What do you do when people start coming to faith? Don’t invite them to church! Help them form a Christian community where they are and connect to the wider church.
Church will emerge naturally when new believers are active in leading their Christian community.
So give them the tools.
Equip people to grow their own version of “church”. Don’t pass on your ready-made church.
When Jesus returned to heaven, he did not leave his followers with a blueprint for church. They didn’t have:
- The name for church
- Adequate leadership structures (see Acts 6. 1–7)
- Set words for Christian worship
Jesus had told them to make disciples, baptize people and break bread together. That was all. Prayerfully drawing on his teachings and led by the Spirit, his followers made up the details as they went along. Jesus left behind not a Lego church but the Lego bricks.
So copy Jesus. Help new believers discover for themselves, led by the Spirit, what being a Christian community means in their context.
Start by sharing leadership
Do this from the very beginning. Work with the people you are called to serve. Don’t start something for them.
Involve them at the design stage. Welcome their ideas and contributions. Bring them into the decision-making.
As people journey to faith:
- Empower them to lead Bible and other discussions as soon as possible
- When they have questions, ask them to imagine how Jesus would respond, drawing on what they already know about him
- Point them to Christian resources online
- Teach them to rely on Scripture, the Spirit, the wider church and each other, not you.
a) Encourage prayer
For example, invite the community silently to:
- Become aware of God’s presence
- Review with gratitude what’s happened since the community last met
- Pay attention to their emotions
- Choose a feature since they last met and pray from it
- Look toward tomorrow
- Share anything they would like with the wider group
b) You do not need a conventional sermon!
1 Corinthians 14.26 assumes lots of participation in the process of Christian learning.
So keep going with discussions that have begun to centre on Jesus. These may become your “sermons”.
Break the gathering into small groups to do an activity – for example:
- Write a blog or tweet about a Bible passage
- Imagine describing what they’ve learnt to a friend
- Take photos to illustrate what the passage is saying
- Silently reflect on the passage
- Listen to a podcast
c) Include other elements of worship
- New Christian community/Guide.
- Tim Watson, Missional Worship in a Pioneer Context
- Worship ideas
- Websites like Proost (www.proost.co.uk)
In Cook@Chapel, Katherine invited teenagers to write thank you prayers, put them into a cooking bowl, draw out a prayer and read it.
When next time she forgot the bowl, the young people asked, “Where is it?” She knew the experiment had worked.
Likewise, when she introduced a lighted candle, one of the group spontaneously turned down the lights. The group was taking ownership.
e) Teach the principles of worship
For example, explain the spiritual reality check provided by “confession” during worship and how this aids spiritual growth.
Describe some ways Christians have practised confession:
- Written confessions
- Being accountable to each other for one’s behaviour, as in early Methodism
- Writing down thoughts, actions or attitudes you want God to change and burning the papers as a prayer offering.
Ask the group, “What would work best for us?” and experiment with their ideas.
Remember: what’s worked for you may not work for them.
For background to elements of worship, read (from an Anglican perspective) Mark Earey & Gilly Myers (eds), Common Worship Today. An Illustrated Guide to ‘Common Worship’(HarperCollins, 2001). It’s got loads of information that might interest other denominations as well.
For ideas on how to include various elements of worship, see Worship ideas
What about Baptism and Holy Communion?
To fully express church, a new Christian community will want to baptise new believers and break bread together.
So what happens if the community is led by lay people and is part of a church in which only ordained ministers can baptize or preside at Communion?
There are several possibilities:
- Ask the local minister to baptize or preside at Communion as a representative of the whole church.
- Periodically join the original congregation in celebrating Communion.
- Hold an agape meal (or “love feast” or “remembrance of the Last Supper”), involving a meal, Scripture, prayer, sharing stories, listening to or singing hymns/songs, and sharing bread and wine, but without using set words. To avoid confusion, explain that this is not Holy Communion as normally celebrated in your denomination.
- Combine these possibilities – e.g. attend a nearby church occasionally and hold “love feasts” in between.
Connect to the wider church!
When new believers are joined to Jesus, they become spiritually related to everyone else in his family.
These connections must take concrete form if they are to mean something for those involved.
So form a “mixed economy” or “blended” church. If you’re part of a local church:
- Begin by sharing social activities. Involve your community in arranging them. Members will feel more part of the whole if they give as well as receive.
- When people are ready, join in worship, outreach, and study groups.
- Make sure your community is represented in the church’s governance.
- Join your parent congregation in attending Christian events elsewhere – a festival or conference, perhaps.
Involvement in the wider church is great for spiritual growth and necessary to be part of the Christian family.
Caution: Church is much more than worship and connecting to other Christians, of course. 16. Church?/Guide will help you become a well-rounded Christian community.
Andy tells how working with rather than for young people helped lay foundations for church to emerge.
Charlotte describes how to introduce worship – encourage prayer.
Charlotte describes how to introduce other elements of worship – singing.
Luke 9.1–6 (Jesus shares his leadership).
- What do you like best about this story?
- Where are you in it?
- What makes you feel comfortable and uncomfortable?
- What are the lessons for leadership in your new Christian community (or for the one you are beginning to imagine)?
It has been said that the best way to grow in faith is to be on mission, in your everyday life, in community with other Christians. How far do you agree with this and for what reasons?
If you do agree, what are the implications for members of your community?
Choose one or more of the following:
- In the light of what have you seen, read, or heard in this unit, what would you like to change in your community?
- How would you explain this to others in the community?
- Who else would agree with you, and what practical steps might they take to support you?
- How might you make it easier for others to come on board?
2. Picture or list the people regularly involved in your community.
- Who is already exercising some form of leadership? Might they be stretched further?
- Who else might you encourage to exercise some leadership? How?
- What support do you provide for your (emerging) leaders? Could you improve it?
3. Look through a service of Holy Communion.
- List some of the ingredients – the welcome, prayers, etc.
- Ask what ingredients are missing from your worship.
- Is there one of these ingredients that you might add to your worship for a period?
- How might you introduce it and encourage the community to make it authentic?
4. What connections does your community have to your parent church or other local churches, your denomination or network of churches, or to the worldwide church?
- How might you strengthen these connections or develop some further ones?
- Does your parent church, denomination, or network have particular gifts and characteristics that you would like to see expressed in your new community? How might you foster these?
- Are there characteristics you wish to avoid?!