One Year Of Online Church: looking back and looking forwards

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.

OUCH!

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:

  • Filming
  • Editing & mixing
  • Subtitling
  • Preaching
  • Leading worship
  • Recording songs
  • Hosting meetings
  • Designing graphics
  • Redesigning our website for online church life
  • Learning to use Zoom
  • Setting up WelcomeChurch.Online
  • Signing (for the deaf community)
  • 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)
  • Phoning the vulnerable to keep in touch
  • Running Covid secure weddings
  • Running Covid secure funerals
  • Running our social media
  • Running our finances
  • Running around the world (and raising £32,000 for Your Sanctuary)
  • Setting up our live stream (again, four words to describe a ridiculous amount of work and a crazy amount of cable)
  • Delivering live stream meetings technically each week
  • Helping new people connect and integrate with the church
  • Helping us to stay covid secure
  • Maintaining our buildings inside and out

And a whole lot more I haven’t mentioned … including the unforgettable ‘Straight from the heart fruit challenge’

Let’s all say thank you

You probably know at least one person who’s worked hard this year to make Welcome Church possible during the pandemic. Why not take a moment to show them your appreciation this week somehow?

Personally I want to take this opportunity to say thank you myself to everyone involved.

I also want to thank everyone who’s given generously so we could continue to function and exist as a church.

And most of all, let’s give thanks to God who has been our strength and help all along the way.

“Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. 

Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken” (Psalm 62v1-2)

The Future

Tomorrow I’ll say a bit more about what’s likely to be ahead for us

An Update For Us From Compassion UK

Justin Dowds, the CEO of Compassion UK, has sent us a video update about how the coronavirus pandemic has affected Compassion projects across the world, including the project we support in Togo, Africa. The video is below, do watch it to the end for an encouraging story.

If you want to know more about how we support Compassion as a church you can click here for more information. If you want to step up to sponsorship in the project we support please get in touch with us at Welcome Church and we’ll tell you how.

In the meantime, please let me personally encourage you to write to the children you sponsor, to pray for them and to keep on sponsoring them. Together we are releasing children from poverty in Jesus name.

A Call To Pray

The Prime Minister described the Covid pandemic as the greatest challenge our nation has faced since the Second World War. It has affected every area of our lives: separation from friends and family, schools closed, shops closed, holidays and events cancelled, working from home, job losses, furlough, daily death statistics, sickness, the loss of loved ones, restrictions on travel and activities, online church, social distancing, face masks, Christmas plans curtailed, the vaccine rollout, the NHS under pressure, stress, anxiety, mental health challenges, loneliness, isolation, boredom … all these impacts and more have taken their toll.

As a nation we are now starting the process of unlocking, with children and young people going back to school this week.

Spring is on its way, this winter is passing and with it come signs of promise.

At this time we need to pray for God to move in power and heal our nation, so this Wednesday evening (10th March), from 7.30pm to 8.30pm, we will be joining with many Commission Churches from across the UK to pray for the UK. We will gather together and pray for God to heal our nation, restore our churches and move in power in our land. You may even see some Welcome Church faces leading parts of the evening.

For information about how to take part, please follow this link here and sign up. Let’s join together and pray for God to bring refreshing, renewal and even revival to the UK.

Guy Miller, who leads the Commission group of churches, has also sent us a short (50 second) video about the event to encourage us to join in:

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.

What Might Unlocking Mean For Welcome Church?

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!

Job Opportunity At Welcome Church

As part of our Welcome Church Recovery Plan, following the pandemic, we are looking to REBUILD our staff team to full strength in every way, which includes filling some employed vacancies.

We are now looking to recruit a Full Time Operations Manager

This is an exciting opportunity to join our team and work for a busy, dynamic, growing church in the heart of a busy, dynamic, growing town. If that grabs your interest we want to hear from you!

This will be a very wide-ranging role. You will have a level of involvement in almost every area of church life, and will be a Senior Member of the Welcome Church Team, with primary responsibility for building, equipping and releasing teams to deliver the ‘operational underpin’ for all of our initiatives and ministries. You will need proven competence in change management and delivery, ideally possessing team-leading, project management and/or business analyst experience.

In this role you will support and deputise for Darren Forsdyke, our Director of Operations, across a wide range of tasks and activities, with a salary to reflect your evidenced experience and competence.

Because the role holder will be a senior member of the Welcome Church team, the role is recognised as having a Genuine Occupational Requirement for the post holder to have an active Christian faith, demonstrated through current involvement in a local church. Once recruited, that church would need to be Welcome Church.

As a team we believe in life-long learning and continual improvement, you will therefore have great opportunity to actively pursue personal development in your relevant skills, knowledge and abilities, and also in your personal relationship with Jesus. To assist with this you will be provided with a personal mentor/coach and, where required, supported by a tailored and funded personal development programme to help develop any agreed skills and knowledge gaps.

For an information pack including job description and person specification, please email darren.forsdyke@allwelcome.uk

Don’t miss out on this one off, exciting opportunity to work with us, to grow your skills, to enlarge your faith and to help us fulfil our vision to see lives changed and communities impacted for good through God’s grace in action.

Urgent: Let’s Gather To Pray

This Sunday evening (7th Feb) we have our next Welcome Church online communion. There are some key things we need to bring before God as a church right now, including some people who are very sick, so it’s going to be a bit different this time.

Please log on from 6.20pm to stay hello, and then from 6.30pm to 7pm I’ll lead us through a short message or encouragement from the Bible and into a time of celebrating communion. After this we will move into a one hour time of prayer together (7pm – 8pm) for some of these important issues.

