Calling all Welcome Church Life Groups!

Life Groups have been key for us at Welcome Church during this time of Lockdown, so I went to say a massive ‘thank you’ and ‘well done’ to all our group leaders for taking their group meetings online so seamlessly and faithfully.

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Different groups have been taking different approaches during this time:

Most have been meeting weekly and some fortnightly. There have been quizzes, competitions, sing-a-longs, breakout groups, Bible studies, prayer meetings, encouragements, worship times, fancy dress, reflections on the Sunday preaching, drawing competitions, poetry, things for kids, virtual meals and a whole lot more.

The most important thing is that people have  connected to caring community during a time of isolation

There are three things I want to say to and about Life Groups:

1. I want to recommend a book and encourage Life Groups to study it together in the weeks ahead.

51ELoj+49hL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_The book is called “Spiritual Feasting” and is written by Jenny Sanders. It has 17 chapters, and each chapter ends with three application questions that groups can work through together. I would recommend looking at just one chapter each week.

I know this will do us all so much good, whether you’ve been a Christian for years or are still just exploring the faith.

The book is available on Amazon by clicking here. At the time of writing it’s on pre-order for a reduced price, but don’t hang about; it’s released on Friday (the 15th May) and will be a little more expensive after that. There’s a kindle version available too.

The book is all about the reality of living life to the full with Jesus, even though we walk through challenges and difficulties. It’s well worth the time and effort to read and will serve us so well. If you’re hungering for a greater spiritual reality with Jesus in your life, this will do you good.

2. I would love to encourage group members to say “thank you” to their Life Group leaders

I suspect lots of people have done this already, but if not please let your group leaders know how much they are appreciated. Why not sent them a thank you?

3. If you’re not in a Life Group and would like to try one, you can

To arrange it, please email us on connect@allwelcome.uk and let us know you want to try a Life Group. Make sure you include your contact details so we can get in touch.

Let’s all be part of a caring community at this time.

Staying Connected

During this unusual time when we can’t meet together in person, there are a number of ways we plan to stay connected with each other as a church. I want to encourage you to make the most of these opportunities, so no one ends up feeling lonely or cut off. Let’s also be on the front foot to invite other’s to connect with us too.

For some people this may mean learning to use technology that’s completely new to you, but go for it anyway! 🙂

Daily Encouragement

Every day at 4pm (Mon to Sat) we are posting a video to help encourage us all during this crisis. It can be found on our church website, and will also be posted to our Welcome Church Facebook page (not the group!) I may blog some of these posts as well, but it would be best not to rely on that. Please be proactive and look on line at 4pm each day, and do let us know of it’s helpful to you.

Life Groups

Over the next few weeks we were due to refresh our Life Groups, with the chance to start new groups or sign up again for existing ones. In order to provide the best connection and care for us all during this crisis, that process has been postponed and current groups will continue for the time being. We’re encouraging people who are not already in a group to connect to one, and if you need help to do that, please contact Dean Guy.

We’re also encouraging all Life Groups to set up a What’s App group chat so people can easily keep in touch. We know that some groups have also started having virtual meetings using Zoom too – what a great idea (more info on that below).

Welcome Youth

Welcome Youth had their first online experience yesterday evening. Despite one or two technical glitches games were played and encouragement was given. Look out for more on that as the weeks progress.

Alpha

Alpha will be going on line via Zoom. They already had a planning meeting online this week. More details will follow in the days ahead.

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The Alpha Planning Meeting on Zoom

Sundays

Sunday meetings cannot take place in the usual way at the moment. This Sunday at 10am there will be a Sunday preach available on the church website, and also on our Facebook page (not the group!) It will also be available as a podcast.

To make this more interactive I will set up a WATCH PARTY starting a few moments after 10am that anyone can join. To access this on the day, be on the Facebook page and ready to go at 10am! The beauty of a watch party is that people can comment and interact together as we go along. (Can I hear an Amen?) I hope lots of us will join in.

Welcome Kids

This Sunday at 9am our first Welcome Kids online experience will be available on the Welcome Church website for you to enjoy with them at home. They have a great plan including craft, worship, games and teaching. This will also be accessible through the Facebook page.

