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
As we restart in person meetings, let’s remember that our meetings are not an end in and of themselves; they serve a wider purpose. When we consider the effort involved in meeting in person again, and we ask ourselves how we feel about it all, let’s remember one thing:
It’s really not about you!
We are part of Jesus’ church; we belong to Him. When we gather it’s for His glory and not our own convenience or comfort. If we were only concerned about ourselves we might feel less motivated to make the effort, but God has a bigger role for us to play in the wider world as individuals and as a church.
Let me highlight the bigger picture in three ways:
1. We are part of a local community
It’s been said the church is the only organisation on the planet that exists mainly for the benefit of it’s non-members. Whether that’s accurate or not is a matter for debate, but it’s certainly true that our church is not just about us; we have a mission both to the town we live in and further afield. Jesus loves Woking, and so should we; His mission should be our mission.
As we start to gather in person again, our meetings are not just about being together and worshipping – although that is important – God actually has a role for us to play as a church in Woking, and a role for each individual to play in the places where they live and work; a role that goes way beyond our meetings. A key part of gathering together is about equipping people for the wider calling they have – the call to ‘love your neighbour’.
The last year has been challenging for our nation and people have been impacted in a lot of different ways. Challenges to health, finance, emotional wellbeing and more won’t disappear overnight and we may find that all sorts of situations of need are brought to our attention; let’s be ready to respond in faith and to help people across our community.
I’m especially looking forward to seeing each of our Welcome Works up and running again, remembering that we’re here to do good and to bring the kingdom of God to people. I’m also looking forward to seeing new people making a commitment to follow Jesus and getting baptised. I’m looking forward to seeing our children being taught and having fun together at church again. I’m looking forward to seeing more leaders raised up and released to serve our church and further afield.
2. We are part of the UK
One thing we need to do as we come back together is pray for our nation. Let’s pray for God to move in renewal and draw many people from across our nation into His Kingdom. We don’t know what God might do in the months ahead, but let’s pray for Him to use what’s happened with the pandemic for His purposes. Let’s pray for him to build his church in every town, city and village in the UK.
I have the joy of meeting (currently online) with leaders from our wider family of churches across the UK, as well as with church leaders from across our town. Every church is now considering how they unlock and at what pace, so it’s a journey we’re all on together, supporting and encouraging one another along the way.
Let’s pray for the church in our nation to stand on it’s feet again and find its voice again. Our nation needs the gospel right now more than ever, so let’s be praying that every church will play its part, whatever the cost, remembering that we’re all on the same team. Let’s pray for a revival.
3. We are part of an international family of churches
We belong to a family of churches called Commission, with churches in 14 different nations including the UK, Europe, South Asia, USA, South America, Africa, East Asia and the Middle East. Let’s remember that we have a part to play in that as well.
To highlight our belonging to an International family of churches there’s a one hour event this Sunday evening (28th March) at 7.30pm called Commission Global. I want to encourage as many of us as possible to join in.
You can register for this event using the link above, or it can be accessed via this video link:
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
We mark one year of online church meetings this week, so I’m publishing some blog posts to talk about where we’ve been and our thoughts for the future. Yesterday I talked about ‘one year of online church’; today I want to start looking forwards.
Recently a group of us were part of an online ‘Learning Community’, with churches from across the UK and Europe, looking at the future of church life as we emerge from the pandemic. We quickly learnt that this wasn’t a simple or straightforward topic, and we encountered some wildly differing views about the future and even about the nature of the church itself! I’m so glad God is with us on this unlocking journey (and He left us an amazing book called the Bible that has a lot to say about the nature of the church …)
Complicated vs Complex
Some situations we face in life are complicated. For example, Jo and I recently purchased something requiring self assembly. When we got the pieces out of the box it was more complicated than we’d expected, but it came with good instructions. We followed these and the result was a success.
Complicated situations can be tackled by consulting experts and following best practice; if we do this we can usually manage complicated situations fairly well. Another recent example was setting up our Livestream for Sundays; it was technically complicated, but a combination of expertise and hard work delivered a great result – my personal thanks to all involved.
But some situations are more than complicated, they are COMPLEX. When something is complex it means there is no clear and established solution, and no certainty around best practice. We are walking an unmarked path, and the circumstances around us may be changing as we go. The end goal may even be a little unclear and there are no genuine experts available (though there will always be people who claim to be experts offering to sell their services 🙂).
When things are complex we have to work out the way forward step by step, adapting as we go, using the best wisdom and advice available, consulting with others along the way. We have to stop along the way to assess our progress and direction of travel. We will probably make mistakes and have to learn from them. We may have to backtrack sometimes. It’s a case of “plan, do, review” or “act, assess, adapt” or “build, measure, learn” (pick your preferred phrase).
