Preludes to church life
Churches often have lots of people from the community attending organisations but find it challenging to transfer that to Sunday service attendance. We assume that this should be a natural next step for people from the community, but maybe the gap between the weekly toddler group and the Sunday service is wider than we realise? For many people, practices such as corporate singing, praying and listening to a sermon, are very strange. Perhaps leaders need to think imaginatively about what a natural next step, that could serve as a prelude, might be for those engaging in groups or organisations around the edges of church life.
Individual Christians have a role to be a witness in this regard through being open and generous in friendship with those they have relationships with. For many people, Christians have a weirdness factor about them, so creating social opportunities to introduce people to the wider church community will help to dial that down somewhat. Little invitations to come for a coffee with others, to share in a barbeque we are having, to go for a walk with others – just to be around other Christians, will be helpful in warming people up to a fuller engagement with church.
Alongside encouraging the witness of individual members, maybe as congregations we need to think creatively about a few one-off events or activities dotted into the church programme that can be another stepping stone that draws unreached people deeper into the community of the church and towards an experience of worship. A few suggestions for different groups of people are offered below:
FIVE GROUPS FOR PRELUDE IDEAS
Many PCI congregations have well established women’s groups, but might there be ways to include one or two events each year that would be an easy invite to extend to the wider community or mothers from the toddler group?
- Christmas wreath making workshop: Crafting has grown in popularity in recent years and a workshop like this might be well received. The Christmas theme would provide a natural backdrop to include an advent Bible reading, or a brief story from a member around ‘what Christmas means to me’.
- Walk in the park: During the spring or summer months schedule a few walks in your local park. Finish with refreshments in a coffee shop or in the church hall.
Gathering men within church life has always been difficult, so including those outside of church is even more challenging. For best results, many seek to involve an activity or food or both!
- Curry night: Approach a local curry restaurant to host this with a set menu and encourage church members to bring a friend. The primary purpose of this is relational so avoid hijacking the evening with an epilogue or testimony. Instead make sure everyone feels welcome and relaxed, maybe keeping the spiritual content to a prayer of grace.
- Hiking: Organise a group walk up a nearby mountain. Try to ensure there are options for all abilities. If appropriate, at the highest point, gather people for a reading of Psalm 121 (‘I lift my eyes to the mountains, where does my help come from’) or other suitable passage, and finish with a short prayer.
3. YOUNG PEOPLE
Some churches have unchurched young people attending their youth club or uniformed organisations. Expecting them to attend Sunday morning worship is a huge step, especially without the encouragement of a believing family background. What might draw them further into the community life of the church that could lead to them engaging in a group Bible study for young people?
- Summer Scheme: Activity-based programmes will appeal to many young people. This could be in the form of two or three trips during the summer months. Encouraging church young people to bring unchurched friends will be an easy invite. Gathering together before or after activities for a short devotion or testimony from a young person could be well received.
- Volunteering: Young people from all backgrounds often enjoy the opportunity to volunteer. Awards for young people such as Duke of Edinburgh and Volunteer Now require young people to fulfil a certain amount of volunteer hours. Some church organisations have the potential to offer great opportunities for young volunteers and another step into the church community.
Parenting is challenging so any support the local church can organise can be appreciated by the community and may draw parents further into the life of the church. Some suggestions would be:
- Family time: Anything that encourages families to enjoy time together, such as a community fun day with simple fairground challenges or a family games night.
- A night out: A couple of times a year provide an evening creche and children’s programme whilst offering parents a night out together at a local restaurant or the cinema where they don’t have to watch something animated!
5. FOODBANK CLIENTS
There are additional sensitivities and privacy concerns that make it more challenging to introduce these individuals to the community of the church, but here are two suggestions that hopefully indicate that the church cares for their needs, both spiritual and practical:
- Prayer: Make it your pattern that every Foodbank client is asked ‘how can we be praying for you’. Reassure them that confidentiality will be maintained at all times and follow this up on their next visit.
- Wider needs: Be alert to other practical needs that the church community could respond to. Some examples of this could be providing Christmas hampers, toys for children or organising a pre-loved school uniform sale.
As you think about ‘Getting going again’ in your local witness, take time to explore ways of creating preludes that are environments in which those who are warming up to being around church activities can further experience Christian community and move towards considering faith?
To access other articles in this series, use the links below:
Article 1 // PROFILE
Article 2 // PROVISION
Article 3 // PRESENT
Article 5 // PREPARING