Belonging – Part 5: Track

One of the biggest changes we’ve made at Welcome Church is our approach to church membership, or what we now call belonging. This week I will be blogging each day to explain what we are doing and why we are doing it. To understand it fully, please start at Part 1 rather than jumping in half way through. This blog is Part 5 …

In part 4 we detailed our plan to move forward, and looked at how our new approach to belonging is built around two things: ‘Belong, Believe, Become’ and ‘The Great Commission’.

We highlighted two main changes:

  1. We are going to stop talking about membership and talk instead about Belonging (see the previous blog for details)

  2. We are launching a new discipleship track built around Belong, Believe, Become

So how does this new discipleship track work?

This is where we get really detailed and practical, and this is also very important; this is the stuff we are now doing together as a church.

There are five simple steps to our new discipleship track, so it’s shaped something like this (yes – I know this only shows four steps – that’s sort of deliberate):

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Step 1 is a Newcomers Lunch:

This is open to anyone who wants to attend. They could be a mature Christian who is new to our church, or someone exploring faith for the very first time. They may have come to us through Alpha, or have been coming along on Sundays or to a ministry. It’s open to anyone at all. They are invited to find out more about Welcome Church and we  promote this on Sundays and through all our ministries.

Our aims for the lunch are to help connect new people to the church, to tell them about the church and while they’re with us we invite them to “STEP ON”; to start a spiritual journey with us. Some choose to do that, at which point they have embarked on our discipleship track; the first step towards Jesus.

(For those who love nerdy details, this is the point where we can first add new people to our very helpful and GDPR compliant database and get permission to start e-mailing them and other exciting stuff like that)

Step 2 is called Belonging Together:

This is for anyone who wants to find out what it means to belong to Welcome Church.  The invitation is to come and find out what it means to belong, and anyone who wants to do that is invited.

It consists of one session, usually done in an evening, but during the day if there are people who need that. We talk about our vision and mission as a church, and encourage people to come and play a part in what we do. We invite people to STEP IN” to the church; to choose to say, “This church is my church”.

A person does not need to be a Christian to make this decision, they just need to make a meaningful decision to choose to belong, and to know that they have made that decision. Once that’s done people are free to get involved in lots of areas of serving in church life, and serving is a great way to build good friendships with other people.

(Nerd alert again: this is another great chance to update the database further)

Step 3 is called Believing Together:

This is for anyone who wants to find out more about following Jesus, as well as for any Christians who are new to us as a church. It’s designed for people who have made a recent commitment to Christ, or are on the edge of doing that, or who might have done it and are unsure, and also for anyone who wants to explore the foundations of the gospel again.

It runs over two sessions. The first session focuses on faith. We talk about who Jesus is, what the gospel is and the cost of following Jesus. We explain baptism as well, and encourage people to respond to Jesus and to be baptised as a believer.

The second session focuses on knowing God. We talk about knowing God as our Father and about the person and work of the Holy Spirit. We also pray for baptism in The Holy Spirit.

The purpose of these two sessions is to invite people to STEP FORWARD” – not towards a membership list, since they already belong – but towards a relationship with Jesus.

Once people have made a commitment to Christ the serving opportunities available to them expand … since as a Christian church, some serving roles are obviously only appropriate for Christians to carry out. (Obviously! And people understand that when you tell them.)

Step 4 is called Becoming Together:

This is designed for committed Christians who want to grow in their faith. The invitation is to find out more about becoming all God has called you to be. (This is also open to anyone on the old “Church Membership” list. They can do the other steps, but probably don’t need to!)

There are three sessions. The first focuses on our identity: who we are in Christ, our personal calling and the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to help us live that out.

The second session focuses on the church: what the church is, being God’s family together, why the church matters, our values as a church, plus serving, giving and more.

Session three focuses on the Kingdom Of God: what the kingdom of God is, how we live a life of faith 24/7, how faith impacts our work, our family and our day to day life. It also touches on our call to the nations and to serve the poor.

This is an invitation to STEP UP” to become all God has called us to be. It can also open the door to leadership serving opportunities for people, so there is the one final step, if appropriate:

Step 5 is called Leading Together

This is specifically designed for those who feel called, or are being asked, to lead a ministry. That could be a Life Group, a children’s group, a ministry to the poor or any other leadership role. It focuses on what it means for us to partner in ministry together as a church family.

