As we edge out from under the shadow of the impact of the pandemic, being back together again in church life is great, but how about also gradually honing or finding ways to consider our congregation’s local witness. Getting going againis an initiative to encourage and support congregations in restoring an edge to local witness that may have been lost or inhibited during the last couple of years. In considering how to refresh and renew a genuine connection with the community, a series of reflections have been gathered together that explore the following five aspects congregations can profitably consider as they recommence, or reshape for, a more active local witness.
People don’t know what they don’t know! There can be wonderful things happening in your congregation and you might have much to offer to those in the community but how will they know about this unless you tell them? This is not about ‘blowing your own trumpet’, rather it is about raising awareness of your congregation in the local community. It is one way of giving people a glimpse of the beauty of the community of church and it can help to de-construct any misunderstandings people have about church.
Effective communication is key to growing your congregation’s profile. Some ways to do this both inside and outside the church include digital media, social media, printed media, signage and noticeboards. In considering growing a congregation’s profile it should look at ways to communicate things coming up in the life of the church, what has happened recently, and also other activities or achievements in the wider community.
Bowling clubs, uniformed organisations and toddler groups have been part of the life of many congregations for decades and provide a valuable resource for, and witness to, the wider community. They create connection and relationships with individuals and families that don’t go to church and allow a growing familiarity with your church facilities, which is helpful when it comes to inviting people along to church services or other events within the church.
It is most effective when groups like this are meeting genuine needs in the community. So it’s helpful for leaders to reflect on their existing provision, what other needs are there in the community that are not being met and also how are the congregations groups and activities creating pathways or next steps for people that move them towards opportunities for exploring the Christian faith.
Churches, schools, community groups, sports clubs and businesses, make up the fabric of a local community in very tangible ways. Taking opportunities to grow your congregation’s presence in these places, outside of your buildings, will be welcomed and could help to change perceptions of the church, build goodwill and hopefully provoke some curiosity towards the gospel.
Consider ways to be present and supportive of the initiatives of other groups in the community and also look for opportunities to partner and join in with what is already happening.
Churches often have lots of people from the community attending organisations but don’t appreciate that it is a huge step for them to attend a Sunday service. Maybe the gap between groups like the weekly toddler group and a Sunday service, is wider than we realise? Practices such as corporate singing, praying and listening to a sermon are strange for those who are unfamiliar with church.
The idea of a prelude has come to be used more generally as a soft or gradual warm up to the main thing, and so it is important to think creatively about a few one-off events or activities dotted into the church programme, that can be another stepping stone that draws people towards an experience of worship. Perhaps begin by thinking of some of the groups that exist on the fringes of the congregation such as men, young mums or older folk and think creatively about what a next step one-off event or activity might be that you would feel comfortable inviting them to and where they can be further introduced to the gospel.
Whilst we were unable to gather for activities during the pandemic, individual church members were present in the community more than ever due to furlough and home working. This allowed new and deeper relationships to be built with neighbours as we journeyed through a genuinely shared experience. Building on these relationships opens up great opportunities for community witness in our everyday conversations.
This has grown an awareness in congregations of the need to consider how they might encourage and equip church members for sharing the Christian faith in simple ways amongst their friends, neighbours and colleagues. This could include preparing people in the congregation to share their own faith story, the gospel story and also giving them confidence and tools for opening God’s word with unreached people.
If your congregation would like to explore this further and reflect upon some of the ways you can grow your local witness, visit the Getting going again webpage for fuller reflections and details on the themes above and a simple, free downloadable tool to stimulate a 60-90 minute conversation among leaders.
Neil Harrison, PCI Congregational Witness Development Officer.