Changes To Our Sunday Meetings

Since the pandemic began we’ve made regular adjustments to how we run Sunday meetings, and this will continue in the months ahead. Remember, we only restarted 9am and 11am meetings with kids work eight weeks ago. As it stands we’re still on a journey towards a new normal, so this September we’ll be taking some more steps towards that with some small adjustments as follows:

  • From this Sunday (19th Sept) we’ll still meet at 9am and 11am, but we’ll now be aiming for meetings that are 1hr 15 mins in length (which is pretty much what they’ve actually been all along 😃) 
  • We may begin to reduce the size of the socially distanced seating area since less people want to use it for this purpose. We will ensure there is enough space there for all those who feel the need for it
  • Children will continue to be in for the worship time and then go out to their groups, but their groups will now run until 10.30am for the first meeting and 12.30pm for the second meeting. This will give us 15 minutes that we can use for prayer ministry, for catching up with one another and for people to have tea/coffee together before collecting children
  • From Sunday 26th September we will reintroduce tea/coffee after each meeting
  • We will also reintroduce communion regularly on a Sunday, and begin to make space to pray for people in person too

Because we’re being warned that the pandemic is ‘far from over’ and that some restrictions might be reintroduced, we’ll continue to broadcast the 9am livestream for now (although we do encourage everyone who can attend in person to do so). We’ll also be ready to make further changes as needed, in line with official guidance for churches.

It goes without saying that we should all be careful and vigilant. If you have symptoms of Covid or have tested positive for Covid in the last ten days (with or without symptoms) you should not attend in person; this is not going to be a winter to ‘push through that cold and keep going’!

As we make changes let’s remember that we are a charismatic church; we should expect to encounter God’s presence and for people to use spiritual gifts; we want the genuine presence and power of God to be experienced by us all. With this in mind, although worship times are still a little shorter, let’s expect some God focused, encouraging contributions to help us in our worship. All we ask is that you come forward and use the microphone so everyone, including the livestream, can hear you.

I’m looking forward to an exciting autumn as we continue our new preaching series, I’m looking forward to meeting with my church family, I’m looking forward to encountering God’s presence and I’m even hopeful that we might get to celebrate Christmas together this year too.

Recovery Plan – Part 2: Challenges

This week I’m blogging about our Welcome Church Recovery Plan for 2021, following the pandemic. This post is Part 2 of a short series, so if you missed Part 1 please read that first by clicking here.

Yesterday I talked about how, as the UK starts to return to normal life again, our church needs to feel like coming home, and not like going to work; we need to be a place of refuge and refreshing, not of demand and duty. When the return to normal life begins, I see some significant challenges in front of us as a church: 

1. We need to find ways to reconnect again

Last March we were separated from one another suddenly and unexpectedly. It’s not over yet. For most people, connection with church has been (and still is) restricted to a limited number of people, with most of it being done online. We’ve missed out on having meaningful times of worship and ministry together in person. Our online worship has been done well, but it’s not the same dynamic as being together in person – certainly I know I’ve missed it.

As we unlock we probably all need to reconnect more deeply both with Jesus, and with one another. Many of us have missed out on fellowship with one another and we need it back. Many of us are desperate to encounter God in a fresh way this year too, and I know He’ll meet that desire as we seek Him.

2. We need to return to Biblical patterns of church life

Our online meetings have been great, but they’re not the same as being together in person. The Biblical patterns of church life includes meeting together, worshipping together, eating together, serving together, breaking bread together, praying together, doing ministry together and sharing life together. I’m thankful for the technology that’s served us well during this time, but we’re still at a distance; I can’t wait until we can be together again in person with freedom to sing, worship, minister and interact with each other

One thing we’re doing to help towards this is to begin ‘Live Streamed’ Sunday meetings from Jan 24th, instead of pre-recorded ones. This means we can all be together at the same time, even if it’s only online at first. Live streaming also helps to create a ‘runway’ to get us back to in person meetings, because we can allow people to start attending these meetings in person when the time is right.

3. We need to find fresh faith for our calling in God

This year has been challenging in lots of ways. I know that many people have felt a little bit purposeless and perhaps even unsure about what God wants them to do, especially as many ways they used to serve have not been possible. Others have been run ragged with a huge weight of extra responsibility – in many areas of life – and are now tired and need a rest.

As we unlock I want us all to find fresh faith for our calling, both as individuals and as a whole church. God has been at work in us all the way through the pandemic, and his purposes will continue both now and when we start to unlock. Even when we can’t see it, He’s working. (And of course, let’s not wait for unlocking to happen before we step out in faith; let’s all look to be serving God and walking in his plans now.)

