Do we spend too much time analysing the mission of the Church and trying to work out how to do it better? Perhaps that's inevitable in a culture where organised religion – and especially organised Christianity – is in decline. Most of us have seen mission initiatives come and go, often without any sustained impact. We are bound to start asking ourselves, 'Where are we going wrong and how can we do it right?'
The Methodist Conference report, 'Time to Talk of God' spends a whole chapter looking at how we can get back into conversation with the dominant culture of our time. It concludes that Christians need to be talking to their neighbours and colleagues about the things which really matter to them.
What then are these pressing issues that we should be prepared to talk about? They are things like: how to help people feel they belong to something or someone in an increasingly fragmented society; work / life balance; spirituality as opposed to religion; the difference between right and wrong in an age of uncertainty. All of these issues – and many more – can give us a way into conversation with people about the things of God.
So is this where we have been going wrong? Can the Church's persistent decline in the West be blamed squarely on our failure to talk to people outside the Church about the right issues, the issues that really interest them? The writers would say that, up to a point, the answer is 'Yes!' Often, Christians talk only to one another, and only about things which don't seem to matter to anyone else.
But, in fairness, the report isn't all about analysis. Like the parables in this week's lectionary, it also leaves room for the Spirit. Our task is to get into meaningful conversation, to go deep and get real, to make ourselves vulnerable by sharing what we honestly think and feel about some of the big issues facing us and our world. We are like the sower who goes out to sow the seed not knowing how – or even whether – it will germinate and grow, but ready to nurture it if it takes root, and to gather in the harvest.
And who can foretell how big the harvest might be if we really got into conversation with our friends and neighbours about the important things in life, and left trivialities behind? Some tiny seeds, planted in the right soil, can grow as big as a tree.
 Mark 4.26—34