Belonging – Part 1: Culture

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

Belong, Believe, Become

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

Here is the background to these three powerful words:

As churches we want people to do three things:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UK culture has changed a lot in recent years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climbing a mountain

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


Snow in late June … only in Scotland

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

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


Not sleeping here tonight!

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

1. Belong

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

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

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

2. Believe

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

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

3. Become

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

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

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

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

A year of change

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

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

But what about membership?

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

Changes Changes

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

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

One message remains clear however – beware of Volvo drivers:

img_4972 2

Beware of Volvo drivers


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

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

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

Hope you have a great weekend!



Breaking New Ground

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

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

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

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



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


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

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


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

  • Provision
  • Protection and
  • Progress

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


Happy Christmas … and some important information

Christmas is here at last and a lot of people will be finishing work today. I hope you have a Fantastic Christmas and a Happy New Year, whatever you’re up to.


Some key bits of info:

The Welcome Church offices will close from 3pm this afternoon, and although people will be in and out for various things in the next two weeks, “normal service” will be resumed on Tuesday 8th January. In emergency do use people’s mobiles, or else email which will be checked from time to time.

Building work ceases for the Christmas season from today as well. The builders will be back on January 2nd and full demolition of the houses will start shortly after that. For site safety reasons (what’s left of) the Car Park will stay closed over Christmas and New Year too.

We will be meeting on Sundays 23rd and 30th December at the H G Wells Conference Centre as normal. On these Sundays there will be one meeting at 10am. I’m preaching on the 23rd myself and I’m really looking forward to it. Don’t miss it!

On Monday 24th, from 4pm – 5pm, we have our Families Christmas Celebration, aimed at Primary School Aged children. This is also at the H G Wells Conference Centre and will be lots of fun. Bring your kids and grand kids for a fun time. There is space for a few more helpers to serve drinks too.

An important date for the New Year

On Sunday 13th January we have our first Vision Focus evening of 2019. It will be at The Welcome Centre, 6.30 – 8.30pm. The main focus of the evening will be to talk about a new approach to the subject of church membership.

Lots of people have asked questions about this, and this is our chance to get some answers and to find out how our Belong, Believe, Become approach will be shaping our future together even more.

It’s going to be a great evening, and key to our future together, so book your baby sitters now.

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas time and that you know the Peace of God, the Presence of Jesus and the Joy of the Holy Spirit whatever may come. And remember: really it’s all about Jesus.




Our Welcome Church Story

Our church has a fantastic back story, which has been written across a time span of 139 years. It was founded in 1879 by Edward Tarbox who seems like a fairly impressive guy to me; a heroic ‘wall-builder’ in God’s Church.

A few years ago John Gloster wrote a history of our church, covering the period from 1879 to 1999, and it makes fascinating reading. This year he has produced Book 2, and it looks like this:


In this new book John traces how God has grown Welcome Church from its early roots as Woking Baptist Church. He recounts how God has led us from the early days, on through the Coign Church years until today, when more than 600 men, women and children are sharing His ‘Welcome’ with the Woking community and far beyond.

Copies of the book are available at the Welcome Centre, costing just £5 (£1 less than the price on Amazon) but, as all profits are going to Welcome Church building fund, feel free to pay more than £5, if you wish! 

John will also be selling copies after the 10.00 a.m. service at HG Wells on Sunday 23rd December.

And what a great idea for a Christmas gift, or for some Christmas reading for yourself. 

The book is fascinating, whether you’ve lived through many years of the Church’s history yourself, or are a comparative newcomer wanting to know more about the heroic ‘wall-builders’ of our past.

And rumours are that Book 1 is getting a makeover too and may be available again in 2019 as well. I’m looking forward to that.

A Carol Service For Woking

I’m really looking forward to our Carol Services this Sunday 16th December (at 4pm and 7pm at the HG Wells Conference Centre).

The services will be fairly traditional: Christmas carols, readings and a short message from guest speaker Adrian Holloway, who never disappoints. There will be BSL signing at BOTH services, and there are some excellent performance pieces too.

To get a taste of the carls in advance, you can listen to one of our amazing performance pieces, O Holy Night, right here. It’s performed by Jo Petch, Owen Petch and Steve Bradfield. Turn it up loud and enjoy:


Or click here for a link to it on You Tube.

This year the Mayor and Mayoress of Woking will be joining us for the 4pm service, and some other Councillors will also be with us at each service too. We are so grateful for all that these people do to serve our town all year long; let’s make sure we thank them.

While each of the services take place, there will be a Christmas Party for Primary School Aged kids taking place upstairs at the same venue, so the kids can enjoy the party and adults can enjoy the carols; it’s a win for everyone.

We finish up with free mulled wine and mince pies too.

All in all it looks set to be a great event, so please come along and please invite your friends and family too.




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!)


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.



Final Gift Day Update

In case you missed the announcement last Sunday, I wanted to let you know the full results of our November Gift Days for the New Building Fund.

The total amount given, including cash, cheques, bank transfers, pledges, and gift aid amounted to a grand total of:


That’s a huge amount of money … so let me say a huge,

“Thank you!”

Adding that to what was received during the Gift Days in May, it now comes to a total of £1.86m given and pledged over the course of just seven months. That is a ridiculous amount of money and represents a huge amount of faith and sacrifice by so many people. I’m a little overwhelmed to be honest!

What next?

For those who have made pledges, please do redeem them as soon as you are able.

Additionally, we do need to raise that last £140,000 needed to finish the job, so do be praying and seeking God about that.

We have several months to do it in, so for those who have not given yet, do consider making a gift, and for those who given already, please keep asking God if there is more he wants you to do.


Thanks. One final thing:

Building work is now underway.