It’s one session that covers the requirements and responsibilities of leadership at Welcome Church, and it leads to the opportunity to STEP OUT” in a leadership role. It’s not shown as an extra step upwards on the diagram because leaders ought to be a step or two ahead of other people, but they are not necessarily more mature spiritually.

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Every step is taken in a context of Belonging

That’s the end of the basic discipleship track, but steps of growth continue for life.

Remember, the goal is not to become a church member, because we want people to belong to our community right from the start of the process; the goal is to help people come to know Jesus, and become mature in Christ. This discipleship track is underpinned by ‘Belonging’, not as a goal to achieve but as a foundation to build on. People can do all of this whilst belonging to our church community, not in order to belong to it.

In time we want each person to be able to help others to Belong, Believe and Become all that God has called them to be as well; we can each play a part in discipling one another.

In practice a mature Christian joining us from another church might take these steps in a few weeks. Someone completely new to faith might take a lot longer. Perhaps some people will take several years. We don’t mind. Sometimes there will be a discipleship issue that needs more time and attention, and maybe some extra help from a leader. What matters most is the trajectory someone is on, and not the rate of their progress or the challenges they face.

Ultimately this is all about the command of Jesus for his church to make disciples

It’s about leading people through to maturity and towards the obedience that comes from faith, and it’s about doing this in a way that removes barriers we may have inadvertently created in the past.

Are we losing the benefits of membership?

We believe that this approach will keep many of the benefits that our former approach to church membership had for the church. We can still be clear on who belongs to the church, since people will make a decision to belong. We will have opportunities along the way to encourage people towards faith and baptism, and to give guidance on discipleship issues. We will still be encouraging people towards ownership of our shared vision and mission together as a church. There is still ‘protection’ in terms of who can lead or serve in certain ministries or roles.

Finally, for those who are concerned (and I know there will be some) we can still exercise church discipline if we need to … and I guess this last point matters because, after all …

Aren’t there certain people who shouldn’t be allowed to belong to our church?

In fact, isn’t this whole approach simply “compromising the gospel and going soft on sin”?

More on this in the next blog

 

Belonging – Part 4: Plan

One of the biggest changes we’ve made at Welcome Church is our approach to church membership, or what we now call belonging. This week I will be blogging each day to explain what we are doing and why we are doing it. To understand it fully, please start at Part 1 rather than jumping in half way through. This blog is Part 4 …

In part 3 we looked at the barrier that formal church membership, as we’ve been doing it, can present to people from our UK culture.

We finished with a question: 

Is there a way forward that can work?

As a team we have spent hours on this. We have spent days and weeks on it actually. We’ve worked with wiser people than us to consider both the theology and the implications of many possible changes that could potentially be made.

In the end, as a team, we have arrived at a plan we are all excited about, united behind and confident in. We are not claiming that this plan is infallible, or that it’s the right solution for any other church. We are not criticising anyone who takes a different view from us. But this is what we are doing at Welcome Church, and it’s rooted in the journey we are on as a church, looking at our purpose, our identity and our culture. Anyone is free to copy what we do, but they do so at their own peril!

We have a plan that we believe will enable us to move forward, and help make us fit to reach out to Woking in 2019, and it’s built around two things: Belong, Believe, Become and Matthew 28v19-20. It may well be that we will make adjustments to this plan in the months ahead if we find that some aspects of it are not working how we anticipate they will. And any mistakes we make are entirely our own.

Ultimately, it’s all about discipleship

To move forward we are thinking in terms of discipleship and maturity, and not about being ‘in’ or ‘out’. Jesus didn’t call us to make church members, he called us to make disciples, and we need to take that call seriously.

In Matthew 28 v19-20 Jesus gave the church a mandate:

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you …”

We have an ongoing mandate to make disciples of Jesus from people of all nations. That’s a huge calling!

Recently I visited a different church, and in the ‘notices’ they said this:

“Please come to our church membership course. We would love you to become a Church Member here, and once you join us, we can then start to disciple you”

I absolutely understand what they were saying, and maybe they didn’t mean it quite like they said it … but it’s not what we are saying at Welcome Church now, and it’s also not in line with how we would see the Great Commission.

