A series of questions and answers to explore what the next phase of church life might look like, as best we can tell at this moment.
At the last One Church midweek meeting, we addressed what the next phase of church life might look like as lockdown restrictions begin to be lifted. Here is a summary of the Q&A (it's a bit of a long read, so grab yourself a cup of tea!)
When will the church reopen so we can start meeting together again?
The first thing to say is that the Church never closed! Our doors may have been shut, but we’ve been more open than ever.
That said, we have missed being physically together and we’re looking forward to meeting again in person as soon as we can, and we are planning with that in mind.
A few big things need to be said;
- Honouring government - instructed in scripture to do that: unless something is anti-gospel, we honour government (whether we agree or not) and will follow guidance for sake of the wider community and our gospel witness
- We are preparing rather than predicting. We don’t yet know the when and what of the government's decisions in terms of allowing the reopening of church buildings and there is obviously therefore, an element of “wait and see”.
- We want to have a posture of faith not fear. Any and every decision we make is made from a foundation of God is control, and we’re not afraid of anything else. We really believe that Jesus is building his church, it’s future is not dependent on any leader or decision we make or don’t make.
With this in mind, the first step of coming out of lockdown will not be to open our buildings and meet publicly on Sundays, at least for a little while.
What will we do instead then? What will “church” look like?
If we shift our focus from what we can’t do, to what we can do, things have the potential to get very exciting indeed. With a posture of faith and some flexibility, we have an opportunity to realign our thinking and lifestyle to a more biblical one, which in turn, we would pray would result in more biblical results.
When we read scripture, we see;
- Devoted worshippers, who pray, read the word and, of course, worship
- Loving families - sometimes “nuclear” families but families in the bigger, truer meaning of the word; brothers and sisters in Christ committed to all the “one-anothering” verses in scripture
- People committed to making disciples - living life up close and personal with each other, encouraging, exhorting, challenging, loving
- Spirit-filled missionaries - committed to sharing the good news of Jesus, not relying on “professional evangelists” to do it for them
We also see;
- Meetings in homes - simple gatherings of “normal people” learning and growing as disciples and family members and missionaries
- The “priesthood of all believers” in action, with everyone involved and everyone exercising gifts
- Church as the body of Christ - not built around one gift or one person (or even a team of gifts). Those with, for example, Ephesians 4 gifts are there to equip the saints for ministry not do it all themselves
- Radical generosity - there was no one without need and they gave money away to people outside of their community
- Great multiplication - daily the Lord added to their number and the gospel really did go from Jerusalem (their city) to Judea (their surrounding area) to Samaria (neighbouring lands) to the ends of the earth
So, we think that the next phase of New Community Church will look like household or home church; hundreds of us meeting in lots of different places, right across the area.
What will meeting in homes look like?
Hopefully, a lot like we see in the pages of scripture (have a read of Acts 2:42-27);
- Worship together
- Pray, read the word, listen to the word, respond to the word
- Fellowship with one another - have fun, get to know one another, practice the “one-anothers”
- Take risks together - in exercising gifts, in mission, in taking radical steps of faith, in loving and serving others
- Take communion together, maybe even have a meal together
How will we organise these house churches?
The most obvious answer to that question is initially through Communities. For those not in a Community, we will need to find a way to help them get connected into Community. This whole situation has revealed more than ever, the fact that mere church attendance on a Sunday is not God’s plan for his people. It never has been either! This next season will really reveal whether we’re been making disciples or merely church attenders.
But, “it’s never been easier to go to church than it has over the past three months”. Asking people to go to someone’s house is not convenient for some people.
Going to church is rarely convenient, and these months of worshipping via livestream have the potential danger of elevating comfort and consumerism. When we can hear a sermon—and even interact with other church members—without getting off the sofa or getting out of our pyjamas, it might be hard to muster the energy to actually go to church again. But our fundamental motivation for committing to the church hasn’t changed because of coronavirus. As we are able, when we are able, we meet with others (the church), serve the church, and love the church because God does. Christ promises to be present with his people when they gather in his name (Matt. 18:20). He serves the church by making her holy, and he loves the church by dying for her (Eph. 5:25–27). And what God loves, we must love.