Our contractors (O&D Construction) have taken over the site and put fencing up. Proper hoardings will follow in the next weeks and the demolition and construction work will develop in the months ahead. We will try to post interesting photos when we can, but this lot is the best we can do right now:

In the mean time, for your own safety, please remember that we no longer have the full car park here at the Welcome Centre. There are a few spaces available for those who are employed to work here and for a few of our volunteers and visitors to the building too, but the days of free parking for popping into town have gone!

And please also remember that the building site, behind the fences, is now absolutely off limits! We have had to remind a few people of that this week …


A Welcome Church Gift Day Update

This Sunday – 18th November – is the second of our autumn Gift Days for the New Building Fund.

We’re very excited by what God is doing with our building plans at this time, and in case you missed it, some of the preparatory work started this week:


There is some work going on here …

Yep! A man in a yellow jacket dug a trench between the current building and bike shed, and some cables went in. Lot’s of mess and lots of noise.

The building work starts in earnest from Monday 26th November, and we lose the current Church Car Park permanently from that date (so don’t leave your car in there!)

It’s going to get pretty noisy and messy around here for a while, and step 1 will be the demolition of the houses … which might be fun to see.


In terms of finance, at the start of the Gift Days I announced our target: we need to raise a further £600,000 to be able to do all we plan to do. It’s a lot of money on top of the incredible £1.4m given already, and it’s going to take some sacrificial giving from us all once again.

Let’s be ready to step out in obedient faith and overwhelming generosity as we approach this Sunday’s giving, and let’s each be asking God what he has enabled us to give.

And let’s remember what it’s all for too: this building is all about the mission God has for us here as a church in Woking. We’re here to see lives changed and our community impacted for good. The new building will help us do that so much more effectively.

So let’s step out in faith and let’s do something amazing together once again.

The results after week 1 of our Gift Days are detailed in this short video – Enjoy!

This video contains sub-titles – just click on the caption button to switch them on or off.

The video should be visible above, if it’s not then please click here to view it.

100 Years Of Remembrance

On Sunday morning we marked a significant Remembrance Sunday: 100 years to the day since the end of fighting in the First World War.


Our church has been around long enough that we lost members in both the First and Second World Wars – 14 young men in the first and 4 in the second – and we have war memorials that honour them.

It is our plan to get these memorials appropriately restored and put them back up on the wall as part of our new building project

Looking at the memorials there are some things that stand out:

  • There were two sets of brothers killed in the First World War: Provins and Snell. It must have been a terrible, double tragedy for those families
  • There is one surname we still know well: Gloster. We still have Glosters in our church today and they are related.
  • There is one surname that appears on both boards: MacDonald. They were a father and son, one dying in each war.

When we realise that our church was much smaller in 1914 – 1918, only about 200 people, it brings the scale of that loss into sharp focus.

Remembering our history

On Sunday we observed the two minute silence (silent prayer!) movingly marked by Andrew Dennington playing the Last Post on the flugelhorn.

We also looked at the stories of a few of the men who died … such as


Harry Jater

Harry Jater: 

Died 3/11/1917; Age 33


Harry died fighting in Syria (a country at war again today)
Woking News and Mail said at the time: “He was a member of the Baptist Church and was well known in this district as a local preacher”.

It goes on to say that he was in charge of a Sunday School, and that he used to do work with poor caravan dwellers in Kingfield (where we were then planting a church). He left behind a widow and a young son.


Charles Bessant:


Charles Bessant


Died 12/10/1915; Age 20

Charles was killed when a shell exploded next to him in a trench in Flanders Fields.

He worked on the railway in Woking and he loved football and played in local team. He was also part of a local Bible class.



Henry Gloster

Henry Gloster:


Died 9/10/1918; Age 25

Henry, known as Harry, went to school in Ripley.
He signed up at the start of the war and was injured in Gallipoli. Having recovered he was sent to France, where he got septic poisoning. Having recovered once more he was sent back third time where he was involved in tank warfare. This time he got wounded in the leg and foot.

Recovering once more he was sent back for a final time. This last time he was caught in a Mustard Gas attack which damaged his lungs. He died of pneumonia in hospital as a result. Harry received two medals.

Gilbert Macdonald:

Died on or after 28/11/1917


Gilbert McDonald

Age 33

Gilbert was the organist and choirmaster of our church. These days we have no organ or choir, but we have lots of great musicians. He died fighting in Cambrai, France. He was so well thought of in the church that he got an extra plaque which is in the pictures above.

It seems that he signed up to fight, in 1917, after a number of younger men from the church had been killed. He did not last long himself.

A letter sent back from a friend in his regiment said this, “Gilbert hated war, but by absolute will power he suppressed his gentler feelings and made a good soldier. He was a jolly companion and did his duty right to the last”

He left behind a widow and two sons: Harvey and Hamish. Hamish died in 1943, in World War Two, as part of the crew of a Blenheim Bomber.

So many lives

We could have mentioned a lot more detail and a lot more stories, but we looked at these few as a way of remembering. We remembered their lives, we remembered their sacrifice and we remembered that these young men were not so different to us.

They also represent many millions of others who have died in war. It’s important that we remember and are thankful for the price that other people paid for our freedom, and we should also be thankful to God for his protection over his.

Jesus Wept

Ben Martin gave a short talk during the meeting, looking at the story of Lazarus from John 11. He focussed in on one short Bible verse:

John 11v35, “Jesus wept”

Through Jesus we can see that God himself feels grief, and that he is able to stand with us in our times of trouble.

It’s reassuring to know, when faced with tragedy ourselves, that God is is not indifferent to our pain and our loss. It’s reassuring to know that God is able to weep.