Welcome Church begins in person Sunday meetings from Sunday 18th April and the booking system is now open – click here for the link.
You will be able to book for meetings two weeks before they happen. Please book in as a whole bubble/household with one person leading that booking, rather than having different individuals within your bubble/household do it separately.
Kids/youth are welcome to come with you as long as they can sit with you quietly all the way through the meeting, including the preach – there is no kids/youth/creche yet. If you are bringing them please do include them in your booking so we can make sure you all have a seat.
Places all gone?
It’s perhaps not a big surprise, but all the places for our first in person Sunday meeting were booked in under a minute, however the reserve list is open and is well worth using for several reasons:
We will fit in everyone we can, so you may hear from us
We will be looking to make sure we give priority to people in week 2 who missed out on week 1 – registering your interest now helps us prioritise you later
People may get Covid symptoms and need to cancel, or may cancel for a whole range of other reasons – if that happens we will be filling spaces from the reserve list
Registering your desire to attend helps us work out the real demand and informs our thinking as we look to see if we do the meeting more than once
The available spaces will hopefully grow as Covid restrictions loosen for churches, and as we work out in reality what’s possible in our building.
Don’t forget, until we have space for everyone who wants to attend to do so and until children’s work is up and running again, we will also be Live Streaming each week at WelcomeChurch.online
I’m so looking forward to when there are no restrictions anymore
This Friday (2nd April) is Good Friday, when Christians from around then world remember the crucifixion of Jesus.
On Good Friday last year we held our very first ‘online communion’, and we were joined by Rahul who leads one of the Commission churches in Mumbai, India. Rahul talked about the challenges they were facing in India due to the way Lockdown was imposed and about the work being done to feed people, especially from the rural churches, who were facing starvation.
In response we had the opportunity to give to this, and Welcome Church people contributed £19,000. This was added to money given from some other UK Commission churches and was used to literally save lives during the pandemic.
This year we have a ‘return visit’ from India to bless us
As a church we’ve recently been seeing a lot of people dealing with cancer and other life threatening illnesses. With this in mind, on Good Friday this year we’re being joined by Vinu, who leads the Commission Church family in India.
The plan is for Vinu – hopefully with some others from India too – to pray for those amongst us who are affected in this way. They already have a list of names and have started to pray. As a church let’s gather together on Good Friday, online, and ask for Jesus to pour out his healing power on those who need it.
We will gather from 10am, and all the details are in the picture. Don’t forget you’ll need your own bread and wine/ribena/grape juice/whatever for the communion part of the meeting.
As of this week we are allowed to meet outside again in groups of up to six people (or any number from a maximum of two households). We can do that in public spaces or private gardens. As a church let’s make the most of what we’re allowed to do together.
Meeting in person is good for us in so many ways – mentally, emotionally, relationally, spiritually, socially and more – so this blog is simply an encouragement for us to start meeting in person as and when we can. Life Groups especially might want to take advantage of this (when the weather is good enough) or there may be other friends from church you want to see.
Spring is here. Summer is coming. Warmer, drier days are ahead. Let’s meet up when we can.
Obviously we’re not encouraging people to break or exceed the guidance, and social distancing is still recommended when we meet but, as and when we can and feel ready to, let’s start to make up for some of what we’ve missed as a church over the last year. Let’s all be ‘devoted to the fellowship’ (Acts 2v42).
And don’t forget: this Sunday, during the online meeting, we’ll be letting you know how to book in for our first in person Sunday meeting which will be on April 18th. You can join us here – live at 9.45
There have been significant challenges during the last year and I don’t want to minimise those at all but – and let’s be really honest – there have also been some benefits. Many of us have gone out walking more, maybe we’ve had less meetings to attend, maybe we haven’t had to commute, there’s been less pollution, more Netflix and for Christians …
… Sunday mornings have been a LOT less pressurised!
There’s something nice about watching church in your pyjamas with the whole thing over in under an hour and the rest of the day free … something very nice indeed. There’s no pressure on us to arrive early to set up, or to stay late to clean up. No pressure to plan and deliver children’s work and youth work, to rehearse and play in the worship band, to serve refreshments with the “Brew Crew”, to welcome people, to talk to newcomers, to pray for people, or to face the challenge of getting your family ready, finding a place to park and turning up roughly on time. In some ways we’ve enjoyed ‘church lite’ for a year now, and who would be in a rush to give that up?