We need to be a disciple making church!

To do this we need to do much more than just disciple Christians who we think have ‘made the grade’, and have been allowed to join a membership list. Instead we need to be making disciples out of all the different types of people who make up our messed up UK culture, just as Jesus did with the people from his own culture. This discipleship can start well before people come to know Jesus, as someone else said to me recently, “I’m now trying to disciple my next door neighbour”.

As a church we want to disciple anyone God puts within our sphere of influence. If you’re not yet a Christian, “Discipleship 101” is for you to find out about who Jesus is and what He’s done for you, and we would love to help you with that … just ask us.

While we’re on this point, look at the order of the Bible verse again: (1) make disciples … who will (2) go on to get baptised … and after that will (3) learn to obey Jesus. That order seems to me to have something of ‘Belong‘ … ‘Believe’‘Become’ about it. In fact, Jesus’ disciples certainly came to faith via those three steps … they belonged with him for a long time before they believed in who he was, and they really only became who they were meant to be after he had left them.

So with discipleship as our priority, we are making TWO BIG CHANGES to help us move forward together to reach this town with the good news of Jesus:

1. We are going to stop talking about “membership”, and talk instead about “belonging”

That’s the first change. It means that we are no longer going to be running a membership day, or welcoming people into membership. Membership is no longer the goal for new people. We are going to stop thinking and speaking in terms of ‘in’ or ‘out’; instead we’re going to focus on helping all sorts of people to Belong.

We’re not saying that we are getting rid of people’s existing membership; if you’ve been a member with us for 5 years or 50 years, you still belong. This is still your church. You belong as much as you ever have, but we are reframing the concept of membership. We are going to talk instead about “belonging” … and we want lots of people to come and belong to our church; to choose to say, “Welcome Church is my church”

So we are saying that people who are still exploring faith can choose to belong; they can choose to say that Welcome Church is their church, whilst they learn to follow Jesus. They can belong to our community before believing, and they can belong to it after believing. They can belong to it while they are still exploring the Christian faith just as much as after they come to faith.

The emphasis is on moving from membership as the goal, to maturity in Christ as the goal, whatever the starting point.

To be frank, we wouldn’t want to say to someone who is not yet a Christian, “You’re a church member”. Language matters, and that could be unhelpful and confusing language.

But … we feel perfectly free to say to someone who is not yet a Christian that they belong to our church community – that our church is their church – while they are still exploring faith. Our hope and our belief (and our growing experience) is that they will go on to find a personal faith in Jesus and be born again … at which point they will be, by definition, members of Christ’s worldwide body, his church (see 1 Cor 12v27 …)

Over time we will disciple people. We will encourage them to be baptised, we will pray for them to be filled with the Holy Spirit. As people learn to live for Jesus part of their calling includes being an active part of a local church. These are all steps they can take while they belong to our community, not in order to belong to it.

An inviting garden or an imposing fortress?

We want our church to be more and more like an inviting garden, where people can come in and explore and taste the fruit. They can sit on the bench, enjoy the smell of the flowers, meet the gardeners (we do need gardeners), ask questions and see what’s going on. They can find a safe place to grow. In time we want them to meet the ‘Head Gardener’, come to faith in him, and learn to be gardeners themselves.

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We want our church to be less and less like an imposing fortress, where we have sentries at the door who check your credentials to see if you’re allowed to proceed any further and who turn you away if you don’t comply.

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So that’s the first change. We are going to stop talking about membership and talk instead about belonging. This is a culture change that will affect our language, our way of thinking and our practice as a church. It will also affect how we view people and how we treat them.

The second change we are making is this:

2. We are launching a new discipleship track built around Belong, Believe, Become

This discipleship track is about helping people learn to follow Jesus, taking them from whatever their starting point is and helping them to grow towards maturity.

How will that work? I’ll tell you in my next blog

Belonging – Part 3: Problem

One of the biggest changes we’ve made at Welcome Church is our approach to church membership, or what we now call belonging. This week I will be blogging each day to explain what we are doing and why we are doing it. To understand it fully, please start at Part 1 rather than jumping in half way through. This blog is Part 3 …

In part 2 we talked about where our approach to Church Membership originally came from, and the challenge it now presents in UK culture.

