How come you guys don't give up on us?
From an article by The Journal of Missional Practice
Although congregations increase and decrease, especially as new leaders bring a change of style and emphasis, there is something very persistent and consistent about the activity of a Christian community, committed to serve and committed to remain.
That was recently illustrated by the story of The Well Church in Bolton in the Journal of Missional Practice.
They started as a plant in 1872 and grew to 100 adults by 1906. Then there was a period of decline until the 1980's until an energetic minister took responsibility for the pastoral and preaching life of the congregation. The congregation was gradually re-built on the basis of a strong preaching emphasis.
He died and in 2005 the church split over a theological dispute. By the time the dust had settled, just seventeen adults remained.
So where do you begin with a disheartened and broken church? In the article, a new leader highlights three key issues:
a) Bringing unity to the existing congregation in terms of vision and hope.
b) Developing the building so that it could realistically serve the mission strategy of the congregation.
c) Implementing a mission strategy in order to enact a deep connection with the local community, in short, joining with God in the neighbourhood.
The original building was going to be hugely expensive to restore and so was sold. That enabled the church to buy a nearby smaller building which they could then manage to re-develop and extend so that the needs of the community, rather than the needs of the church, could be more adequately served.
The redeveloped building centred around a coffee bar, a worship area and a series of rooms that could be used by the community for a range of events that include activities as diverse as a food bank and a ladies pamper night! The church community encompasses around 150 people in total which means that in terms of numbers the congregation has never been larger since its inception in 1872. Somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 different people connect with the church or its activities over the course of a year.
Much of this activity has produced good relationships with many in the community that have struggled with life and finding their place in the broader society. Some of these folk ask the question ‘how come you guys don’t give up on us?’. There is something very persistent and consistent about the activity of a Christian community, committed to serve and committed to remain.
That locally engendered trust has produced a wider trust from the social agencies and local government authorities. That in turn has led to greater potential opportunities. One such suggestion is the beginning of a conversation about turning an eighteenth century house, now semi-derelict, into a café and wellness centre. The house is located in the centre of a nearby park that sees in excess of 300,000 visitors a year.
Local churches work together well. There is a nearby church with a large auditorium and a tiny congregation and both churches are now exploring sharing space. Trust opens up possibilities for the kingdom of God.
Beyond all this celebratory reflection are the obvious frustrations around exhaustion, the absence of sufficient numbers of competent leaders, and the inevitable question that says something like, ‘we have successfully connected church to the community, now how do we connect the community to a deeper awareness of God? How do we create a rhythm of spiritual life that sustains what we are doing for the longer term? How do we generate a community that reflects a goodness that is more than the creation of good deeds?’
Mission tends to be motivated by the love of God and although mission leads us down many paths, ultimately it needs also to lead us back to the love of God.
Read the full article and see a short video here.
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