The Gospel by its very nature doesn’t save us to be rugged individualist but saves us into a family of faith where we discover what it is to grow together. As one minister I know once expressed it, “When is heaven best glimpsed? When is it most tangible? It’s when the love of heaven is seen in the church, it’s when the people of heaven, God’s family gather together and live with heaven’s priorities.”
Church is family and yet it doesn’t always feel or act like that. Shaped by wider culture, people can become consumers rather than contributors. You may have had a similar experience where you have taken a funeral of a regular church goer and looked round to discover amongst the family and friends gathered only one or two (sometimes none) of the church family. Creating a culture of community when people can struggle even to sit beside one another can be hard.
In my time at Chryston, building on strong foundations as a church, we have tried to work hard at these priorities.
Changing the shape of a building has given people permission to interact with one another and create community – it is now a better servant than a master.
Changing the dynamic of worship to become intergenerational and creating community before and after worship has made a huge difference.
Simple things like having coffee on arrival made a huge change not just in relaxing people in worship but allowing community to grow.
We worked hard at community with regular lunches at the end of worship. We then transitioned that to homes as we ran “Come Dine With Me”, pairing up hosts and guests who on a particular Sunday had the opportunity to share lunch with someone new.
Through all this people bought more and more into the truth that this is my church, my family and I matter in it.
During lockdown, the biggest challenge has been how to create community when we are unable to worship together in the way we would like. We worked hard, communicating with the whole church, using every medium from website to WhatsApp, from online worship to zoom coffee. It was an opportunity to make Big Church Small, to be purposeful about the priorities we believed in a new way.
In the early days we encouraged people to open their homes (in line with regulations) to allow others to come and share in Sunday worship with them. The shared experience of worship and responding to the word together was something special. There were couples meeting up to watch worship together and then sharing lunch; an elderly gentleman with no internet being invited into the home of a younger family who had never hosted him before; younger families with kids of similar ages meeting in a home for the first time.
The regulations in our area now make opening homes impossible and our Making Big Church Small notice in the weekly magazine has changed to reflect it:
Making Big Church Small is about creating a culture of hospitality within the church family which is something needed more than ever during these months under Covid restrictions. Although at present we cannot invite each other into our homes to share in worship and eat together we can still make efforts to keep in contact, to share encouragements and to pray for each other. Please do stay connected with each other as sometimes simple phone calls, cards or messages can make a huge difference.
Lockdown has been extremely difficult and put to the test whether or not church was really family. It’s been hard work. We have made mistakes and I can’t say people have not fallen in the gaps. It’s been good to see how much people do in the unseen and informal. Making Big Church Small was a simple slogan that allowed people to buy into the idea that church was family, and, in that family, they not only belonged but had a part to play.