It is always a privilege to be asked to be part of something new in a congregation, but there are certain occasions where you get a sense that something special is happening.
On consecutive Sundays recently, I was honoured to play a small part in two different locations where something creative was happening. These experiences encouraged me as I met people who wanted to come to church on more than just Sunday mornings. At the same time, I saw imaginative thinking about the most effective ways to engage all members of the congregation.
The first time was a joint initiative of three Presbyterian churches in Coleraine: First Coleraine, New Row and Terrace Row. Together they held a stand-alone event for everyone in their churches, but focused on parents in particular to help them understand parenting and young people from a Christian perspective.
Teaching and hot dogs
There was a keynote talk about adolescent development, followed by a seminar on raising resilient teens and another from the organisation Love for Life on understanding social media.
A programme for the older children and teenagers on how to use social media safely was also provided and alongside all this was a dynamic and creative programme for the younger children (which my own 2 kids attended and gave it a big thumbs up!) The activities began at 4pm and concluded at 5.45pm, with everyone gathering in the hall to enjoy hot dogs afterwards. There was such a sense of the ‘church of all ages’ in Coleraine coming together to be better equipped to follow Jesus.
The following Sunday I was asked to speak at West Church, Ballymena, as part of their series of eight Sunday evening events called ‘Hope Café’. The overall theme of these events was ‘made in the image of God’ and different speakers examined various contemporary issues from a biblical perspective. These included humanity, marriage and, in my case, the family.
After refreshments in their beautiful new social space, proceedings commenced at 5pm with worship and a chance to teach in an informal atmosphere, followed by enthusiastic discussion around tables. Again, there was a crèche and a separate programme for primary age children and it was remarkable to see that every generation was present, leading to such a sense of the whole family of God at worship.
Don’t copy but…
Of course, no church should try to exactly copy what another does, but seek to see what God wants to do specifically in our own context. However, there are three principles from these two examples which could be applied anywhere:
- Flexible timing: It was clear in both events that the decision to hold something at an earlier time was very successful, enabling people of all ages to attend
- Intergenerational community: This brought about an inclusive gathering of a wide range of ages as part of the same event, including some age-specific input and time when everyone was together
- Practical discipleship: Ultimately the goal of both events was not merely to facilitate intergenerational community, but a focused equipping of everyone to follow Christ in their real lives.
So, each church and context is different, but if we each seek to understand how God is at work in our particular congregation, how might these principles be put into practice creatively to more broadly engage the whole church on a Sunday?
Graeme Thompson is the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s Youth Development Officer.