As we start to unlock from coronavirus let’s be aware that we are in a COMPLEX situation as a church, not just a complicated one. Circumstances around us keep changing and it doesn’t take long to find out there are wildly differing views available about the process of unlocking, the pace we go at and even the end goal, especially when it comes to the topic of online church .
Time and again we’ve been told that after the pandemic ‘nothing will ever be the same again’ and ‘things won’t go back to how they used to be‘ and ‘we need to find a new normal’. I find myself asking: Is that really true? Is it true for our church? If so, what does it mean? Even if things largely do go back to how they used to be, how long will it take? What stages will we face along the way? Who will actually come on the journey with us?
Although some of the specific challenges we’ll face along the way will be complicated, the bigger picture is complex. Please pray that we have great wisdom as a team.
It’s easy to plan when you have certainty about the future; far harder when the goals posts keep moving, as has been the case all the way through the pandemic.
Today is the anniversary of the first lockdown being announced. It’s possible that all restrictions will lift by the end of June never to return. It’s also possible that this will be delayed. Or that some restrictions will stay. Or that there will be a fourth lockdown as we go into the winter. Or that a dangerous new variant will emerge. Or that the vaccination programme will be delayed. Or that guidance for churches will change. Or that any other number of unexpected things may happen.
If there’s one thing we need to remember as we head back towards in person meetings as a church it’s this:
we need to be flexible
Let’s remember: when the pandemic began none of us honestly expected to still be in Lockdown today, but here we are.
In person meetings
Our first in person meeting is planned for Sunday 18th April …
(Assuming step 2 of the national plan goes ahead on April 12th as scheduled. If it doesn’t we will take a view and make a decision; none of us want to delay, but it’s complex and the situation is changing. Government advice to churches may also be updated along the way, as could general advice. Watch this space. Stay flexible.)
… and during the online Sunday meetings running up to that date we’ll let you know how you can book a place to attend; be ready to book in for that week and for the weeks ahead. I want to reassure everyone that we will follow the guidance for churches to make things Covid secure, so you can feel confident about returning in person; personally I can’t wait.
When we start these meetings, places will be limited. As far as we can tell right now face masks will be mandatory, congregational singing prohibited and social distancing will be in place. There will also be no children’s work or refreshments, but we do hope to have a live band and you’ll certainly be able to enjoy the preach as it happens and to smile behind your mask at people and wave. Despite everything I believe it will be well worthwhile!
Looking to the future though, the situation is complex: What new advice will be given to churches and when? How will the guidance change? When can we sing? What about serving coffee or food? How long will we have to wear face masks? When will social distancing end? When can we start to engage in prayer ministry? When will children’s work begin? Will vaccine passports be legally required for meetings of a certain size? If so will this apply to churches? We’d all like to think the end is in sight with step 4 in June (please 🙏) but it may be much more complex than that in reality.
Our hope is that as restrictions ease, in person meetings will slowly return to (a new?) normal … and this will require many of us stepping up to serve again, so let’s be ready (and this is just another aspect of the complexity we face).
Remember, as Christians we are not on our own. Jesus is with us always, He sent the Holy Spirit to be our helper and we are also encouraged to ask the Father for wisdom:
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1v5
What about the future of online church?
Of course when we do start in person meetings most people will still be watching from home, so I’ll post something about the future of online church tomorrow
Today marks the one year anniversary of Welcome Church moving online, and looking back we can see that God has been faithful to us all the way. This week I’m going to create some blog posts to talk about where we’ve been and our thoughts for the future as a church.
On this day last year – March 22nd – we streamed our Sunday meeting for the first time because of Coronavirus. Little did we know what the following year would bring when we set out on what we believed would be a short period of not meeting together in person.
During that week – with me in a slight panic – Jo and Owen produced two worship songs for us, Darren worked out a thousand technical issues and made it all work, and Simon Field did the filming and editing. When we finished filming the preach I asked Simon what he thought and he replied,
“I dunno. I guess I was hoping for something that would bring people a bit of hope.”
Simon wasn’t wrong though, so we scrapped it on the spot and started again. You can hear the final (positive!) result here if you’re interested. We streamed the meeting though Facebook Live and You Tube because we didn’t have the excellent online platform we use now. I remember sitting at home watching it and feeling pretty emotional.