Prayer

As of Monday morning we will be hosting prayer meetings online through Zoom. The plan is to pray from 7.30am – 8.00am, and then again from 1pm -1.45pm. For each prayer meeting we will post an access code in the Facebook group (not the page!)

Please use these codes to join us and pray. We did one on Friday as an experiment and it went really well.

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Pastoral Care

If you have a pastoral need during this time, please do communicate with your Life Group. We also want to pray for people as a whole church when needs come up, so please use the email care@allwelcome.uk to keep us informed. These needs will be prayed for during the Zoom prayer meetings, so get your requests in.

In terms of practical care for those required to stay at home (shopping, getting a prescription, walking a dog etc) we need to use real wisdom! Life Groups and other contacts across the church can do a certain amount, but as this crisis grows we are unlikely to be able to meet every need. Additionally this is a moment to connect well with our community. On this basis there are some things to consider:

  1. Let’s remember to connect well with our own families and neighbours; they may also need our help.
  2. Let’s get involved with the many local volunteer groups that are springing up. Jo and I are involved with our local one in Send, which is being expertly organised by a woman called Ruth. I am now a ‘volunteer coordinator’, and leaflets are going out across our area today. This creates a great opportunity to meet new people and show them love and care.
  3. Practically speaking, most help given in this season is going to need to be done locally, especially as travel becomes restricted. 

An increasing number of Welcome Church people, of all ages, are being confined at home. We now have confirmed cases of Coronavirus amongst the church, and we have others who have symptoms that are as yet unconfirmed. Our first serious hospitalised case is in a relatively young person with young children and no pre-existing conditions.

If you’re helping someone else, or you’re receiving help, please don’t take unnecessary risks or ignore the need for social distancing. To use an  example, this would mean leaving shopping on the door step and not going inside.

Using technology

Technology is a wonderful gift from God. Let’s be grateful for it and embrace it at this time. You may have noticed that there are some specific technologies we are using at this time to help people connect, so please let’s all consider doing the following:

  1. Sign up for our regular emails – you can do that by clicking this link.
  2. Keep an eye on our websiteInformation and updates will be posted there
  3. Install What’s App on your mobile phone. This is a free messaging service that allows you to set up group chats with people. It also allows you to make totally free audio or video calls to friends who have the app, even to people in other nations.
  4. Sign up to Facebook (Yes! Seriously!) Even if you’ve never done this before and swore you never would, now is the time. Once you’ve joined send me a friend request. Also like & follow our Welcome Church page, and join our Welcome Church group. You may have resisted doing this all your life, or you may just prefer Instagram or Twitter or other social media. In simple practical terms, Facebook offers the level of flexibility and interaction that we need right now, so our focus will be there. You can always quit when this crisis is over.
  5. Sign up to Zoom. This is a free app that you install on your laptop, phone or tablet. Sign up for a free account and you can join in everything we do on Zoom. A free account lets you set up meetings of up to 40 minutes length (though you can join ones that last any length of time). If you want to set up long meetings of your own, you can upgrade to a paid account as I’ve done. Zoom offer lots of online videos and tutorials to teach you how to use it, so why not use some of your time to learn? We used it for our elders and admin meetings this week and it was great.
  6. Follow this blog. This is your one stop shop for staying up to date with the church during this crisis. You can click a button to subscribe to it.

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Staying together as a church

Please be encouraged to embrace these specific technologies to help you stay part of the church community during this time. They are a gift from God for us right now and I thank God for them all.

Even if these things are new to you, or you’re someone who thinks “Facebook is so last year”, please join in. Simply put: let’s all be in the same place.

Including everyone

There are always a few people who are unable to connect in the ways I describe above. Perhaps they have no laptop, email or internet (there are a few people in this position), or the internet where they live is just too slow to stream things.

If you have friends in this position, please do phone them and check in with them regularly. In fact, why not do that with lots of people regularly? If we all made just 1 or 2 phone calls a day just to check in with how people are, what a blessing that could be.

 

Covid-19: 12 steps for our church

On Sunday at Welcome Church I spoke about our response to the current Coronavirus Pandemic. This is a moment unprecedented in most of our lifetimes, but moments like this are nothing new historically; many disasters, plagues and viruses have come and gone over the years.

