Week 2 -and weekend 2 offered some sharp contrasts. On Friday, I visited Oldham and met with Stephen Kneale, pastor of Oldham Bethel. The church is in a deprived community and is trying to do all it can with very few resources (come back tomorrow to find out what Steve and I talked about).
On Sunday I visited St Luke’s Gas Street. This is the headline Church of England plant in the city centre of Birmingham. A lot of money has been invested into purchasing and renovating a building and a large congregation brought together within a couple of years complete with staff team headed up by well-known worship leader Tim Hughes.
St Luke’s Gas Street is an example of the “Resource Church” approach and anyone who has read my musings on faithroots.net over time will know that I’m not a big fan of the concept. Theologically, I’m also on a different page to the HTB (Holy Trinity Brompton) approach. So, what was I doing there? It’s a good question and to be honest whilst others visited out of curiosity, in its early days I stayed away. The last thing you need at church is a grumpy person sat at the back who has come to find fault with you! I did have the opportunity to sit and chat over coffee with one of their leaders early on and to pray for each other. So before I go any further, I want to say publicly here what I said to him in private. My prayer is that Gas Street will be fruitful. We need churches in this city that are fruitful, that are preaching the Gospel and where people are growing in Christ. Even when we disagree with other believers about some things, where there is a unity on the good news that Christ died in our place and rose again for us, then we can pray this for each other.
So, I wanted to try and learn from a different type of church in a different context. I’d picked up from a few people that there were things Gas Street were working hard at and so I wanted to see what we could learn. The two things I focused on were
- Welcome for visitors.
- Including all ages in worship – particularly handy as this was a “Worship For Everyone” service led by Nick and Becky Drake.
I wanted to focus on these two things because I think they are two of the biggest challenges for churches.
Let’s look at this from another perspective. It’s not very easy for people to walk into church. I suspect that men on their own probably find it hardest of all. It’s a long time since I walked into a church building on my own without knowing people, being there to do something or friends with me. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve done that very often at all. I either go to places to preach or with my wife. The last time I went to a church as a potential member I already knew a few people and they met me and went with me (which is probably a tip in and of itself).
I turned up without my Bible to see what it would be like. as a visitor. My cover was nearly blown by another pastor on sabbatical -obviously doing the same! Here are some of the positives.
– At the door I was asked if it was my first time or just visiting. I explained that I was just visiting. The person then explained three crucial things. 1. That tea and coffee were available. 2. The general layout of the building. 3. Where the toilets were. Those simple things make a difference. Coffee available from the start gives you something to do (and fits in with wider culture, I remember a friend a long time ago saying that church was the only place they made you wait until after the event for refreshments)!
– Scripture readings were provided on the screen.
– There was a “connect point” with well presented literature about the church
– They were providing a “newcomers lunch” – I didn’t stay for this because I was due home and well because that would have just been cheeky!
A couple of quick comments on this
- We can focus on the size of the church and the resources pumped in but actually this was just about doing things well and there was nothing in what I’ve just described that takes a lot of money to make happen.
- The challenge for all of us -so this is not intended as a criticism of one place rather a reflection on where I think we need to keep working, is the hand over from greeters. What do we do once someone has come into our church building. I think that’s where the secret is to say to someone visiting “Let me introduce you to ….”
Worship for Everyone
So, we’ve all been to that “All Age Worship Service” where everyone cringed haven’t we? And come on, let’s me honest, those of us who are pastors, preachers and Sunday Club leaders have led ones where everyone has been cringing, including us!
Good news -this was not one of those occasions. Nick and Becky Drake are passionate about worship being for everyone in a none cringe manner and in a way that doesn’t leave you thinking it’s been dumbed down for the kids. Here are some key things
– Children and young people were involved -and they’d obviously been prepared. This included one young person helping to lead the service and others leading with actions etc.
– There were activities to get involved in – including opportunity to fill in a response card at the end. There was a good visual aid linking hands and holding one of those devices that lights up when a current goes round through every one. One little tip -great to do with volunteers but when you extend out to everyone, there may be people not so keen on the whole hand holding thing!
– They didn’t try and cram lots of activities in. It was actually kept very simple.
– The message -important for an all age service – was focused and to the point.
– It was relaxed. I’m glad to see that toddlers/small children feel free to come up and heckle the speaker there too!
Again -most of that does not require lots of money and resources. Just careful planning and recognition of people’s gifts.
The main lessons I drew were maybe obvious in the end but good to be reminded of them in another context. It comes down to careful planning, a relaxed informal feel actually comes from lots of hard work. Do the simple things well. Encourage and use people’s gifts.