What does the church of the future look like, or at least the church of the next 3 – 18 months?
One of the questions that has been exercising the minds of church leaders all over the planet is what does church look like after Covid19. Some are even talking about church BC and AC! Does God want church to look the same as it did before Covid19 or is he asking us to use the opportunity this virus has created, amidst the pain and suffering it is causing, to stop and look at what we do and how we do it and evaluate if it is achieving God’s purposes.
Humanity rarely makes major changes unless crisis forces us to. We are creatures of comfort and most of us are change adverse. In Acts 8 we are told that after the murder of Stephen a wave of persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem and the Christians were scattered all over Judea & Samaria. These scattered Christians spoke about Jesus wherever they went and more and more people believed in him. I’m sure none if those Christians who were scattered to avoid persecution would have signed up for that particular school of evangelism but God turned a negative situation for their good and his glory. This can be a similar moment for us.
I believe there are many aspects to this opportunity for change but I want to focus on a single one in this blog. Keath has been speaking for years now about turning the church inside out, about the church existing for the sake of it’s “not yet” members and about the church not having walls. There were numerous dreams & prophetic words shared around our week of prayer and fasting in Feb this year about church meetings without walls, city’s without walls, people streaming in and God alone being the protective wall around his people.
If we work on the assumption that complete lockdown and the ban on gatherings will not last forever but also that restriction on gathering size may continue for quite a while, at least until a vaccine is developed what could our gatherings look like, or more pertinently what SHOULD our gatherings look like. Should we be just looking to get back to meeting in our existing Connect Groups and Sunday meetings or should we be looking at things differently.
If Acts 8 is used as a template, the people who could no longer gather together due to persecution, gathered in other places with new people and continued to share the gospel. Chris Wienand, an apostolic voice to KingsGate, has been saying for years now that anyone with a dining table can plant a church. This language may be intimidating for some, so lets say anyone with a dining table, or any other small gathering point (a table in the pub, a table in a coffee shop, a park bench, a sports club etc) can start a “gospel beachhead”. Once you have a gathering point all you need is some friends/family/acquaintances/colleagues.
So if gathering with some friends for a social occasion is fairly simple how do you move from that to something deeper, something that gives people the opportunity to encounter Jesus?
Thought It’s not going to happen by accident. It’s going to require thinking, dreaming & planning. Who should I invite? Who might be interested? How many can I handle? How might it work? What could it look like?
Intentionality We need to be consistently intentional. If the first conversation I ever have with my neighbour is an invitation to dinner and an Alpha Course, that’s probably going to be too much too soon! If I don’t know their names or greet them when I see them an invitation to something deeper will feel weird and they are unlikely to accept, but if we talk whenever our path cross, we’ve built rapport and I’ve shown interest in them, rather than just looking to “convert” them, they may be interested.
This is a great talk by Simon Edwards of Ravi Zacharius Ministries at the Kingston Churches Together joint meeting last Nov about this topic.
Prayer This won’t be done by planning and human endeavour alone but through prayer and God’s Spirit. Kingston Vineyard Church divided their people up into prayer triplets at the start of lockdown for their own support and discipleship. However they asked each person in a triplet to identify 2-3 other people who don’t yet know Jesus that they could be praying for. If even 1 of each of those trios comes to know Jesus, we’d probably call that revival stats! One thing is certain, if we aren’t praying for the people none of the other stuff will happen either.
Invitation At an appropriate time after lockdown is lifted gather some people, have a chat, be interested in their lives, their thoughts, their fears, their victories and their failures. Be a friend! Hopefully they are your friends & acquaintances already so this will flow normally. Again, it would be weird if the first social interaction we have with someone, beyond a passing “Hi” was an invitation to deep discussion.
Enquire In the course of your conversation you can enquire if they are interested in further conversation about spiritual matters. Find out what interests them, you’ll have to gauge the relationship and the person, again Simon Edwards talk is great on this. Alternately, the Alpha leaders training is good on facilitating these types of conversation.
Organise If some of your contacts are interested, organise a time for that further conversation. Again, you know your friends. What’s going to work best? A conversation over a meal? Using a course to stimulate conversation? A book? There are loads of resources out there. For example:
Maybe watching something like “The Chosen” a serialisation of Jesus’ life.
The possibilities are limited only by our imaginations!
Motivation My last point is probably the most important. I’ve been reading about the idea of perichoresis, the greek word which literally means “rotation” or “to move around” which is used to describe the mutually deferring and oneness in love that exists between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This love is self giving, rather than self serving and consequently extends so that others can experience it too. The extension of this this love caused the creation of the world so that others could experience it too. The extension of this love brought Jesus to earth, to die in our place, so that we could experience this love. This love has got to be our motivator for wanting others to experience the love of the Father. Anything else is ugly expansionism.
Carl & Bronny in Wimbledon Village had started an Alpha course with some neighbours in their block before the lockdown. It can be done if we approach it with the right heart. The Alpha Course report that there has been a huge upsurge in people taking the course online since Covid19 kicked in. People are looking for answers.
What if the church of the next 18 month looks like small groups of people meeting in homes and public places, exploring Jesus together, growing in a way that could never happen through large gathered meeting. I’m not talking about getting rid of existing Connect groups or Sunday gatherings but maybe we need a whole lot more groups that look a bit different. Your friends and neighbours may never set foot in a church or existing Connect group but they may set foot in your home and talk about whats troubling them.
If we start dreaming now about what it could look like, then we have something to pray into.