In 1854, the preacher Charles Spurgeon found himself pastoring a congregation during a cholera outbreak in London. You can read about his response during that time here. We need a response to this current crisis too.

Here’s our 12 step plan as a church:

1. Let’s have faith:man-walking-on-gray-stairs-677971

As I’ve said before, this is not a time to panic (read more here). The church is made for a time like this. We are people of faith and we will trust Jesus. We will trust him that our lives are in his hands, and we will trust that He will do good things in and through our church and our lives at this time.

2. Let’s make informed decisions:

We will listen to wisdom and follow official advice, combining that with our local knowledge of the state of play in our own town and church. We won’t be making changes simply for the sake of appearances.

Presently (2pm, 16th March) we’re allowed to meet together as normal, so we’ll continue to do so. If the official advice changes, we will change too. In line with official advice, if you have a new constant cough or a high fever – however mild – please self isolate, and do let us know so we can pray for you.

3. Let’s continue to meet together:

We need to seek God throughout this challenging season. If a point comes where the official advice is to cancel our main Sunday meetings, we’ll meet in other ways and by other means as appropriate. This could include smaller meetings, Life Groups, Facebook live, video recordings, podcasts, blog posts, links to worship songs, email updates and more. Make sure you connect to as many of these things as you can.

Obviously there are some who may need to limit social interaction, on the advice of health professionals, or due to underlying health conditions, but let’s not withdraw simply out of fear, after all – this could go on for some months.

Currently we have decided not to pass an offering basket or take communion. Let’s also be wise in how we greet people or pray for them. Beyond that, we plan to carry on with our diary as planned, in line with the current official advice. But because this crisis is likely to get significantly worse before it gets better, let’s be ready for changes, even at the last minute, and let’s be flexible when they happen.

*** UPDATE ***
This afternoon,
Boris Johnson briefed the nation on the latest measures that the Government would like us to take to help manage the national Coronavirus situation.

Amongst other things it was said, “now is the time for everyone to stop non-essential contact with others and non-essential travel” and that we should all avoid all social gatherings and social contact.

He has also asked people to work from home wherever possible.

In order to comply with this guidance, with immediate effect Welcome Church will be cancelling all meetings, including Life Groups, and closing our office until further notice.

Over the next couple of days we will be looking at how things develop and what that will mean for us as a church, including using online and other resources.

As soon as we have further information we will issue an update via email, social media and our website, so expect to hear from us soon.

Let’s all be on the front foot to care for one another wherever we can.

Remember: none of this is taking our Heavenly Father by surprise.

He can use this time for His purposes in our lives, our church and our nation.

 

4. Let’s pray:

belief-bible-book-business-267559Let’s seek God for his protection on our church, our town and our nation at this time. Let’s pray for wisdom for our government, and strength and endurance for NHS workers and emergency services. If someone is sick we’ll pray for them in whatever way we can as well; just let us know the situation. Please also pray at home and in Life Groups.

We are Christians, not fatalists! We believe in prayer!

Right now the official guidelines tell us to wash our hands often, for at least 20 seconds. If you want to time 20 seconds, try praying The Lord’s Prayer; it works in more ways than one. 😃 We believe in the power of prayer, we also believe in the power of soap.

5. Let’s reject selfishness:

It would be very easy to just focus on ourself and our own family right now: buy what we can, pile it up, look after number one and batten down the hatches until it’s over. By doing that we could miss out on the opportunity of this unusual season we are living through.

Instead of embracing selfishness and fear, let’s show the love of Jesus to our world by responding with kindness, care and generosity to those around us. Let’s connect with our neighbours and those in need, and let’s offer help in Jesus name. And let’s ask Jesus for his help and strength to keep on serving, however tough it gets.

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6. Let’s be ready to care for others:

As a church we are God’s family, so let’s act like a family. This may get easier once some of us have had the virus and recovered, so we can step up in caring for others without restrictions, but let’s not wait until then.

If there comes a point when those who are over 70 are told to self isolate – which could happen in the near future – let’s be ready to help them. And let’s think more widely than just our church; let’s be ready to step up and help our neighbours and any vulnerable people we know as well.