We ended up with a question:

Should we abandon the idea of membership?

When we look around at the churches near to us, and also at the results of some research we conducted more widely, almost all of the growing movements of churches in the UK, and most of the ‘big’ churches we spoke to (of which we are not yet one) no longer have a formal membership. Not all … but most. Our research also showed that many who do have it are now wrestling with this question.

So should we just stop it? Or is that throwing out the baby with the bath water?

To aid our thinking, let me present the challenge visually:

If you’re a Christian, baptised as a believer and living for Jesus and you come to a church like ours, you find out that there is a thing called Church Membership, and it’s a small step to take. No problem:

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How it is for a baptised Christian who is living for Jesus

If you come from a different church background it can be a bigger step.

Maybe you need to be baptised before you can join, but it’s a step you can take if you want to. Sometimes people don’t want to (“… but then they’re probably better off in another church if they don’t love Jesus properly like we do? Right???” NO!!! WRONG!!! )

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How it is for a Christian from a different church background

So we give people a bit of time, but ultimately they have to choose, and sometimes churches have pressured people unhelpfully.

If you come from a non-Christian background and try to join us, the step is even bigger. There may be some significant things to sort out before you can join, but if you have what some Christians might call “a respectable lifestyle”, you can manage it in the end … although it may take a while to get baptised and to adjust some of your behaviours and relationships, but maybe, in a year or two, you can climb the ladder and join.

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How it is for a new Christian from a “respectable” background.

Many have made this step … although I know it can take a long time, and I also know that some have not been able to make it. Some have sadly walked away. One person in our church’s recent history took seven years to climb that ‘ladder’. I’m amazed he stuck around so long. But what many Christians would think of as “a respectable lifestyle” is disappearing fast.

If you come from a non-Christian background now, it is increasingly likely that the step will look more like this: 

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How it is for the average new person today

There is a wall you can hardly begin to climb. There is so much that needs to change and be addressed before you’re ready for membership as we have had it, that you could be looking at years – and I mean years – of work. All the while knowing that you don’t yet belong. And if we hold back on discipleship until someone becomes a member, we are just making the problem worse.

Remember: our culture has pretty much rejected Christian morality.

People no longer have any pressure to live to a Biblical norm; in fact the opposite is true. Britain today is not a Christian country. Many churches are dying. And this change has come fast … certainly within my lifetime.

I believe that our culture is in a mess (see newspapers for details). I also believe that we need to care. Really we need to pray for revival, but whether God moves in that way or not, the answer is not for us to shout about Christian morality from the spiritual cliff tops, nor is it to have a ‘them’ and ‘us’ mentality. Instead we need to love and care for the lost, and to let God break our hearts for this nation And we need to get closer to those we want to reach and allow them to get closer to us.

But we can so easily live in a Christian bubble, where all we know are our Christian friends. And we can live in our Christian bubble happily, while the rest of the world goes to hell. Many in the work place will know how different the world is now to how it used to be. Some Christian values that were once cultural norms, are now considered to be abhorrent and hateful. The Christian lifestyle is now abnormal! 

To quote a good friend of mine:

“The nice Christian families are already in the nice Christian churches”

We are no longer going to grow much by transfer growth. Those days are virtually gone. We need to reach into our messy world like never before and, if we are to do that, we need to address the barriers that people coming into the church from our modern UK culture will face.

So I believe we need to find a new approach to church membership that will help the broken people coming out of our broken culture, and not hinder them.

So what do we do? Is there a way forward that can work?

I believe there is, and I’ll talk about it in my future blogs

 

 

Belonging – Part 2: History

One of the biggest changes we’ve made at Welcome Church is our approach to church membership, or what we now call belonging. This week I will be blogging each day to explain what we are doing and why we are doing it. To understand it fully, please start at Part 1 rather than jumping in half way through. This blog is Part 2 …

In part 1 we talked about the culture of Belong, Believe Become, which left us with a question:

What about Church Membership?

Membership has been a part of the life and culture of our church for years. Some have been members for longer than I’ve been alive.

