Counting the cost

Welcome Church has been meeting online for a year now, and this week I’m publishing some blog posts to talk about where we’ve been and our thoughts for our future. The first one can be found by clicking here. This is part 4.

In terms of looking forward we’ve talked about the challenge of complexity we face and about the place of online church for us going forwards. Today I want to mention the reality of personal cost.

The last year has had some real benefits

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 WE are 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.

Steps For Unlocking From Covid

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Welcome Youth

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.

Sunday Mornings: Going live at 9.45

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 on Sunday, live at 9.45.