Prayer is part of our Christian faith

Prayer is a privilege

Prayer is a joy

Prayer works

Make sure you don’t miss it!

Don’t forget we also pray online every Tuesday and Friday morning from 8.15am to 9am on the same Zoom code. You are very welcome join us.

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.

Appointing our New Elders

This Sunday evening (17th January) we will be meeting at 6.30pm on Zoom, for about an hour, to appoint two new elders for Welcome Church. I’m very excited that Robin Willison and Nnamdi Anyaegbunam are now joining the team and it’s been great to receive so many positive encouragements about them and their families from across the whole church.

Guy Miller, who leads our Commission family of churches will be leading us through the evening together. Please come full of faith and be ready to show your support and add your prayers; this a key moment for us to be together as a church.

You will be able to log on from 6.20 pm for some informal chat and a chance to say ‘Hello’ to some people, and then the meeting will then begin properly at about 6.30pm. See you on Zoom!

Recovery Plan – Part 4: Questions And Implications

This week I’ve been blogging about our Welcome Church Recovery Plan for 2021, following the pandemic. This is Part 4, the final post in the series. If you missed the other posts please read them first. You can find the first one by clicking here.

As the vaccine is rolled out and normal life returns again, we need a plan to help us recover as a church. I talked yesterday about how our Recovery Plan is built around three ‘R’s: Renew, Refresh, Rebuild (click here to read it)

The plan does raise some questions, including …

  • What does our church diary look like for the year ahead?
  • What activities do we restart and when?
  • Are there enough people ready and willing to make them happen?
  • What activities do we delay restarting?
  • What activities did we do before that pandemic that we choose never to restart?
  • What current (lockdown) activities do we stop as normal life returns and when?
  • What is our strategy for restarting ‘in person’ Sunday meetings?
  • When will kids work restart in person?
  • What about youth work?
  • What might the future of online church life look like? 
  • What events might we choose to keep as online events in the longer term?
  • Should we have a ‘relaunch’ of our new building? 
  • When will we reopen the church offices?
  • What staff roles will we recruit to join our employed team?
  • What volunteer roles do we need to fill?
  • What outreach activities will we do and when?
  • What Welcome Works should we restart and when?
  • What fun/social activities should we do?
  • How do we help people who’ve experienced loss during the pandemic?
  • How do we help people who have ongoing health issues as a result, including mental and emotional health issues?
  • How do we help people who are facing financial challenges following the pandemic?
  • AND SO MANY MORE!

The plan also has some implications …

1. We need to think carefully about what we do and when

  • Let’s not assume we’ll all step back into the same roles in church life that we had before the pandemic – though I’m sure (and I hope) that many people will 🙂
  • Let’s not assume that just because we were running a certain activity as a church before the pandemic it must automatically restart afterwards – we need to consider each activity carefully
  • Let’s not assume that the things we restart will be delivered in the same way they were before the pandemic – some things may be delivered very differently, and perhaps some will now be done online
  • Let’s not assume that the things we restart must all restart immediately – some things will need to be done before others

As we plan let’s also remember that we’re a medium sized church with a certain amount of resources in terms of people, skills and finances and that we’re in recovery from a global event described by the Prime Minister as “the greatest challenge our nation has faced since the Second World War”.

2. Every leader should consider how “Renew, Refresh, Rebuild” applies to the areas they are responsible for

What could this approach mean for the way your Life Group runs? What could it mean for the kids work? The youth work? The worship team? Prayer meetings? Encounter? In fact every area of church life needs to be considered. As a team we will be available to help leaders think it through and plan appropriately.

3. We need to aim for a church diary that’s a bit less packed this year

Before the pandemic our church diary was packed with activities, but a return to normal life will place extra demands on every area of our lives. We may find that work, family and social life all put significantly increased pressure on our diaries.

As a church we want to recognise this challenge, and not make it worse with a long list of extra demands, perhaps mistakenly seeking to make up for ground lost during the pandemic. We want our church to be a place of refreshing and restoration, not of demand and duty. This means that what we do and how often we do it needs careful thought.

4. We each need to actively prioritise time together for fun and relaxation, as well as for worship and ministry

Recovery is not the only thing that takes time; rebuilding our relationships with one another will take time too. We may have a church diary that’s a bit less packed, but let’s still try to prioritise time with our church family at an individual level, at a Life Group level and at a whole church level this year. When we’re allowed to, we’ll aim to put on some whole church events that have no ministry purpose beyond hanging out, having fun and being a family together. We need them.

Let’s also try to prioritise our Sunday meetings and our Life Groups. These two things are like the two wings of a bird: both are essential for our wellbeing. During these times , as we start to meet together in person again, we’ll be seeking to meet with God, to worship and to minister to one another, looking to encounter his presence and find healing and restoration wherever it’s needed. 

5. We need to remember that the goal is RECOVERY

I would describe our church at the moment by using a football analogy: right now we’re probably not spiritually or emotionally “match fit”. Coming out of lockdown at full speed when the unlock whistle blows, and trying to play a full 90 minutes at top level is not going to help us. It could cause injuries and disappointment and it could damage what we can achieve over the long term. We need to recover our match fitness first.

Some of us will come out of the pandemic feeling fully refreshed and raring to go; for most there will be a process of restoration and recovery. Let’s make sure we look out for one another this year, and take the time we need to get back to a place of strength where we feel “match fit” again and ready to go.

Let’s also remember that God is not limited! He loves to respond when we step out in faith, and He is going to do good things in and through us in 2021. He may even do some new and unexpected things.

So that’s out approach to 2021: RENEW, REFRESH, REBUILD – as a pathway towards RECOVERY