By Claire Hackwood – Fundraising Manager at The Bible Reading Fellowship
It will probably come as no surprise to hear me say that we live in a consumerist society. The UK economy is largely dependent on us acquiring more ‘stuff’, and companies are quick to tell us that their products will make our lives better. I think most of us know deep down that buying and consuming doesn’t bring lasting happiness, but it’s hard not to get sucked into the marketing trap.
Perhaps one of the key reasons for this is the development of the lifestyle brand. These companies aim to tell us who we are can be defined by what we wear, what we do and what we own. Lifestyle brands make their products highly accessible. They are upfront about their values and beliefs. They encourage us to adopt certain rituals, such as breaking a KitKat in half before eating it. And they seek to draw us into a community of likeminded souls who love ‘the brand’.
The vision behind the lifestyle brand is nothing new. In fact, it has been around for millennia in the form of the world’s major religions. The Bible Reading Fellowship (BRF) is rooted in Christianity, a faith with its own distinct set of beliefs, values and rituals, which encourages us to live a lifestyle modelled on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Sounds very much like a lifestyle brand doesn’t it? Yet, in a society that values products such as the smartphone, plasma TV and mocha Frappuccino; Christianity doesn’t quite carry the same popular appeal.
The narrative of Christian decline in the UK is deeply entrenched. We regularly hear that church attendance on a Sunday is falling, but this is just one side of the story. There are many forms of ‘church’ in the UK today and many are thriving.
BRF’s Messy Church is one such example. It reaches people of all ages, particularly families, by being ‘church’ differently. Christ-centred at its heart Messy Church embraces the values of creativity, celebration, hospitality and for all-ages. When it began near Portsmouth in 2004 we had no idea it would become an international movement. Twelve years later and Messy Churches are found across the world in places as far apart as Mauritius, Los Angeles and Sydney. There are now over 3,500 Messy Churches worldwide reaching an astounding 500,000 people each month.
Messy Church isn’t the only area is which BRF is seeing the Church grow. BRF’s Who Let The Dads Out? programme encourages churches to reach out to fathers and their children by running a group where they can spend time together. Currently 234 Who Let The Dads Out? groups are reaching over 8000 fathers and their children each month.
Another of our programmes, The Gift of Years, is improving the spiritual lives of older people in the UK. Through local churches we are growing a network of Anna Chaplains who deliver spiritual care services for older people, such as praying with them and talking through life’s Big Questions. The impact of this work is impressive with just 26 network members working with 3000 older people.
What do all these initiatives have in common? The answer is not that dissimilar to a lifestyle brand. They are all highly accessible – Who Let The Dads Out? groups meet on a Saturday morning when mums’ usually need a break to do the shopping. They model positive values and beliefs – Messy Church welcomes people, whoever they are, and provides them with a meal. They give us the chance to engage in meaningful rituals – The Gift of Years helps older people remember friends and loved ones by running simple memorial services in care homes. And they give us the opportunity to be part of a loving community.
Consumerism may be on the rise, but with it seems to come a greater urge for more meaningful relationships, activities and interactions. As it always has been faith is there to help, enabling us to find meaning and contentment in life and be part of a religious community that can offer genuine love and friendship. Messy Church, Who Let The Dads Out? The Gift of Years, and countless other activities run by faith organisations across the UK, are thriving and growing. Far from being irrelevant faith may be just the medicine we need for modern life.