How many people will be in each house church?
That will change Community by Community and depend on things like house size (and government restrictions). We will work it through with each Community leader and will maybe need to launch some new Communities.
Would we expect (or encourage) people to invite guests into their own home?
If by “guests” you mean random people who want to come along, then no (there are all sorts of safeguarding issues there). But, friends and people you know and want to invite to church? Why not!
What will we provide to help people host meetings in a home?
We will work with Community leaders to ensure that we have helpful guides and resources for hosting a meeting in your home, including ideas for worship and resources for kids. We will continue to provide live streaming of content so that there is still the sense of “together” as well as preaching, news, notices, interviews etc.
How will worship work?
We will adapt as we go, but where there is a willing worship leader in a Community, we would encourage “live worship” where possible. At the same time, we will continue to “provide worship” for those Communities that don’t have access to a worship leader.
How do we make sure everyone is invited and involved?
They are two separate questions and challenges. Everyone is invited and will be invited to join Communities, including some new ones that we will launch (and have launched in this process). Getting everyone involved is a different challenge.
What about those who can’t yet leave their own home or have other people come into their own home for health reasons, or have moved away from the area but still consider New Community their home church?
We will continue to stream content and meetings to serve as many people as we can. The ability for all to gather again will be one of the conditions for us reopening Sunday meetings.
Is there a plan for meeting as a church beyond meeting in homes?
Yes. Again, we’re preparing rather than predicting and are seeking God for wisdom on the place of gatherings that are larger than house churches but not necessarily meetings the size we used to meet in before lockdown began. Just because we can do something, it doesn’t mean that we should.
Under what conditions would we meet again publicly in larger groups?
There would be a few conditions we would be looking for before we considered meeting in larger groups (even if we were permitted legally);
- Worship: ability to sing together is a prerequisite
- Atmosphere/feel of meetings - we don’t want to meet in cold, clinical, sterile environments where we cannot be free to be who we are
- Ability for everyone to meet somewhere - if restrictions are in place on size of meetings for example, we would not want to meet if it would mean some people would have to miss out to keep the numbers small enough (meetings sizes of 50 for example would require at least 8-10 meetings in our Sidcup venue alone when you include children/guests etc)
- People feeling comfortable/safe to attend meetings. We are a diverse church in every way such things are measured, we wouldn’t want to start meeting again with large sections of our church feeling at risk attending
- Vulnerable not excluded - similar to the previous point
- Ability to be able to serve families well - this doesn’t necessarily mean kids work but we have to be able to offer better than “don’t leave this box drawn on the floor” and “sit/stand still for the next 90 minutes.”
But what about the church down the road, what do we do if they reopen?
We say God bless them! We’re not making decisions based on anything other than what is right for us as a church. We’re not competing and what other churches do is up to them. The size of church we are means that we’re not going to be meeting all-together (even our smallest meetings) for quite a while and until further restrictions are lifted and everyone can be included again (don’t forget, many in our church community are still shielding or in vulnerable categories and might not yet feel safe or comfortable to meet in public settings), we’re seeing this as an opportunity to allow God to continue to shape and change us as a church.
What is the future of online church?
That’s a good question. We don’t believe meeting online will ever replace the physical meeting of the saints, nor, once we reopen Sunday meetings would we ever want to encourage people to simply stay at home to “watch church”. However, we recognise that online digital content is a fantastic mission opportunity and are creating plans for how we best utilise online methods going forward.
What is the future of New Community Church?
An exciting one! Jesus is building his church, the best is yet to come, we have deep foundations here, it’s time to see God build something of substance here. We are not married to our current strategy (or any strategy) but we’ve got to stay connected to our vision; extending the kingdom by building a church with lots of people from lots of different backgrounds, made up of lots of smaller communities, in lots of different locations, reaching lots of different people and nations.
Reaching the nations by Advancing through prayer, fuelled by worship. Identifying more leaders, locations, cultures and opportunities. Starting more communities, venues, meetings and ministries. Expecting gospel transformation.
When will house churches start?
We are closely monitoring government guidance and working behind the scenes to get all of this planned. It will probably be a gradual move towards house churches and some will likely start ahead of others, that's ok, we're not in a rush!