinct enough to be able to tell they were were from different places with different expressions of love for God.

  • thank you for pointing out the difference, I appreciate that.
    I had no idea, to be honest, that they were any difference.
    And I like the fact that, in the UK, they don’t look at the numbers. In other words, it’s not quantity it’s quality. They seem to be more concerned about whether people are being helped or not.
    The thing is, it’s been proven before in the bible, that bigger doesn’t always mean better:
    In Judges chapter 7, we see that the Lord only needed 300 of Gideon’s men to fight. And they won.
    Anyway, thanks again for sharing the differences. I imagine just because something is different doesn’t mean it’s bad.

  • Andrew … I too liked the Hugh Grant movie you referenced. And I would consider naming a few leaders in the UK Fresh Expressions movement, but wouldn’t want to doubly reinforce the unfortunate American know-it-all-itis that is apparent in this Series of Unfortunate Events, which is so sad that it sometimes seems like it could only be a fictional story. But it’s not. Oh well. Thanks for your perspectives as one who has lived and worked on both sides of The Pond.

  • Andrew, I agree with everything (from the British side of course) except this… “While Americans stress innovation, the British stress continuity.”… Britain is the country of invention – innovation IS part of our culture, from Michael Faraday, Alan Turing, Alexander Graham Bell, Charles Babbage and John Logie Baird to Frank Whittle, Ian Wilmut, James Goodfellow, Tim Berners-Lee, James Dyson and Jonathan Ive! What the US does is SCALE! We did loud guitar worship, we did Alt-Worship, we did “Emerging church” what we never do is do it on a “manufacturing” style scale and yes you are absolutely right we do not like people who “get above themselves”! We left the Empire mentality back in 17 hundreds!

  • Thanks Mark. You are right of course, since you are English. Great examples of English (and Scottish) innovation. I guess i was thinking more in terms of theology, church practice (liturgical in particular) and a stress on “resourcing” our historical Christian roots (UK) rather than finding a better way to break the 1000 barrier (USA).

  • probably not without some serious stereotyping but from conversations in Germany with German friends discussing the differences between UK and Germany,
    the Germans see their own church [and by extension their culture) as more fatherly than motherly, more apostolic than pastoral, more about making things (strategies, programs) work correctly and efficiently than about style, aesthetics, mood, etc. Or in other words, German produces teachers and UK produces worship leaders.
    But this is just idle conversation over German beer. The English might disagree.
    Germans vs. USA? Never really had that discussion.

  • I’ve just come back from 4 years in the UK church. Prior to that I spent 10 years in the US church. I couldn’t agree more with your analysis. I would love to find UK style church on this side of the ocean. Let Driscoll keep his mega churches and super pastors!

  • Thanks for a great post Andrew. I would go on to say that any discrete community will be different from most other communities – Melbourne and Sydney are a good example in Australia.
    AS an Ausie I have also noticed that there is a predilection among my own mob of following either the US or the UK ethos in how we perceive and do church. Unfortunately, along those lines, where we try to do Aussie church it becomes somewhat jingoistic. There are notable exceptions to that of course.
    I am thinking of flying you across the ditch some time too.
    Cheers mate.

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