But in this area of our lives, as in so many others, what’s best for us may not be what’s easiest!
We have a big calling
Jesus loves the church … Jesus died for the church … Jesus is building His church … and WEare His church. The church is us – the people. We are His body, His bride, His flock, His army, His family and a whole lot more. God’s plans and purposes in our world will be worked out in and through His church, and as a church we are called by God to gather together, to pursue the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, to not give up meeting together … and all of that takes effort.
When the restrictions on churches are lifted (and rumour is that they will be reviewed in line with Step 3 of the National Plan, earliest May 17th) there are lots of things we haven’t been able to do for a while that we really need to pursue again, and we need to pursue them with passion and enthusiasm, and without arguing or complaining. The list above speaks to some of these areas. In reality we would probably all agree that we should be serving our children and youth well, worshipping God together, creating a welcoming environment, sharing fellowship, ministering to one another and leading our families into God’s plans and purposes too … so all the things we haven’t had to do (or been able to do) for a year will soon be a regular part of our church life together again … and we need them to be.
So there’s going to be a cost
As we return to in person meetings again it’s going to take effort and sacrifice from us all. It will mean getting up on Sunday, getting dressed, and actually leaving our houses again. It will mean less lie-ins and more time spent gathering together as a church and being with other people. It will mean overcoming our natural laziness and selfishness, and giving up our comfort. It will mean putting in the time and effort it takes to serve in various ways. And of course it’s going to be a privilege to be part of serving and building the church again in person.
Just like before the pandemic we will need people to plan and run children’s work and youth work, to serve refreshments, to wash up, to help in the car park, to run the PA and AV systems, to lead and play in worship, to pray for people, to welcome people and to do all the many other jobs that go into being together as a church, and …
… the cost of serving is a price worth paying
The Bible is clear that God sees what we do for Him and will reward us for it. Let’s not be afraid to start working together again to make Sunday meetings happen in the months ahead. It may feel daunting right now, like heading back to work or school on the first Monday after a summer holiday, but it’s amazing how fast we readjust. And remember that the goal is worth pursuing too: Jesus is worth worshipping, the church is worth prioritising and we each have a part to play in God’s wonderful mission to our town.
We have a fantastic vision as a church …
“to see lives transformed and communities impacted for good through God’s grace in action”
… so let’s not be afraid of a little action. We have a town to reach with the gospel, and a wider world too, and gathering as a church to worship, to pray, to minister, to be equipped and to grow together as a family is key to that happening, which will mean getting up, getting ready, and leaving home, with all the stress that can bring!
Each one of us has a part to play
Remember, the church is Jesus’ body (1 Corinthians 12) and every part of that body is needed. This means that your church needs you. The question to ask is not, “Will I be part of it again?” but rather “What part shall I play?” Some of us may want to step into different roles than before, and that’s okay, but if that’s the case let’s each be sure that we communicate well, hand over well and we don’t just ‘abandon post’. In the church we’re all called to serve one another, and the time is fast coming when we’ll need to step up again in all the different ways.
In the gospels Jesus called us to count the cost of following him. This particular cost is a relatively small one. No one is asking us to lay down our lives and die for the gospel at this time in the UK, but returning to in person church meetings could mean giving up a little more of our time and comfort on a Sunday and going the extra mile.
Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16v24-25)
So let’s go for this together and let’s be ready to step up and play our part in the body.
Online church has been a blessing during the pandemic
Throughout this time, despite many limitations, online church has enabled us to stay together as a church – to worship, to pray, to preach the Bible and to maintain a sense of community. New people have joined us during this time too, which is great.
Of course there’s been much more to our online church than just Sunday mornings. There have been Alpha Courses, life groups, prayer meetings, training meetings, pastoral care, a leadership development course, communion, Encounter, the marriage course and much more.
So what about the future? What’s our direction of travel for online church?
