Can your church live?

I have spent the last 18 months pioneering the Living Well project which works on a simple idea – the power of vision can turn a church around. After a consultation process a church is offered a way forward and given support as it moves forward. This may be support in mission, appointing leaders or encouraging the church itself into action. Here are some of the key ideas we have discovered in helping declining churches.

There can be a culture of negativity which either holds a church back or creates failure in anything they do. Seek to be positive even when you have difficult things to say.

Small churches sometimes seek to act like big churches with multiple projects. Seek to do one thing well.

Research the pioneering impetus that got that particular church started. It might give clues as to it’s future.

What are the present needs of the community? Is there something the church can do?

Link up with other churches around a project that benefits the community.

Application preaching and discussion are great tools in helping people apply today what they know to be true.

Living Well is ready to help other churches – more details are on our website. http://www.cafechurch.net

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You’re a pioneer

If you do cafechurch you are a pioneer.

Being a pioneer means having vision. This means seeing beyond yourself to the possibilities in the world around you. Pioneers can see opportunities where others may only see obstacles. They see promise where others only see confusion or problems.

Being a pioneer means having courage. Pioneers are risk-takers. They understand failure, but they focus on the great potential for success.

Being a pioneer means being generous. Pioneers believe in helping others. Even when others don’t appreciate that generosity, the pioneer is a giver.

The pioneer spirit means hard work. Nothing great is accomplished without great effort and great sacrifice.

Adapted from graceproducts.com

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The next transitions in the church (Part II)

Small is beautiful

One of the lessons we are learning from emerging expressions of church is that being small is good. For many in the Church this can be a struggle as we judge success in terms of numerical growth. Yet there is no evidence, however, that the Apostle Paul judged the Church by these standards. Our expectations may need to change so that the church becomes a place that is easy to join but has high expectations of those who do join. One of our cafechurches has experienced this first hand. They number about 30 people, meeting in a high street coffee store. They have recently started to meet in small study groups in addition to this monthly cafechurch event and one of these small groups is made up entirely of people who are not Christians. Something transformational is taking place in the context of something very small and God does not despise this (Zechariah 4:10).

Meeting where people are

I told my optician about cafechurch and he said ‘Oh, that sounds great – going to where the people are.’ Rather than being behind our own walls churches are finding places on the high street, or somewhere similar, so that they can be where already meet. There are challenges involved because our default system in our own buildings can excuse a lack of organisational ability. When we go to the high street, the context that might look familiar but it is wholly different. Everything from the style of our leaflets to the length of our talks is crucial. In a coffee shop if our talk is boring, people start to talk amongst themselves and we may struggle to recover. Meeting people where they are may sound easy, but actually takes a great deal of thought and attention. A high street venue is significant because it gives less hurdles for people to cross over – it’s us that have more hurdles to jump to get to them, but maybe that’s the best way round! Somebody who came to speak at a cafechurch event became a Christian because the context meant they were ‘met where they were’. The next transition in the church is meeting people where they are.

I have shared four key points about the next transitions in the Church:
• giving a good welcome
• talking about real issues
• seeing small as significant
• meeting people where they are

Here are some practical applications to help us move forward.

• Rediscover how we can be welcoming

It is important that the people who give a greeting have others to refer guests to that the guest can sit with, have coffee with and talk with. Have other events to invite people to outside of the church service (e.g. pizza parties, pampering evenings, sport, etc.,)

• Raise issues that people are thinking about

The Church is increasingly becoming a place where people can talk about issues that matter to them. Is there something you could do that combines ‘word and deed’?

• See small as significant

Having a meal together as a church, is a good way of showing love in action. Try holding a simple bread and soup meal after which people donate money to sponsor a child with World Vision or Compassion.

• Meet people where they are

Find somewhere on the high street or the equivalent where you can be. (See ‘10 ways to draw people’ in my blog archive.) Why not think about starting a cafechurch – check our website for training days. This could help you to position yourself to be part of the next transitions in the Church.

Summary

Some people think that the Church is like the Titanic, rearranging itself whilst oblivious to the oncoming dangers that will eventually cause it to sink. I don’t believe that for a second. What I see is the Church moving forward changing direction but always on course. When Jesus said ‘Let’s go over to the other side’ (Mark 4:35) he was giving transitional direction to the church that could not be diverted or destroyed even by storms. The church will surely reach its destination intact.

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The next transitions in the church (Part 1) by Cid Latty

A recent report to the General Synod of the Church of England stated that unless drastic changes took place within the church ‘a perfect storm’ would lead to a crisis through which the church would be unsustainable. This view was also shared at the Methodist Conference, previously, when the statement was made that ‘we are prepared to go out of existence.’ With changing demographics, ageing of the financially secure ‘baby boomers’ and cultural paradigm shifts for some the future of the Church in its present form looks less than certain. Will the Church survive the downturn?