Let’s take this opportunity to say thank you
There are so many people in our church who’ve worked incredibly hard this year to make online church life possible. Some of the things they’ve done include:
Creating, editing and posting daily encouragement videos
Running Life Groups online
Launching Forerunners online
Running Alpha online
Running courses online including the Bible course, Prayer course, Marriage Course, Marriage preparation, Belonging, Believing and more
Leading prayer meetings online
Leading communion online
Delivering kids work online
Delivering youth work online, including the much appreciated Youth Alpha
Continuing to serve the poor and those in need of support through various Welcome Works, including Debt counselling, Life Skills, Fresh Start, the Money Course, Welcome Families Together, Go Rendang, Useful Wood, and more
Delivering hampers and gifts to many at Christmas
Delivering vouchers to families in need during the national free school meals ‘debacle’
Delivering pastoral care online (four words that describe a ridiculously huge task including – amongst many other things – helping the struggling, the worried, the bereaved, the sick, the dying, the anxious, the depressed, the suicidal, those with marriage issues, the unemployed and those in debt or distress in so many different ways, in addition to the many who were simply needing a bit of godly spiritual advice or direction)
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!
… but it won’t be much like the ones we used to know! The pandemic has made a huge difference to what we can do this year, but we’ve still got some great events planned. Hopefully you’re enjoying our Welcome Church Video Advent Calendar; please make sure you also put these events in the diary so you don’t miss out:
On December 20th in the morning we have a Baptism Meeting
We may not be together in person to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but we can certainly celebrate some of the new Christian births we’ve seen this year. God has been at work despite all the restrictions 😃
There was quite a long time when we couldn’t do baptisms at all due to the Covid regulations, but we’re now allowed to go ahead and we’ve waited long enough! Join us at 9am or 11am at WelcomeChurch.online where we’ll witness 13 people ‘taking the plunge’. Our last preaching series was all about being fruitful, and this is some of our fruit as a church; don’t miss it!
On December 20th in the evening we have our Carol Service with Compassion UK
We love partnering with Compassion UK, and as a church we’ve sponsored over 140 children with them in a certain part of Togo in Africa. We’ve also provided funding for a Child Survival Programme which was raised during our final Building Fund Gift Day in 2019. Through this partnership with Compassion we’re helping to release children from extreme poverty in Jesus name.
Rather than try to pull together our own Carol service in this unusual and difficult time, we’re delighted to partner with Compassion. Join us at 6.30pm at WelcomeChurch.online, bring the whole family and let’s be ready to sing along at home!
On December 24th we have our Christmas Eve online communion
Our online communion meetings are very precious, and what better way to kick off your Christmas than to gather with your family and church to remember Jesus and all he’s done for us? It starts at 6.30pm on Zoom and lasts for about an hour. All the details are in the picture below. Let’s intentionally put Jesus at the heart of our Christmas celebrations this year.
Finally, on Christmas Day we have a Christmas Day Family Meeting
It starts at 10am prompt at WelcomeChurch.online and will last for about 30 minutes. It will be lots of fun for all the family and a great way to remember what Christmas is all about. Don’t be late or you’ll miss it 😃.
After that we’ll be back with a Sunday meeting to kick off the New Year, on Sunday January 3rd at WelcomeChurch.online.
Whatever you’re up to this year, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas.
On Sunday 18th October at 7.30pm, for about one hour, Welcome Church will hold an online Vision Focus meeting. These meetings provide a great opportunity for us to look ahead and share news and vision for the church.
This one will take place on Zoom, and login details will be publicised nearer the time; in the mean time please put the date and time in your diary.
There are three main things we need to talk about that evening:
We have two new elders to propose to the church
We have some staff changes to announce
We want to update you on plans for our Sunday meetings
There are a few other things to mention as well, so don’t miss it!
This Sunday at Welcome Church we’re starting a brand new preaching series called, ‘Sickness, Healing and Death’. This might not sound like the most encouraging topic to kick off the new season with, so why do it?
Firstly I would say it should actually be very encouraging since the gospel is good news for all of life, but beyond that there are three main reasons:
1. We have a number of people in the church who are ill right now, some critically
It’s vital we understand what the Bible teaches about sickness, healing and death so we can handle each situation well, respond with faith, and be ready to help one another and pray for one another.
2. We’re in the midst of a health pandemic as a nation
Coronavirus is still with us. From Monday the new ‘rule of 6’ began. Statistically it’s likely that some more of us will catch the virus, and some may become ill or die from it. We’ve been relatively unscathed as a church so far, and I pray it stays that way, but there are no guarantees. Either way, 100% of us WILL die at some point. Death and sickness are a fact of life, so we need to view these issues Biblically.
3. Most importantly: we need to move forward again as a church
We need to come ‘Back To Life’, as I preached on Sunday (click here to listen). Before too long we’ll start some ‘in person’ Sunday meetings. We’re legally allowed to do them (with some Covid restrictions) and it will mean stepping out in faith for some of us; in person meetings will challenge us to overcome fear and apathy. A Biblical view on sickness, healing and death will help us overcome fear, and release us into faith.
Let’s embrace this new season
I believe God has great things ahead for us as a church. As we step up and step out again, let’s do it with our eyes wide open and our hearts encouraged by what the Bible teaches on these hugely relevant issues.