Some things are really obvious
We’ve learnt many lessons about what’s possible online during this time. Some ministries have worked surprisingly well online, others less so. Beyond the pandemic we want to hold on to the good things we’ve learnt, so some things that work well online might stay online, or at least retain an online option going forwards – what we might call a ‘hybrid’ approach.
Alpha is a good example of this. We will undoubtedly run Alpha courses in person, but an online option could serve some people well, so we may want to offer this. Most Life Groups will want to meet in person again, but there may be some who choose to use an online option sometimes, or even regularly. Some of our courses could run well online and save the need for baby sitters and travel, especially on dark, wet evenings. And our morning prayer meetings have seen more people attending online than attended in person, and that number has grown again recently too.
Equally some things have worked less well online, and we’ve got no plans to continue them online once we can meet in person. Some examples would be Encounter, Welcome Kids, Welcome Youth and Communion. There are other things too.
What about Sunday meetings online?
By talking to other churches and through the Learning Community we attended we’ve discovered that there are some wildly differing views about this question in the wider Christian world, for example:
Some are certain that the future of the church is now online: they argue that we should spend our budget building online church and hiring online pastors. Buildings should be given over mainly to community use and meeting in person would become a rarity – something left over from a previous generation who had yet to discover the wonder of the internet. The Great Commission to ‘Go and make disciples …‘ gets reshaped as ‘Go online and make disciples …‘
Some are pushing for more of a mix: they see the need for an in person congregation for those who want that, but also want to create the option of a fully online congregation where people access their whole church life online, from anywhere in the world, never expecting to meet in person at all. This has been called ‘brick and click’.
Some are wanting to prioritise in person meetings, whilst maintaining an online Sunday presence: the online meeting would serve people within the church when they are unable to attend in person, and would also create an online ‘shop window’ for people looking in. This could be done using either live streamed or pre-recorded content. This is different to having a fully online congregation, in that the goal is to draw people towards in person meetings.
Some are convinced that online church isn’t church at all: they argue that we need to be together physically in real time to exist as a church. Most of these would agree that online technology was a huge blessing during the pandemic, but there are a few who have held out against it all the way through, and haven’t met as churches at all during this time.
There are many different nuances and versions of each of these viewpoints, but the categories above give an idea of the broad spread of thinking that exists. Some of it may surprise you. Some of these options certainly provoke theological questions … and I didn’t even mention the churches that now offer an online, virtual baptism (with no actual water involved 🙂)
We should of course remember that context matters. For example someone might have theological concerns about a fully online congregation, but still be able to see how it could be used to reach and serve people in a nation where the church is not allowed to meet in public, or where there is no church at all. An online Sunday meeting might not tick every box we want it to, but in some situations it could serve the housebound or create an opportunity for people to ‘visit’ a church before attending in person.
Where do we sit on this issue?
As a church our future plans come down to a combination of Biblical conviction, our vision, values and culture as a church, and our sense of God’s leading. Online meetings have served us during the pandemic, but our ability to do many things we value has been restricted. Worship would be top of a long list for me and fellowship would be second. Baptism would be high on my list too.
Biblical conviction tells us that the church is God’s family; his household (1 Tim 3v15). Church is the people, and people need to be together, in person, to build deep relationships. As an illustration, Jo and I have spent time with some of our wider family ‘online’ during the pandemic, but we’re longing to be together in person again; meeting online has just not been the same – and the ones who feel it most in our family are the younger ones who are more tech savvy that I’ll ever be. I also have a friend who’s grandchild was born in Canada during the pandemic. They’ve seen the baby online, but are absolutely desperate to go and visit in person as soon as they’re allowed.
The presence of God is also promised when we gather. We heard from a couple who joined us during the year before the pandemic hit, and who recently got baptised. They said that when they first walked into our building on a Sunday they experienced a powerful feeling they’d never encountered before. They now know that it was God’s presence amongst His people. In one way God is present everywhere (He is omnipresent). In another way He is present in the life of every individual Christian too. Both of these things are true when we gather online. But there is a powerful sense of God’s presence that only occurs in real physical places when we gather together, in person, in His name, to worship Him and lift Him up. That sense of God’s powerful presence that we experience together in person can never be replaced or replicated by an online meeting.