There have been many warnings, but church decline is much like sand in an hour-glass; it falls slowly and can go unnoticed, leading to what Stuart Murray called the ‘complacency’ of some denominations to respond with urgency. However, amidst the stark reality of church closures, there are mustard seed signs of hope that may take many by surprise. Something is happening that often falls below the radar of church attendance statistics, as parts of the Church instinctively begin to move in a more missional way. (E.g. Fresh Expressions, Incarnate and Urban Expression)

Whilst helping many churches start cafechurches over the last few years, I have noted a conglomeration of signs that point to what could be the next transitions in the Church. I am going to highlight the most obvious ones and give a few practical steps to help implement them.

Give a good welcome

One children’s nursery rhyme says ‘sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me’. If only that were true, it was just a few words that made the prophet Elijah run for his life. Make no mistake, words are powerful. There are two words that most churches display on their notice boards as a way of inviting the community to come to experience the love of God for themselves. The words ‘All Welcome’ have been faithfully used as an invitation for decades. No church would like to think that they are anything less than a welcoming place. The reality, however, sometimes does not live up to the ideal. As John Drane says (After the McDonaldization of the Church) what people are sold and what they receive from the Church can be two different things.

What we need to understand is that a welcome is different to a greeting. A greeting is saying ‘Hello, how are you?’ but a welcome goes further than that and makes someone feel at home, inviting them to be friends with your friends and shows them ‘hospitality that includes them in our conversations around a meal table’. (‘Open Heart Open Home’ Karen Mains) It is sharing life together and this is a transition that is taking place within the Church. We are increasingly seeing the Church say, ‘when we meet, we eat’ and they understand that hospitality is a spiritual gift that must be intentionally exercised. At a recent baptism of somebody that had visited one of our cafechurches, the baptismal candidate said it was the ability of the cafechurch to lovingly welcome them that made them seek out the reason for this embrace.

Talk about real issues

Whenever religious people want to discount small contextual movements they call them ‘church lite’, saying ‘When are you going to talk about spiritual things?’ The fear is that in contextualizing the scriptures, eisegesis may occur. Of course there are risks but why should fear stop us? Once we had someone walk into one of our cafechurches after arguing with their spouse at home. It just so happened that that night we were talking about relationships. Our guest returned home telling us of the ‘miracle’ that had happened that that night which equipped them to heal their broken relationship. I am convinced, that if we unpack the values of Christ we have better foundations to share the Christ of the values. I see the next transition in the Church addressing the felt-need to talk about real issues. After recent riots in the UK that shocked many around the world, Sheldon Thomas – a former gang member who now directs a helpline for gang members to help them turn their lives around – stated that the underlying reason for the riots was that children are bringing up children and they need to be ‘shown how to be good parents’. Churches have a mandate and the people who can do that very thing. In a world that will not wait ‘self-contemplation and selfishness’ within the Church, is ‘dangerous’. (‘Turn-around churches’ George Barna) It is vital that the Church speaks now about the felt needs of people. Contexts within the Church where people can have conversations about life and discover ways to respond are being developed on an ever increasing scale.

The story of the demise of The Crystal Cathedral (whatever you think of the church) should be a stark reminder to all of us that unless the church intentionally is redefining itself, a slow demise is inevitable. The next transitions in the church must be more than cosmetics then but flow out of a rediscovery of essentials we forget.

In part two we’ll look at two more transitions and a few practical steps to implement them.

This article first appeared in the Baptist Times.

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A quick word about copyright

As more and more of our cafechurches are using music here is a quick check list of things to consider about copyright.

Every event in your own building does need to be covered by a copyright licence and your church should have a current one from Christian Copyright Licensing International.

If you are performing music in a building that is not owned by you (e.g. a coffee shop) an additional copyright licence is required. The Performing Rights Society (PRS) can provide you with the right cover. You may find that the owner of the building will need to get the additional cover and you can get a one-off event licence from as little as £10. Be willing to reimburse this cost to them.

If you are using background music in a building that is not owned by you and they already use backgound music, your event may be covered by their existing licence. Speak to the Manager to check the detail of what they already have and make sure they are happy for you to use background music under their existing licence.

When it comes to copyright, don’t leave it to chance – let’s give honour where it is due.

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Cafechurch training is fun

Mixed in with giving delegates a good theological basis, practical pointers and helpful resources for doing cafechurch, there are moments of sheer fun. Who said that church has to be boring?

For upcoming training days go to: http://www.cafechurch.net

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The next transition in the church

I believe the next transition in the church will be a move towards something that is conversationally based; something that is dynamic because of a confidence in the scriptures, something that eats when it meets and is easy to join but has high expectations of those who do. This will present challenges, but they will be far outweighted by the fruit. This is why we are encouraging turnaround churches.

