“At the beginning of this year if someone had said that all church gatherings would be banned we would have thought our society had been overturned and the world was going mad. In the space of a month however, we have moved from concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic to being asked to remain at home with all gatherings of two or more people banned. This has thrown all of us into quick action to try and work out how to be church when we cannot gather.” Pastor David Wanstall of Encounter Baptist Church said.
Encounter Baptist Church sits in the south-east suburb of Chadstone. It started six years ago as a church plant, looking to intentionally engage with discipleship and mission in the local community. Pastor David is the senior pastor of the church and describes how this church community has responded.
“We recognised quickly that as church we needed to develop light-weight ways to make sure people felt cared for, connected into community and spiritually encouraged.”
Encounter Baptist did not just want to stream services on-line but are seeking to have their members actively engaged with others in the church as well as their neighbours around them.
Pastor David identified “The challenge is to not be in a holding pattern during this time, but to continue to see people actively encounter God, encourage each other and engage with the community and neighbourhood around them. This can be difficult with social distancing rules but with some creative thinking, it is not impossible.”
Encounter Baptist has placed every person connected with the church in a home church. The home churches have approximately 10-12 people in each group with leaders identified for each home church. On Sunday morning the church uses a Zoom webinar to provide 30-40 minutes of gathered time that includes worship, prayer, notices, a kids spot and a short reflection time. Following the gathered time, each home group is encourage to connect together through their own Zoom accounts for worship, bible study, prayer, sharing and support. Home churches shape this time depending on who is in their group. A major part of the ministry team’s time is now focused on supporting and resourcing the home church leaders.
The church also has online gatherings during the week in running parenting courses, praying together, training missional leaders and connecting kids and youth together.
“In the first chapters of Acts the church met in large groups in the temple courts and smaller groups in people’s homes. We see this season at Encounter, where our gathered Sunday option is on hold, as an opportunity to strength our ability to gather together in smaller groups. In our case this is through online home churches. We don’t just want our church to survive this time but we want our church to thrive. We have seen home churches draw in people who have not previously been part of church. It is exciting.”