Of course there are things we can do well online but there’s so much we’re called to do together as God’s family that requires us to be together physically. We deeply value the sense of God’s presence when we gather in person. We value being able to minister to one another, to lay hands on one another, to pray over one another, to share communion together, to greet one another with love and affection, to baptise people, to serve together, to disciple one another, to share life together, to invite guests to join us, to eat together, to use spiritual gifts together, to teach our children and youth in a context where they are together with their friends in person, to worship together, to share life together and much more besides. All of these things will be done best in person.
Think about discipleship: we can impart information and run courses online, but discipleship is about more than information and courses. Discipleship includes sharing life together, walking alongside one another, being known, seeing how things are done in real life. There’s nothing like serving side by side to enable rapid discipleship, and that happens in person.
To use an illustration, people may choose to engage in online dating, but the goal is to meet in person. In the same way, people have connected with us online during the pandemic – which is great – but the vast majority have done so with a clear view to attending in person meetings when they restart.
Our culture as a church matters too: we use phrases such as ‘come as you are’ and ‘it matters that you’re here’ and ‘with you, for you’. All of this points us towards being together in person and not just online. Welcome Church culture includes a wide open front door, great coffee and a warm embrace; it needs to feel like coming home.
Finally on this point, God cares about the physical world; the physical matters as much to God as the spiritual. Jesus entered the world in flesh and blood in order to be GOD WITH US, he didn’t just send a message or wave from a window in heaven. His earthly ministry was spent travelling together with his disciples, eating with them, talking with them and being with them – God with us in person. And then He died for us physically. A real event in real time. Touchable. Personal. Painful. Costly. Done in person and not virtually or at a distance.
With all this in mind we have some clear priorities regarding our Welcome Church Sunday meetings as we come out of the pandemic:
We will prioritise restarting physical meetings, in person, where we can do all the things God is calling us to do as a church together and where we can enjoy and experience His powerful presence – this is priority one
We will aim to use online technology to help serve people who are part of our church and who CANNOT attend in person on a Sunday, and we’ll also aim to use it to help new people connect to us, but these two things don’t necessarily have to be done as a live streamed meeting on a Sunday morning.
For clarity: we do not believe God is leading us to build an online congregation of Welcome Church after the pandemic; that’s not our goal at this time, even though some other churches may be led by God to do that; if they are we wish them nothing but success.
This year we want to focus on being back together in person, in our new building, and working through our Welcome Church Recovery Plan. If we were going to put our energy into building something new, a higher priority for us would be a church plant or a multisite (meeting in person) … though a multisite is one of several places where the live streaming we’ve learnt to do might come into its own again.
What does this mean practically?
Decision vs Discovery
Because the situation we face is so complex at the moment (see yesterday’s blog) we need to see our next steps as more like a journey of discovery, than the implementation of a set of decisions. Nothing we will do is set in concrete at this stage. We will take steps, review them, and adjust as we go along to discover the best way forward for our church, and some of that discovery will only happen as we actually attempt some things together. I’m confident that we’ll work out fairly fast what works and what doesn’t, what’s sustainable and what isn’t, what has life in it and what hasn’t.
At the moment almost everything we do is online. When we start in person Sunday meetings again, most people will still be at home, being served by the live-streamed meeting. The live-stream has created a great runway for our return to in person meetings and is going to serve us so well during this time.
At some point we will find ourselves in a situation where most people are with us in person and less people are at home. Eventually we will reach the place where we have capacity for anyone who wants to attend in person to do so, with children’s work in operation as well.
When this last stage is reached, online Sunday meetings won’t be necessary in the same way they are now, although we will probably always want our preaching to be available for people to watch, perhaps because they’ve been away or were serving during the meeting, or are not able to attend a Sunday meeting in person. This doesn’t necessarily mean live-streaming the meeting it as it happens, but it could do. We would also want to keep on connecting to new people and give them a chance to see something of what our Sunday meetings are like before they attend in person; we want a wide front door. Again, this doesn’t necessarily mean live streaming the meeting it as it happens, but it could do. As we go forward we will discover the best solutions.