Belong, Believe, Become has an impact on this. If belonging is open to all, do we no longer have membership? And if ‘belonging’ is no longer defined as membership, what are we saying? Are we saying that someone who is not yet a Christian is now able to be a church member? Do we have a defined membership anymore? This needs careful thought and first we need to consider:

Where does Church Membership come from?

The first thing to understand is where church membership as we’ve practised it comes from, and the answer surprised me. The first thing to say is that membership as churches like ours often define it doesn’t come from the Bible. The Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 12v27:

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it”

but to apply that to being added to a specific local church’s membership list is to misuse the meaning of the passage. The passage simply means that all Christians everywhere are a part of Jesus’ body on earth, as though we were his physical ‘members’ – meaning the arms, legs, feet, hands etc.

To avoid confusion, some modern translations phrase it like this:

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it”

They’ve changed that word from ‘member’ to ‘part’ in order to remain true to the original text and avoid confusion!

But what else does the Bible say about this?

The Bible makes it clear that, from the earliest days of the church, there were clearly defined local churches. The people who belonged to them knew that they belonged to them and the church leaders knew who their “flock” was, and knew who they were responsible for.

And people could also be put out of a church fellowship too – the ultimate form of church discipline – so there must have been some sense of them first belonging. But there are many different ways to achieve those aims.

So where did our long standing approach originate from?

It’s no surprise that over the years many different ways of being church have been expressed. I would not claim for a moment to have insight into the practice of all types of church over 2000 years of worldwide history! No doubt someone somewhere will know far more than I do, and good for them.

But as a former Baptist Church (of 139 years standing no less) we have the joy of knowing exactly where what we do came from. We can trace it back very easily. The basis of church membership as we have always applied it started not with the Bible, but with a group of Christians called the Anabaptists, who were founded in the 1500’s in Europe. These people were our forerunners, and we can trace our history back to them

Anabaptists

The Anabaptists were a very zealous, faithful and radical group of Christians, who had rediscovered believer’s baptism: the baptism of believers, after conversion, by full immersion in water, after conversion.  In a culture where Christianity was pretty much the national sport, where almost everyone was christened as a baby (which, with genuine love and respect to our Anglican brothers and sisters, is not what the Bible means by Baptism) and where the state church held huge political power, they began to practice believer’s baptism, by immersion … and they suffered for it.

Some were martyred for their beliefs, including in this country. We burned people at the stake over this issue in the UK just 400 years ago. If you search for ‘Anabaptists’ on line, you will find this image comes up, showing persecution of this group by both Catholics and Protestants alike:

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The Anabaptists suffered for their faith at the hands of both Catholics and Protestants

The problem was, these people had broken with the state church. They were no longer under the authority of the Bishops, or of the Pope or the King as the head of the church. They believed in the priesthood of all believers, so they made many decisions by voting to discern God’s will together. And worst of all they were re-baptising people who had been christened as babies. Anabaptists means ‘again baptists’.

In the midst of this persecution they needed to protect themselves, because the members of their churches could vote to change their  church practice, their theology and their leadership. Also outsiders might spy on them and report them to the authorities.

So if you wanted to belong to an Anabaptist church, they wanted to know certain things about you first:

  1. That you were a Christian
  2. That your lifestyle matched up
  3. That you had been, or would be, baptised, after coming to faith in Jesus, by full immersion in water.  If not you could not join them, because this sort of Baptism defined them and they were suffering for it.

The other members then had a chance to approve of you … in case someone knew something about you that others didn’t

So to be a member you had to be a Christian, to prove your faith through life change, to have been baptised as a believer by full immersion, and to have been interviewed and approved of by the other members. And that helped protect the church from persecution. 

To quote a good friend of mine who is a top quality theologian and far more qualified than I shall ever be:

“The Anabaptists put this in place and no one has reviewed it since”

Although that type of persecution has ended for us in the UK, and although this is no longer a Christian nation where everyone is in the state church, the system of membership they began has remained largely unchanged.

It has been replicated in new churches of all sorts ever since, including ours, with perhaps one small change: eldership ‘approval’ replaced congregational ‘approval’ as we ‘rediscovered’ Biblical teaching on eldership, and congregational voting ceased.

