“How can we re-start better?” The last 18 months have seen a whole load of activities paused, not least within the church. That’s been difficult, but it has provided an opportunity to ask the question that we would never have considered but for the compulsory break- “Can we shape our church life in ways that will be more effective in helping us to grow?”
I’m grateful that church feels pretty normal these days- we can sing, enjoy catching up with each other and so on. But some things have changed. I’m thrilled that Ben Goldenberg has joined us as assistant pastor (and we are already feeling the benefit as a church a month in). And we have changed the shape of our Sundays together.
For generations past, the church has held two services- 10:30am and 6:30pm. I’m a fan of two services on a Sunday. Worshipping God and hearing Him speak is the highest joy of human beings. It is hard to sustain a committed Christian life off a single hour on a Sunday morning. Equally, though, we were aware of issues with Sunday evenings. A number of the conregation live some distance from the church or walk up from the city centre- two journeys can be fairly time consuming with people tired from the week just gone. Most Sunday evenings followed a fairly similar pattern to the Sunday morning service. That’s fine in many ways- it is always good to praise God, pray and hear the Bible preached. However, I was conscious that it left gaps. We haven’t always been great at applying the Bible to contemporary questions, spending more time in prayer and praise, occasionally being more reflective, digging into key doctrines or heading to less well known parts of Scripture.
All of these have led to a change in how we do our second service. We wanted to reduce the need for two journeys and also give us the chance to spend longer re-building fellowship after 18 months where this has been limited as well as getting to know those new to us. Our morning service is still at 10.30 and continues much as normal- we gather as people of different generations and backgrounds to praise God, hear the Spirit’s voice through the Scriptures, pray and encourage one another. Then we have a fairly simple lunch together- think baked potatoes more than Sunday roast! And now our second service kicks off at 1:30. It is a new shape to Sunday. Every couple of years we have a church weekend- a chance to spend longer in the Bible and getting to know each other. This aims to have the feel of a mini-church weekend each week. We generally finish by 2:30. Obviously, it is not at all compulsory to stay for the second service (don’t worry, if you are visiting us, we won’t force you to be there all day!) but many have done and it has been encouraging thus far.
We have also changed style somewhat. For part of October, Ben is going to lead us through some seminar style teaching getting us to explore the nature of God. In November, I’m going to cover the four wisdom books of the Old Testament in four weeks. In between we will have a session hearing from mission partners around the world and a communion service with a longer chance to praise the Lord. We’ll also spend time praying in groups. My hope is that in the New Year we will dig into some contemporary issues and some practical seminars- always with the aim of enjoying the community God has made us to be and allowing His Word to shape us.
As I’ve chatted with friends from other churches about the plans, the general response has been- “I’ll be interested to see how it goes!” Truth be told, so will I! It is interesting starting something when you can’t guarantee that it will work. Our plan is to trial it until Easter and see what happens.
If you are thinking of visiting the church for the first time, our 10:30am service is the church at its most normal- and is probably the best place to start. But, if you want to hang around, you would be very welcome!
Whether the new format and time is better than the old remains to be seen. However, we can be confident that the Lord will be at work- because, at whatever time we gather, He has promised to be amongst us by His Spirit.