As we undertake this journey of discovery and change together, moving back towards full in person meetings again, let’s trust God to make the future clear and let’s stay flexible and wide open to His leading.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will direct your paths.” Proverbs 3v5-6
Justin Dowds, the CEO of Compassion UK, has sent us a video update about how the coronavirus pandemic has affected Compassion projects across the world, including the project we support in Togo, Africa. The video is below, do watch it to the end for an encouraging story.
If you want to know more about how we support Compassion as a church you can click here for more information. If you want to step up to sponsorship in the project we support please get in touch with us at Welcome Church and we’ll tell you how.
In the meantime, please let me personally encourage you to write to the children you sponsor, to pray for them and to keep on sponsoring them. Together we are releasing children from poverty in Jesus name.
The Prime Minister described the Covid pandemic as the greatest challenge our nation has faced since the Second World War. It has affected every area of our lives: separation from friends and family, schools closed, shops closed, holidays and events cancelled, working from home, job losses, furlough, daily death statistics, sickness, the loss of loved ones, restrictions on travel and activities, online church, social distancing, face masks, Christmas plans curtailed, the vaccine rollout, the NHS under pressure, stress, anxiety, mental health challenges, loneliness, isolation, boredom … all these impacts and more have taken their toll.
As a nation we are now starting the process of unlocking, with children and young people going back to school this week.
Spring is on its way, this winter is passing and with it come signs of promise.
At this time we need to pray for God to move in power and heal our nation, so this Wednesday evening (10th March), from 7.30pm to 8.30pm, we will be joining with many Commission Churches from across the UK to pray for the UK. We will gather together and pray for God to heal our nation, restore our churches and move in power in our land. You may even see some Welcome Church faces leading parts of the evening.
For information about how to take part, please follow this link here and sign up. Let’s join together and pray for God to bring refreshing, renewal and even revival to the UK.
Guy Miller, who leads the Commission group of churches, has also sent us a short (50 second) video about the event to encourage us to join in:
Last week the government announced a plan for ‘unlocking’ as a nation following Covid. The plan consists of four steps taken at five-week intervals. On Sunday morning I talked about what this could mean for our Sunday meetings as a church, and below is another brief summary. This is an exciting time now with the end of restrictions perhaps in sight, though there could be some delays and changes. If all goes as planned, we might be holding full Sunday meetings, in person, this side of the summer.
Some Guiding Principles
To guide our thinking and planning as a church, we will follow three guiding principles:
We will follow both the guidance, and the spirit of the guidance. Let’s remember that what’s permissible and what’s beneficial are not always the same. Technically we’re allowed to run in person meetings right now, but they’re heavily restricted and almost unrecognisable from how we would want to meet.
We will keep an eye on how people in our church are feeling. We need to stay alert to how ready people are to attend meetings in person and also on how ready we are as a church to run them. The vaccine rollout seems to be going well in the UK, but many in our church are still waiting and may feel vulnerable.
The pace does not need to be the same for every activity. We are not going to pressure ourselves to restart everything at once, especially in light of our Welcome Church Recovery Plan, built around the principles of Renew, Refresh, Rebuild. Some ministries may not restart until the autumn, and others may never restart.
The government plan consists of four steps, and we will make changes as a church in line with each of these steps:
Step 1 (March 8th & 29th)
Children go back to school from March 8th. During this stage we will continue our meetings online as a church, and will be working in the background to get our worship team up and running again with live worship.
From March 29th outdoor gatherings of up to six people (or two households if this is larger) are allowed, not just in parks but also in gardens. Once this happens Life Groups may want to take the opportunity for groups of 6 people to get together outdoors.
Step 2 (Earliest April 12th)
At this stage of unlocking we’ll see hair dressers return (hooray!) and non-essential retailers opening too. Indoor leisure facilities such as gyms and pools will also reopen, albeit with restrictions. In line with this step we intend to start an in person Sunday meeting. People will have a chance to book to attend each week and details will follow.
We don’t yet know what restrictions will be in place for church meetings at this point. We still expect numbers and activities will be very limited and most people will be watching online. Those who attend in person at that time will probably simply be present as we do the live stream.