Some real benefits

Of course, this sort of membership does bring some real benefits, such as:

  • A clarity about who is ‘in’ and who is not
  • A moment to really encourage baptism
  • A moment to challenge ‘lifestyle issues’
  • A route to good discipleship
  • A call to a deeper level of commitment
  • An ownership of a shared church vision
  • A protection in terms of who can lead or serve in certain ministries or roles

Sadly sometimes it’s also used (or misused) by leaders as a handy lever to motivate people to behave how they want them to … the ultimate threat being expulsion!

But in UK culture today it presents a growing challenge:

Increasingly this can make us seem closed. It can make us seem exclusive. It can make us seem heavy and controlling. It can make us seem like a cult. And it can prevent people from feeling that they are able to belong with us while they explore faith.

In fact many churches are finding that this is becoming an increasingly significant barrier to new people, and therefore an obstacle to people meeting Jesus through us.

So what are we to do? How do we respond to this without throwing out the baby with the bath water? Should we just abandon the idea of membership?

I will address this in my future blogs.

Belonging – Part 1: Culture

One of the biggest changes we’ve made at Welcome Church is our approach to church membership, or what we now call belonging. This week I will be blogging each day to explain what we are doing and why we are doing it. To understand it fully, please start at Part 1 rather than jumping in half way through. This blog is Part 1 …

Belong, Believe, Become

Over the last year we’ve talked a lot about our church culture and the impact it can have on how we reach out with the good news of Jesus. By now you may be very familiar with the words: Belong, Believe, Become (after all, we did preach a whole series on it – click here for details!)

Here is the background to these three powerful words:

As churches we want people to do three things:

  1. Believe in Jesus – to be born again
  2. Belong to a local church – to be an active part of God’s family
  3. Become – to be all God has called them to be (sometimes people say ‘Behave’ rather than ‘Become’)

The order that we put these three things in matters immensely; it has a huge impact on how we do things as a church!

Looking back, I can see that the church I grew up in ordered them like this:

  1. Behave (and it was behave, not become)
  2. Believe
  3. Belong

So, if you were the right sort of person you got invited. Over time you might hear about Jesus and, if you then came to faith and got baptised, and your life was at a good enough standard, you might be allowed to belong as a church member – we even got to vote on whether you were allowed to join. Belonging was defined by a formal membership list. 

Then I found a Newfrontiers church, and we ordered it more like this:

  1. Believe
  2. Behave/Become (it was a mix of the two)
  3. Belong

So we reached out and invited anyone and everyone, and if you came to faith we would begin to disciple you. If you then got baptised and sorted your life out to an acceptable standard of Christian living (whatever we perceive that to be!) you were allowed to become a member. Again, belonging was defined as membership.

This approach has been my default position for as long as I have been leading churches … until now.

In the past I sometimes used the phrase, “Membership before ministry” (Perhaps I just like alliteration).  But if you wanted to do something in church, whether it was lead worship or put out a chair, you almost always had to be a member first because we wanted people who would “do things for the glory of God”.

This worked okay most of the time, and in fact it even encouraged some people towards baptism; they wanted to belong and get involved so they took this step. And as I look back now I question both the phrase and the motivation it gave people.

Is it right to get baptised with “getting involved in serving” as the main motivation? Is that Biblical?

UK culture has changed a lot in recent years

As UK culture changed, this approach began to work less and less effectively. At my previous church we changed from having a long membership course over several evenings to having a one day course on a Saturday. Then we reduced it to half a day.

We did that because many new people went from being keen to join, to actually seeing membership as irrelevant, unhelpful, unnecessary and even exclusive. What a change! And dropping the length of the course didn’t help to motivate people.

So people would start to follow Jesus, get baptised, love the church and make friends, but the question of membership got harder and harder. It was like it simply “did not compute”.

What should we do with the many Christians who were clearly part of us but had not officially joined … and who were often more committed than others who had officially joined but almost never attended?

I was very resistant to changing anything, but the reality was it wasn’t working like it used to. And asking around this was and is a growing issue for a lot of churches.

I personally believe the reason is down to cultural issues: UK culture has changed, the questions people are asking about life have changed, the felt needs of people have changed, the views of people towards the church have changed.

The gospel hasn’t changed, but the culture we live in has changed, so how we reach out needs to change as well – or we run a huge risk.

