The Church of England is to recruit directly from nightclubs as part of an evangelical drive that taps into the growth of New Age spiritualism in Britain. Evangelical missions have already begun working with surfing communities in Cornwall and are now targeting clubbers as far afield as Ibiza.
A new Church of England study, Evangelism in a Spiritual Age, also encourages traditional parishes to contact alternative lifestyle groups, many of which have atheist and pagan beliefs.
In the foreword to the study, the Bishop of Maidstone, Graham Cray, says: “This remarkable increase in reported spiritual experiences among adults has to be taken very seriously … spiritual experience of various kind is clearly a key element in contemporary adult evangelism, especially with those who have had little or no connection with the Church.”
The Church is worried that not only are congregations in decline but its research has found 60 per cent of adults and children are already “culturally beyond the reach” of traditionally evangelical approaches. Bishop Cray says: “It is a situation requiring not just fresh expressions of Church but fresh expressions of evangelism.”
As a result, evangelical groups have begun working with young people by setting up missions in nightclubs. These include 24-7 Ibiza, Dawn Patrol and the Bournemouth-based Obsessive Behaviour. The study says: “The focus of all these activities is Christian spirituality and the opportunity, even in the middle of a wild night on the town, to pause and encounter the presence of God.”
Among the other groups being targeted by the Church are those associated with the green movement, holistic medicine and psychic healing.
Although many followers of New Age spiritualism are hostile to religion, the evangelical branch of the Church wants to take advantage of what it believes is a shared interest in some fundamental questions about the human experience such as why are we here?
Evangelism in a Spiritual Age identifies the kind of New Age groups whose spiritualism may share a common philosophy with Christian teaching. To support its argument, the study points out that 6 per cent of the population have tried crystals, 16 per cent reflexology and astrology, 17 per cent tarot and fortune-telling, 22 per cent some form of meditation and 32 per cent aromatherapy.
The Church has also included guidance on the various forms of New Age spiritualism. In the chapter, Evangelism Beyond the Fringes, Rob Frost, director of Share Jesus International, says: “Millions of people are caught up in the social trends of existentialism, fatalism, the nightclub culture, the quest for meaning and the personal development movement. They are searching for a spirituality that works. These trends give us a wonderful opportunity for presenting the Christian message.”
He adds: “We can empower them to find something far more profound and fulfilling than anything which the New Age has to offer … the living Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God.” The study also calls for a new approach to evangelism which will not alienate these groups.
The Church has recognised that many people are hostile to prosletysing Christians. Sandal-wearing bible-bashers banging home the Church’s message are to replaced by a much more subtle and switched-on approach.
“Many of these evangelistic formats seem singularly inappropriate today,” the study says. “The culture has moved on, and what worked yesterday is no longer effective in the ceaseless task of sharing the Good News about Jesus Christ.”
The study also calls on local churches to tap into the spiritualism of their own communities by setting up stalls at the “mind, body, spirit” fair.
TARGETS FOR CONVERSION
“A gateway into New Age activity. What starts as a fine ambition to ‘save the whale,’ ‘clean the beaches’ or ‘stop GM crops,’ often leads to a New Age view.”
New Age hippies
“Watch the tens of thousands who create traffic jams as they seek to celebrate the Summer Solstice at Stonehenge and you will realise this is a mass movement.”