With the help of Rev Gayle Hill, the Head of Mission Catalyst, Rev Stephen Field from Canterbury Baptist Church shares the story of how the BUV Mission Catalyst Team’s Revitalisation program helped in their church’s discernment and decision-making post-Covid. This is part two of the two-part series.
Covid blew up my church, but that explosion has only reformed us into a new shape.
As I detailed in part one of this series, Covid challenged us to see ourselves through new eyes and to actively discern how God was calling us to be reshaped and reformed by it. Through an Appreciative Inquiry (AI) process – and with faith that God had already given us the people, gifts and resources we need for the future he planned for us – we embarked on an exploration to an unknown destination, trusting that God was the one guiding our steps. We began to talk about this as our “wet concrete” season: God was pushing out the boundaries of who we thought we were and was calling us to take a new shape.
So, how has God been preparing us to move forward? What is it that the AI process and time of discernment revealed? The changes made can broadly be grouped under two headings: worship and mission.
Covid opened us up to expressions of worship we had never considered before (online, streaming and Zoom). These new expressions allowed us to connect with people we had never reached before.
As we considered what Covid taught us about worship, it brought into focus those expressions of worship that an online format does well, but it also brought into focus those expressions of worship that are best experienced in a live congregational gathering. The choice we made was to recognise the different strengths these formats gave us and to build on those strengths.
The biggest difference is that we encourage interaction, conversation and questions during the sermon time.
The online format is strongest in the areas of “content delivery and outreach,” whereas our live services are strongest in the areas of “connection and engagement”. Our online services are now edited versions of our live services, focussed exclusively on “content” (mainly the sermon). It’s distributed as a video (YouTube) and a podcast, and functions as both a ‘catch-up’ service for those in our congregation who could not attend that week and as a point of contact and engagement with people outside our congregation.
Our live services are increasingly becoming focussed on those areas an online format does not do well: singing together, praying together, eating and drinking, and fellowship. We’ve taken out most of our pews and put in tables and chairs. Tea, coffee and snacks are available before, during and after the service. But the biggest difference is that we encourage interaction, conversation and questions during the sermon time. Rather than treat sermons as a one-way lecture, we are now reformatting them into a time of community gathering, discussion and discernment around the Word.
Covid led us to consider mission in our local community in new ways. Through the AI process, we began to sense a call to mission, centred around two key themes:
First theme: ‘Blessed to be a blessing: be a blessing in your families, neighbourhoods and workplaces as an expression of your faith’
I believe that mission, at its most basic, is the act of living in such a way that we increase the common good and enhance human flourishing. The starting point for mission is simply the act of living the values of the Kingdom of God in our public lives. Mission is letting our actions speak about our faith.
A word that captures this aim is “blessing”. The call to mission is the call to live in such a way that people around us are blessed by us being there. As we have been blessed by God, so we bring blessing into the lives of those around us. This motivation to bless others is what sets us apart and marks us as children of God, even without us having to identify ourselves as such. It is this heart to bless others that will grab the attention of some of the people in our lives and open the door for deeper engagement.
Mission now feels like something we can all participate in.
Through a 10-week sermon series, supported by small group studies and discussion, we worked through the implications of this vision as a congregation. It has radically shifted our view of ourselves on mission. Mission now feels like something we can all participate in. The immediate fruit of this is seen in the greater awareness and willingness people have to represent Jesus to people around them — in their families, among their friends and in their workplaces.
And it has reshaped our internal conversation about the kinds of local mission we see ourselves doing in our community. We even formed a “Future Builders” group to gather together people who are energised to see us be more of a ‘blessing’ to our community and to research and investigate opportunities. This work is still ongoing, but the ideas being examined are nothing short of extraordinary. The encouragement for all of us, though, is that reframing our sense of mission around the idea of ‘blessing’ has unlocked people’s hearts and imaginations.
Second theme: ‘Work and faith: living an integrated life’
“When I go to church, I leave my work at the door, and when I go to work, I leave God at the door. I don’t know how to integrate my work-life and my faith.”
This comment from a congregant during the AI process captured something that many of us feel. The complexities and challenges of living our faith in our workplaces, but also the distance between our work experiences and our Sunday worship, led many people to struggle to see how these two parts of their lives could be integrated. We want to close that gap.
Our first response was to make this an open conversation — if people are facing the same challenges, then why not bring them together so they can support and encourage each other? To that end, we started a monthly “Workplace and Faith Workshop” meeting on Zoom, where we invite a guest to talk through a theme related to the integration of our workplace and faith, and then facilitate a discussion with the group. We don’t record this session to encourage open sharing and discussion about real-life situations.
This new vision is shaping the way we worship and minister.
Our second response has been to connect with our professional — and often time-poor — congregants through podcasts. Our first podcast is Workplace and Faith. This is a recording I make with our guest after they have led the workshop. In it, we discuss the topics covered in the workshop, but without identifying any specific person or situation. The second podcast is Worship on the Way to Work, a 15-minute experience of connecting with God, specifically designed to be listened to on your way to work. Both podcasts are freely available for anyone to listen to through all major podcasting websites or apps.
And this is just the beginning. As God has led us to look at ourselves and our community, and look to him in new ways and with new eyes, we are seeing more evidence of God already at work all around us. This new vision is shaping the way we worship and minister. Covid blew up our church into a new shape, and we thank God for his grace in guiding us into this new season of our life together.