7. Let’s look to pastor our town:

People are in fear. Let’s be ready to speak God’s good news to people, to offer prayer, to help our neighbours and to show a different way of living. Let’s not be selfish. Let’s not spread fear in person or online. Let’s speak faith and point people to the eternal hope that is available in Jesus, and let’s step up to help practically. Welcome Church is here in Woking for such a time as this.

8. Let’s be open to new evangelistic opportunities:

Let’s be ready to tell people the reason for the hope that we have. We have an amazing message of hope in Jesus; he offers eternal life and the promise of his presence with us. We can walk through this season without fear because live or die we can’t lose. And remember: the more you pray for opportunities, the more you get – so be ready.

9. Let’s be worshippers:

God deserves our praise at all times, so let’s live lives of worship in all circumstances. Worship is a spiritual weapon (see 2 Chronicles 20). We’re called to give thanks to God in every circumstance; so let’s be worshippers and not panickers; it’s hard to worship when you’re running away in fear!

10. Let’s lead our children well:

Teach the truth of the gospel to your children and grandchildren. Don’t leave them afraid and don’t model fear to them. Pray for them and pray with them. Remind them that Jesus cares for them. Teach them not to be afraid in life’s difficult circumstances. Teach them that death is not the end for any of us if we put our faith in Jesus. When Coronavirus comes up in conversation be ready to speak words of faith and point them to Jesus. Our kids need evangelism even more than they need soap!

As a family you could worship together, pray together and celebrate communion together. Let’s lead our children in faith, not fear.

11. Let’s entrust our lives to God:

When Esther, in the Bible book of Esther, had to go before the King on behalf of her people, without being summoned by him and in great fear of her life, she said, “I will go before the King, and if I perish I perish”.

This is a time to throw ourselves onto Jesus. Let’s go before King Jesus, ask for his mercy and leave our lives in his hands as we serve those around us. If we perish, it’s in his hands. We are not immune to disease, but death is not the end for us either, and King Jesus has us safely in his hands.

flowers-marguerites-destroyed-dead-200912. If people die, let’s bury them with faith, and care for their families well:

Death is not the end. We have a resurrection to come. If our faith counts for anything, it counts when we face a crisis like this, where people we love may die, or our own lives may be lost. God has not promised us immunity from sickness and death, but his word does show us that we’re immortal until our life’s work is done – so let’s trust him.

THAT’S THE PLAN!

This situation will get worse before it gets better. Jesus does not promise that we will never get sick or die. We may lose people we love to this and we may mourn … but we will not mourn like those who have no hope, and we will not walk in fear.

Jesus won a great victory for us at the cross: death was defeated; our resurrection is promised; victory is ours in Jesus. We can live in contentment despite the current crisis because our Heavenly Father is watching over us and even if we die we will live.

And perhaps this crisis is a good reminder for us all that it’s not wise to live our lives as though sickness and death were the least likely things ever to happen to us; they are a certainty for us all.

Calling ALL Welcome Church People!

At Welcome Church we are in the middle of our “Life Group Refresh”. You can sign up for new Life Groups right now using this link here (or find out what’s going on using this link here if this recent change has passed you by!)

Life Groups start again in the week starting July 1st.

Please don’t forget to sign up ASAP so that you don’t miss out! If you don’t sign up we might assume that you don’t want to be in a Life Group.

Something for everyone

Since there are no Life Groups running during the rest of May and all of June, we will be using this time to do something different: we are going to run our new “Belong, Believe, Become Discipleship Track” (click here for details) at the Welcome Centre

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Let’s all get on the track

Please prioritise these sessions

Whether you are new to the church or have been here for 50 years, these sessions are intended for YOU! It would be so easy to sit back during these weeks, have a break from Life Group and disconnect a little … please don’t do that!

These sessions are so important that each one will run three times:

  • Tue & Wed evenings: 8pm – 9.30pm
  • Wed afternoon: 1pm – 2.30pm (finishing in time for school pick ups)

The exact dates can all be found in our church diary (click here) or through ChurchSuite

We want the whole church to have the chance to experience this discipleship track in person. 

Why are we doing this?

In short: we haven’t replaced membership with nothing; we have a new discipleship track.

This discipleship track is to help people grow and mature in their faith. The reason for running these sessions now is so that everyone who is already part of the church can experience it. This is important for two reasons:

  1. We all have a part to play. We all need to understand this if we’re going to help and encourage other people to access it and move forward in their faith
  2. It will bless you personally!

