At Albury Bible Church, we recently put together a tool to help us plan what we do. We think there are three main things: Welcome. Grow. Serve.
Welcome: in the gospel of Jesus, God welcomes us to his family. Therefore we will tell people of that welcome, as well as welcoming them into our church family.
Grow: it’s normal for God’s children to grow in the obedience of faith. Therefore we will make Christian growth normal for our church members.
Serve: Christians do not grow for their own sake, but in love. Therefore we encourage and train for service, both in church and in the wider community.
‘OK’, I thought, ‘when we launch this, I’ll talk about how it works for Sunday’s 10am church meeting.’ So I spent time pondering how our Sunday morning expressed these plans. What we do – and we’re not very unusual – is a mixture. And that mixture is both a help and a hindrance.
Sunday church is a mixture. We welcome, because people walk in off the street. We announce that Jesus is Lord and invite people to follow him. We grow because we always read and hear God’s word for instruction, encouragement and challenge. We serve because … well, have you seen how many people it takes to run even a simple church service! Sunday at 10am is everything – welcome, grow, and serve.
It is very helpful that Sunday @10 is such a mixture. It contains elements of all the things we want to do. If you wanted a full taste of Albury Bible Church, but in just one meal, the best place to go would be Sunday church. Despite being nowhere close to perfect, you’d find out what we say about God’s great welcome. You would also see something about the ways we encourage Christian growth. By looking around, you would also see quite a lot of serving going on. I hope you would be able to say, ‘I get what this church is about.’
That has to be a good thing. It also is an encouragement to be very clear in church each week. Church is not humdrum – it is a bright spotlight on ourselves and what we think really counts.
The three-in-one nature of Sunday @10 is helpful in another way: for a church health test. We should ask ourselves how we are going at welcoming, growing, serving. Easy to ask – not always easy to answer. Perhaps the place to start is at church. Is there evangelism on the agenda on Sunday mornings? Are new or shy people welcomed further into relationships? Do Christians grow there, or do they stagnate? Are more people serving? Are long-term servants receiving support to stop burn-out? The answers might be confronting. But good to know.
The three-in-one nature of Sunday morning is also a hindrance, a risk to our church ministry. Simply because it can’t do any of these three things at great depth. Church is good, but it’s not enough.
If we were to rely on Sunday mornings to do our evangelism, we would be doing very little evangelism. If Sundays were the only point of welcome, our relationships would be paper-thin. If Sunday morning was the only time of help for Christian growth, we would all be stunted in faith. If this were the single focus for service, the opportunities would be limited and the people soon exhausted.
I reckon that to think ‘Sundays are going OK’ is a risk to ministry. The risk is a false equation – that ‘Sunday is OK’ equals ‘We are going OK’. They are not equivalent!
How this factor works out will vary from church to church. For our church, we see the need to complement Sunday morning with a whole range of further ministry. We specifically evangelise in a dedicated programme called Connect, reading Mark’s gospel together. We need to make more of our church membership. We emphasise our Open Bible Groups as the primary growth-focussed ministry. And Night Train is just one way we support and develop serving. As the fanatical texters say, YMMV* but, to thrive as faithful communities, all our churches will need to do a good job away from the main Sunday meeting.
It feels like I have re-discovered what is obvious. But that’s the type of discovery I like to major in! What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear more and to engage in discussion about this. Comment away!