Step 3 (Earliest May 17th)
At this point indoor gatherings of up to six people (or two households if this is larger) are allowed, which is great news for our Life Groups. Most indoor venues will re-open and groups of 30 can also meet outdoors.
At this step we hope to significantly enlarge the number who can attend on a Sunday. Many more of us will also have had the privilege of a vaccine by then too, so we may well see things really starting to open up. Again, we don’t know what restrictions will be in place for church meetings at this point, but we hope to see these easing and will make the most of whatever opportunities the regulations afford.
Step 4 (Earliest June 21st)
At this step legal limits will be removed on mixing and everything can reopen. Large events are allowed take place again too. There are likely to be changes to social distancing measures at this step, but details are still to be confirmed.
At this step we hope to return to more normal meetings and would want to restart kids work if we can. We will also need to reconsider what happens with our live stream.
At present Welcome Youth are having a great time online in small groups working through the NUA Film series. They will continue online for the remainder of this term, allowing our youth to re-adjust to school life without being overburdened with change. We want to ensure both the safety of our youth and the quality of their time together, so we plan to return to ‘in person’ youth meetings on Fridays in the summer term, all done under the guidelines in place at the time.
Remember: all of this is subject to change!
We plan to take our steps as a church in line with the four national unlocking steps. Each of these steps has a ‘no earlier than’ date and each will only go ahead after an official review. If one step is delayed they will all be delayed, and that could delay us too. We appreciate people being really flexible. Let’s all be praying that there are no delays.
On Monday the government announced a “Four Step” process for unlocking as a nation following the pandemic. This Sunday morning at Welcome Church Online I’m going to be sharing news about how these steps affect us as a church, and about the principles behind our plans for returning to in person meetings.
Each week we go live at 9.45, and this information will be shared at some point before 10. Make sure you don’t miss it!
This Sunday (24th Jan) sees the start of our new approach to Sunday meetings at Welcome Church with the launch of Live Streaming at welcomechurch.online. One, live streamed, weekly meeting will replace the pre-recorded meetings we’ve been creating each week since lockdown began last March.
We will be “going live at 9.45”
The new Sunday morning schedule means that the Welcome Kids meetings will be streamed at the new time of 9am, and you can then stay tuned for the full Sunday meeting afterwards.
Why switch to live streaming?
Live streaming does carry some risks and challenges! For example if the internet goes down at our building, or we hit up against some other technical issue, we could lose the stream. If we make mistakes we can’t edit them out 🙂. Live Streaming is also technically more difficult to deliver well and can’t be subtitled in advance. But there are some BIG advantages too, which relate to our Welcome Church Recovery Plan and will help us towards a return to normal church life:
We can all be together in real time
We will be live in real time and able to interact with one another more easily. We can more easily share family news and updates. We can all be ‘together’ in the same place at the same time (albeit online!)
Lots of us used to enjoy times of fellowship on a Sunday at the start and close of each meeting. Live streaming will allow us to recreate some of that community as we interact through the chat, which the meeting hosts will be able to see and respond to in real time.
Be aware though: it also means that if you miss the meeting when it’s live … you’ve missed it – so set your alarm clock and be there!
It will create a good ‘runway’ for the return to in person meetings
Live Streaming means that, when the time is right, people can attend the live streamed meetings in person. Of course, at the right time, we want to have everyone back in the building and return to a Biblical pattern of church life together, but that still seems to be some way off despite the vaccine. Live streaming will allow us to serve a congregation in the building and at home at the same time, and for us to still all be together as one church.
When restrictions ease enough so that in person meetings can be done in a safe and effective way, we will let you know and people will be able to book places.
Lets make the most of this live stream
Let’s all use this new opportunity to help RENEW our relationships with one another, to RENEW an increasingly Biblical pattern of church life together, to RENEW our sense of adventure together, to REFRESH our vision as Welcome Church, to REFRESH our rhythm of weekly life as a church, to REBUILD our faith for this mission together and to REBUILD our core Sunday meetings.
Live Streaming is a significant step towards our RECOVERY as a church. See you onSunday, live at 9.45.