So come along ready to receive from God over these evenings.

I’m looking forward to seeing everyone there 😃

Refreshing our Life Groups

Life groups (small groups that meet in homes) are a key part of our church life. They are a great a place to connect and make friends, to have fun together, to explore faith and to share life together.

Home based small groups go all the way back to the Bible (see Acts 2v46). Christians have been meeting like this since the church first began, and our church has a great history of these groups over many years.

We want all our Life Groups to be built around …

Fun, Food and Friendship … with Faith

They are about sharing life together, helping new people to connect to the church and building one another up. Some of the groups have been going for many years now and a lot of life has been shared!

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Over the next season we are going to do a refresh of our Life Groups. 

There are several reasons for doing this refresh, for example:

  • Some Life Group leaders feel the need to take a break from leading, often after many years
  • Some groups have been going for a long time, with people feeling that perhaps it’s time to “mix things up a bit”
  • Some potential leaders are very keen to step up and lead new groups

So for these and other reasons, it’s time for a simple refresh!

Here is the refresh process:

The first step is simple: all of our current Life Groups are closing at the start of May. The last week of meeting together will be during the week commencing 6th May.

Why not take the chance during this last meeting to really honour your Life Group Leaders and show them how much you appreciate them?

Then, from 12th May – 9th June, there will be a chance to sign up for new Life Groups. We are producing a small booklet for everyone, listing who all the group leaders will be going forwards, and when and where they will meet.

There will be lots of groups to choose from, meeting in different locations and at different times, and you will be free to sign up for whatever group you want to go to – perhaps listing a top 3.

By mid June we will finish a process of working out who goes where, probably with some discussions as needed. New groups will then start on July 1st running through to Easter 2020 … when we will probably do something similar again

But what if I REALLY LOVE my current Life Group?

If you are in a group you love, and the leaders are carrying on leading and you want to stay with them (and they are happy to have you 😃) … you will get priority for that group.

What will happen in May and June midweek?

Since there are no Life Groups running during most of May and all of June, we will use that time to do something different – we are going to run our new “Belong, Believe, Become Discipleship Track” (click here for details) at the Welcome Centre

Each session will run three times

  • Tue & Wed evenings: 8pm – 9.30pm
  • Wed afternoon: 1pm – 2.30pm (finishing in time for school pick ups)

The exact dates can all be found in our church diary here

Please prioritise these sessions. We want the whole church to have the chance to experience all of it in person. 

We love our Life Groups

We want them to thrive. This refresh is part of that desire.

And don’t forget, there is always space for new leaders to step up …

Recent Travels & Some Future Plans

You may know that in addition to my role at Welcome Church, I’m also involved with Commission more widely. In that role I’ve been out and about a few times lately:

Regional Celebration

46503824_10157865078449692_8412979250755272704_nOn Sunday 18th November I was speaking in the evening at a Regional Celebration for three Commission Churches held in Epsom. The churches involved were Kings Church Epsom, Open Door Church Sunbury and Jubilee Church Shepperton. Epsom have just recently joined Commission so it was great to be there with them for the first time.

I spoke on the topic of Seeing People Clearly, covering some of the material from our own Belong Believe Become preaching series.

I really enjoyed the evening and was pleased to give one of my favourite shirts an outing too. Big thanks to David Maskell for coming with me.

Eldership appointments

The following Sunday evening, 25th November, I was at Bridge Church Newbury appointing three new church elders: Mark Landreth-Smith (Lead Elder), Pete Carter and Alastair Clark.

This was the first set of eldership appointments for this newly planted church, which is a church plant no longer … now a full fledged church.

Jo came with me and it was great to be with them for the evening, and to see the excitement, passion and vision of the people there.

On the same day, in the morning, Chris Kimbangi was appointed as the new Lead Elder at Centrepoint Church in Guildford following Boggles and Jill Harty moving on. Chris is married to Catherine and they have two small girls. Chris was also part of my team back at Grace Church (before I moved to Woking).

I wasn’t there for the morning, but it’s another big step in the life of a church that was planted from us here at Woking. I’m really glad to have Chris and Catherine just up the road and the early reports are that things are going well.