4. We may be under pressure

I said in my previous blog that as 2021 unfolds and normal life starts to return people will begin the process of returning to normal work, family and social life, and that this will create a pressure of expectation for people to live up to. We may not like to admit it, but these things may well take precedence for people over their involvement in church life and ministry.

These challenges are not to be underestimated, but they also help point us towards some key principles to help us handle this year well:

First, instead of asking, “What CAN we do?” we need to be asking “What SHOULD we do?”

We must resist over loading people with meetings and demands. This year, as a church, we may need to say “No” or “Not yet” like never before, with faith that Jesus is still building his church. When we CAN restart our ministries we need to think hard about what ones we SHOULD do and when; just because we CAN doesn’t mean that we SHOULD. There may even be things we were doing as a church before the pandemic that we choose never to restart at all 😮.

Second, 2021 is a year when being together as a church is going to be more important than ever

During the pandemic we’ve missed out on many of the blessings that come from being part of a church family together. As we start to unlock this year we will need to focus on healing our church community, and on being together, creating that sense of “Homecoming” I mentioned before. When restrictions ease – and they will ease – we must plan times together just for fun, friendship and relaxation, as well as for spiritual purposes. It also means that our Life Groups will be more important than ever too.

Putting a plan together

With all this in mind we’ve prayerfully put together our Recovery Plan for 2021. The plan focuses on three ‘R’s’: Renew, Refresh and Rebuild. I’ll talk about these three ‘R’s tomorrow

Recovery Plan – Part 1: Introduction

Despite being in the midst of a new Lockdown our nation is approaching a turning point in the fight against Covid. The vaccine roll out has begun and, as people are vaccinated, we’ll start to see a return to normal life. 2021 should be a turning point for our nation, and that means it will be a turning point for our church on the road to recovery too.

With this in mind we’ve prayerfully put together our Welcome Church Recovery Plan. This week I’m going to blog about it. The plan isn’t a schedule of activities or goals for the year; it’s more about the ethos we want to adopt this year as a church and the sort of culture we want to build.

What a difference a year makes

As a church we began 2020 on a bit of a high. In January our new building was opened. Lots of new people joined us and many were baptised. God was clearly at work and we were ready for anything with a sense that “we could do this mission together”.

Then Covid-19 hit like a tidal wave sweeping everything before it. As 2021 begins we’re in a very different place. Lockdown 3 has started. People are tired and discouraged. We’ve suffered losses. We have questions:

  • Will these restrictions ever end?
  • When will I get the vaccine?
  • Is the vaccine safe?
  • Will someone I love get sick or even die?
  • Will my job survive?
  • Can I even find a job?
  • When can I see my friends?
  • Will I get a holiday this year?
  • When will normal life return?

Far from being ready for anything, right now we’re not really ready to do anything much at all!

As we begin a new year and a new lockdown I’m aware that many people feel wrung out, frustrated and fed up. They’re unsure how long they can keep living under these restrictions but, at the same time, they’re not sure how they’ll cope with a return to normal life when that happens either.

One newspaper article described us a nation that had moved from FOMO (Fear of missing out) to FOGO (Fear of going out). This fear, they said, was not about the risk of catching the virus but rather a concern about having the capacity to cope with normal life again.

This all adds up to a great place for us to be in, because it’s a place where God can work; God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.

A Big Concern

I am (of course!) concerned about the ongoing restrictions, but I’m actually more concerned about when things start to unlock. A new Lockdown brings fresh challenges for us, but we know what we’re doing with lockdown now; we’ve done it twice before; we’re in a routine with it.

What we’ve not done before is unlock and return to normality, and this will almost certainly happen as 2021 goes by and more people get vaccinated. As it happens I’m concerned we could find ourselves quickly overwhelmed with activity. I’m concerned that our lives – including our church life – could easily become unsustainable and unmanageable.

The Church is God’s Family

It’s important to remember that the church is the people; it’s a family. Church isn’t a business or a corporation where we must now work extra hard to make up for the ground lost due to the pandemic and get our KPIs back on track.

Many people in our church have experienced damage caused by the pandemic: emotional, relational, physical, financial and spiritual. Some of these impacts may be long lasting. We must allow ourselves time to recover in the months ahead, and perhaps to grieve some losses so we don’t burn out physically or emotionally.

It needs to feel like coming home

As 2021 unfolds and the vaccine rolls out people will begin to go through the process of returning to normal work, family and social life, and that will create some pressures. There will be a weight of expectation in all of these areas that people will be under pressure to live up to.

As this all happens we need to make sure we get our approach right as a church. The first principle of our recovery plan is this: our church needs to be a place of refuge in the midst of that; a place of refreshing and recovery, not of demand, drain and duty.

In summary, when Lockdown ends and we start to return to normal life, our church needs to feel like coming home … and not like going to work.

I’ll say more in part 2, tomorrow