Climbing a mountain

It was during my Sabbatical break, while I was climbing Ben Nevis, that God spoke to me about this issue.

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Snow in late June … only in Scotland

At the top of Ben Nevis are the ruins of an old hotel.It was once a thriving business, but it’s now a ruin. People still climb the mountains and people still use hotels – but this business died. And as I stood there I believe God spoke to me:

“If you don’t change the culture within your church, you could go the same way as these ruins”

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Not sleeping here tonight!

That brought me up short and set me on a journey towards a different way of thinking about and ordering these words, so we now order them like this: Belong, Believe, Become.

1. Belong

First if all, we want to invite people, Christians and not yet Christians alike, to choose to belong with us; to find a family and a place of acceptance within our church community. Our message is, “Come as you are”.

We don’t want to be forcing life change onto people who don’t have a personal faith in Jesus (or onto those who do for that matter!) and we’re not looking to correct the externals in someone’s life so that God will somehow accept them and we can accept them too; that’s not the gospel.

Don’t forget, we preached a whole series on this, so do listen to that again

2. Believe

Secondly, we want people to believe in Jesus; to find a personal faith in him and be born again. Once people find a place to belong, we are able to model the love and the life of Jesus to them; we can tell them more about him; we can help them understand more about what he did for them; we can help them know both how lost and how loved they are.

We want to see people genuinely and powerfully born again, which of course leads on to life transformation, and things like baptism in water and the Holy Spirit.

3. Become

From that place of faith and new life, we want to help people to become who God created them to be. Once people come to faith in Jesus, they change; once they have a relationship with God, the Holy Spirit brings about transformation.

“Come as you are” … but once you encounter Jesus you won’t stay as you are.

When God is at work in someone they change; inside and out. Sometimes people even look different once they get saved!

And we have a huge part to play in this too; our discipleship of people is crucial.

A year of change

Over the last year lots of Welcome Church people have spoken to me about how their understanding has changed, their attitudes have changed, their expectations have changed and the way they view people has changed. This is good news, and I have changed in these areas as well.

We are becoming Welcome Church in nature as well as in name, and we are seeing a lot more people who are not yet Christians attending our meetings and becoming part of us in various ways – that’s a good part of how we’re now growing.

But what about membership?

Well … I’ll come to that in the following blog posts.

Changes Changes

There’s a lot going on at Welcome Church at the moment.

Our building work is continuing to progress well, and the last house is currently being demolished. This one is taking longer than the rest did, apparently because the bricks are being recycled in a different way.

One message remains clear however – beware of Volvo drivers:

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Beware of Volvo drivers

Membership

Perhaps a bigger change we are working through is our new approach to the subject of church membership at Welcome Church.

We talked about this in detail at our Vision Focus evening on January 13th, and a download from that evening is still available if you ask for it. But to help us communicate as thoroughly as possible I will also be doing a series of blog posts next week to explain again what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

So if you want to know more, follow along next week.

Hope you have a great weekend!

 

 

Breaking New Ground

On Thursday this week we had the official Ground Breaking ceremony for our new Welcome Church building. Exciting times!

Mike Deavin (our Chair of Trustees), David Maskell (a fellow church elder and member of the Buildings Team) and myself (the new boy) each had a turn digging with a shiny new spade.

It was hard work so we soon gave up and drank champagne instead, letting the professionals get on with the job (not entirely sure what our Baptist forebears would say to that …)

Mike gave a short speech to remind us of the buildings journey we’ve taken as a church to arrive at this point. He and others have been working towards this for over twenty years now, so this is a significant moment for the Buildings Team.

 

 

I’m pleased to say that the building work is now well underway. The old houses are quickly being demolished, and the site should be fully cleared and ready for excavation to begin by the end of January. Soon enough, something new and exciting will start to emerge from the rubble of our site.

Finance

Don’t forget that we are still raising the last bit of money that will allow us to complete all the work we want to do, and we have £140,000 still to go (having already raised £1.86m).

You don’t have to wait for a special gift day to contribute. 😉

Prayer

Let’s all be praying for the work to go well with no delays, problems or accidents. I’m praying for three P’s:

  • Provision
  • Protection and
  • Progress

And here are some photos to show you what the site looks like right now. Enjoy:

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