Week away

In between the two Sundays David, Dean, Dub and myself had a week away, as an Eldership Team, in a remote cottage on Dartmoor to talk, pray and plan for the future … with no phone signal or internet!!! 🙁

We had a great time that included looking at some 360 Feedback on our leadership styles (with help from Robin Willison), the role of eldership, pastoral care plans for the future, plans for life groups, plans for integration of new people (with help from Chaz and Mazz McCallister) and future leadership development. We also had the odd visit to a pub (purely to access their Wi-Fi!)

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We now have lots of plans formed for 2019 … YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!😃

Compassion UK

One more thing in case you missed it: Dean is currently in Kenya with the child sponsorship charity, Compassion. He flew out on Thursday morning … and landed back at Heathrow a couple of hours later due to the plane’s undercarriage malfunctioning!

He says it was pretty tense on the plane as it came in to land, but the stewardesses were excellent (nice one BA). He then flew out again a few hours later, this time getting all the way to Nairobi (we hope 😃). Do pray that he has a safe trip and a life changing experience.

This trip is giving Dean the chance to look at the work of Compassion in Africa, something I did myself a couple of years ago. It was an experience that still lives with me.

Next year we will be launching a project with Compassion as a church (although not in Kenya). Look out for more details of how you can get involved with that in the New Year.

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Doing Life Together (an update about our small groups)

We love our small groups!

As a church The Coign has been running small groups for a loooooooooong time. For a while now they’ve been called “Neighbourhood Groups” and meetings have been based around four “W”s:

  1. Welcome
  2. Worship
  3. Word
  4. Witness

Small groups are a great idea …

… in fact they are a Biblical idea. When we look in the Bible at the book of Acts, we see that right in the first church they met in one another’s homes. Christians have been running small groups for a loooooooooong time; they are as old as the Bible, and they are a backbone of church life.

Being in a small group helps in many ways:

  • It creates a place for us to belong
  • It helps us to make closer friendships within the church
  • It can equip us for life and ministry
  • It creates a place to serve
  • It provides a place to find love and support
  • It is the front line of pastoral care
  • It is about ‘doing life together’

That’s a pretty good list of reasons to join one, so if you’re not in one, or if you are and you don’t attend, why not step up and get involved?

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Belonging

We’ve been talking on Sundays recently about how we want to help people from all walks of life to “Belong, Believe and Become”. This desire to welcome people will affect our culture and approach as a church, so it shouldn’t surprise us that small groups have a part to play. With this in mind we’re making a few adjustments to help our groups become even more effective in our overall mission. (We discussed these changes with group leaders at a meeting recently, but we do want everyone to be aware)

What are the changes?

The first change is in the name of the groups. We are going to change the name from “Neighbourhood Groups” to

“Life Groups”

This is because we want them to be about “doing life together”. The idea is to build the groups around three “F”s:

Fun, Food and Friendship

Dub has made a short video to talk about the changes, which gives more detail about why we are doing this and what we intend the Life Groups to be like. The video should be visible below, if it’s not then please click here to view it.

In summary we want Life Groups to eat together, share life’s challenges and blessings, encourage one another in our faith and create an environment where new people, including people who are not yet Christians, can comfortably get involved.

What about our four “W”s?

There is nothing better than food to help people feel welcome. With food involved you could consider starting the meeting a bit earlier too … if it works for your group. Keep the food simple and share responsibility, including for the washing up. It’s a great way to build friendship together.

In terms of worship we don’t expect people to sing along to a CD or try to reproduce a Sunday morning but, if it seems right and you have the resources, you could sing together … but you absolutely don’t have to. For most groups it would probably seem more natural and manageable to break bread together around the table after the meal, and then to pray for one another.

In terms of word, for groups that want them we will continue to provide Life Group questions for the fortnightly meetings to aid the discussions – which again might be done around the table (if you have the space to sit around a table!)

In terms of witness, we want Life Groups to be very accessible – a place we all feel we could invite people to. This is a key part of these changes. Let’s make people welcome!

If you have questions then it’s probably best to start with the video. If you still have questions then please do ask us.

Let’s have fun doing life together!

And let’s have fun helping people from all walks of life to “Belong, Believe, Become” as we reach out to this town with the good news of Jesus.