Find Living Well at http://www.cafechurch.net

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‘First things first’ by Rev Cid Latty

John Wimber, Founder of the Vineyard group of churches, was famous for saying ‘keep the main thing the main thing’ because it’s so easy to be distracted, diverted or worse. Becoming too busy can mean we spend a great deal of time involved in things that use our time and energy but accomplish little. Some have reflected and concluded that during the so-called ‘decade of evangelism’ we worked harder but not smarter and the result was poor to say the least. With cafechurch, my hope is that we are not seeing it as a one-way ticket to success but as a vehicle to put ‘first things first’; as a return to Christian disciplines often forgotten. One of these disciplines is prayer and fasting.

The primary purpose of prayer and fasting is to ‘abstain from food for spiritual purposes’ said Derek Prince ((‘Fasting’ by Derek Prince pg.24, Whitaker House 1986). It is a self humbling exercise (Psalm 35:13) by which we acknowledge our dependency on God and reflect upon our need of him. It acts as a reminder that human effort alone cannot win the day; we need God’s help and his resources to complete his tasks. When Ezra needed answers he could have looked first to his own muscle power but, instead, he did what may seem ridiculous today, he went without food and focused on prayer (Ezra 8:21-23). When Esther faced insurmountable odds fasting came before action (Esther 4:15-17). When Jesus stood on the threshold of his call to minister he withdrew into the experience of prayer and fasting first (Luke 4: 1-2), as good foundations. It should be no surprise to us then that he instructs his followers in Matt 7:16 about what to do ‘when they fast’ (meaning that if you can’t remember the last time you did it, it’s time to do it). And so we find one of the first things the embryonic church does is to obey these instructions (Acts 13:1-3). Anything significant done by the church revolved around prayer and fasting (‘Fasting’ by Derek Prince pg.24). Why do we think that we should do anything less?

Prayer and fasting is not an excuse for doing nothing but an opportunity to counter the voices that tell us we can have what we want, when we want it. We reflect upon our situation, refocus on what matters and realign ourselves with God’s truth. Circumstances may not change but we do. That alone makes me better equipped to do God’s work in his way. That is why I think it is crucial for our cafechurches. There is a whole host of debate and dialogue today about being missional – let’s make sure that we include prayer and fasting as part of this because good discipleship has always involved this.

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4 hope statements for your cafechurch

The pop of new year champagne is a distant memory now and the froth of new year resolutions has probably dissolved into the reality of life lived with complexities. Our faith and fears, joys and sorrows act more like a heady mixed drink sapping clarity of thought and vision. Here then are four hope statements for your cafechurch this year:

I hope we have more good conversations this year.

It’s hard sometimes to resist the pressure to see success as a numbers game. Cafechurch however is about sharing the values of Christ as a context to share the Christ of the values. Even people who go to ‘church’ can have no other place in their lives where this can be done in a relaxed environment. Count the good conversations this year rather than the numbers.

I hope we are challenged to leave our comfort zones.

Running a cafechurch is not easy. It may challenge us to rethink our church language, the content of our ‘service’ and even remodel our church structures. Sometimes we are left with no quick fix answers and at other times we are challenged by the zeal of someone who finds God for the first time. Even so, stepping forward will keep us trusting God.

I hope we make our calling sure.

It’s always a shame when a cafechurch starts with the wrong motives. When you start one it does not take long to discover that you need deep qualities to be effective and productive. Listening to God will help us get his direction so we can plan for the future with new enthusiasm. ‘Therefore be eager to make your calling and election sure’ (The Bible 2 Peter 1:10)

I hope we get more cafechurch champions

Every cafechurch team needs new people with fresh ideas. It’s really important to seek people out and include them in as much as possible. If we wait for volunteers we may wait forever. Someone you know is waiting for you to personally ask them to get involved.

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cafechurch highlights paradigm shift

In the UK about 50 per cent of the adult population now visit a coffee
shop while at the same time 5 pubs a week close down. Couple this with some recent research that found that 1 in 10 people would describe themselves as lonely and scores of others admit that modern lifestyles hinder their ability to connect with other people. All this has
led some to claim that a cultural shift is taking place in the way people
are seeking to relate to each other. (i.e. FaceBook now has about 500 million users) Hence why we have seen the rise of
cafe cultures as people seek environments where they can make friends, relax and have good conversations in comfortable settings. It is into this context that we have also seen the emergence of cafe churches. This is one of the ways the church is responding to a paradigm shift in culture. This is a moment of ‘opportunity’ and ‘danger’ in which the possibility of ‘truly being the church’ is present as we respond to paradigm changes imaginatively. (See David J Bosch ‘Transforming Mission’ pg 3-4) We may need to recover the confidence and zeal of past generations that was the hallmark of great activity.

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