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 Covid-19. Some are even talking about church BC and AC! Does God want church to look the same as it did before Covid-19 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 of 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 its “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, cities without walls, people streaming in and God alone being the protective wall around his people.
If we work on the assumption that complete lock-down 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 let’s 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?
It’s not going to happen by accident. It’s going to require thinking, dreaming & planning. Whom should I invite? Who might be interested? How many can I handle? How might it work? What could it look like?
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 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 lock-down 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 one 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.