Acknowledgements: Rick Warren, Robert Warren. Roy Crown, Justin Brierley, The C of E report on Church growth 2014 & previous research/work done before at AAURC and the three Bible studies.
Since my arrival at Abington Avenue United Reformed Church in January 2015 the priority given to me by the Church was to continue to work with them (on the work they had already begun) in exploring and discovering God’s future direction of the Church – especially to focus on Church growth. In September 2016 AAURC introduced a new additional morning service called the Gathering. During 2017 as a congregation we have looked at “Fruitfulness on our frontlines” – identifying and empowering us each in our own mission fields where ever we are; ‘Paraclesis’ – Drawing alongside one another to give practical support and advice from our own life journeys, The Bible society “The Bible course” and most recently a sermon series and Bible studies on the letter to the Romans (based on the Book How to be a Christian without being religious”.
To this end we held three Bible studies looking at the topic and issues surrounding Church growth – about 60 people attended these across the three-time slots offered over the three weeks. Through these we recognised that Church growth is natural for a healthy church; that God wants his church to grow; and that God expects both faithfulness and fruitfulness.
“Faithfulness is accomplishing as much as possible with the resources and talents God has given you. Success in not being larger than some other Church; it’s bearing as much fruit as possible given your gifts, opportunities and potential … Jesus doesn’t expect us to produce more than we can, but he does expect us to produce all that we can by his power within us!” (Rick Warren – Purpose Driven Church p.65)
We also noted that ultimately it is God that gives the growth:
“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labour. 9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (I Cor. 3: 6-11)
As a Church we are called to plant and water. We plant by sharing the good news of Jesus with others, through word and deed. And we water by helping people to grow spiritually. This can be summed up in our mission statement:
To celebrate God’s love together,
to grow in Christ and
to serve our neighbour.
Based on the Great Commission: “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ (Mt. 28:18-20)
And the Golden Commandment: Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt. 22: 37-40)
The outworking of which are seen in practice in the life of the early Church in Acts 2:42-47: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Through the Bible studies we recognised that if we are to grow as a Church we need to be actively and intentionally planting and watering. So that we can be part of a growing Church community where Christ is at the centre of all we do, and his name is glorified – where Jesus Christ crucified is preached. A place where truth, grace, love, justice and mercy are taught. A Church full of active and on fire disciples of Jesus Christ of all ages. A place where all are welcome, a place where people can belong, where they are accepted and loved. A place where hope, forgiveness, peace, joy, and healing are received. A place where people can grow and discover their own gifts using them to serve God both inside and outside on the Church.
In everything we do at Abington Avenue URC we should ask ourselves does this fulfil our mission statement. This needs to become our plumb line for all we do. For when we all understand and are on board with our mission it will mean we are all pressing forward to the same goal, it will reduce frustration, for a clear purpose not only defines what we do, it defines what we do not do. And it helps us to evaluate “Are we doing what God intends for us to do? … What impact is this having? … What evidence do we have to support that?”
At the elders away on the 18th April 2015 we spent the day seeking God’s will for the way forward in making our Church mission statement a reality.
Firstly, we recognised that as a Church we need to grow both deeper and wider.
Deeper through …
Discipleship – Individually as Christians we are all on a personal spiritual journey with God. The goal of the Christian is to become more Christ like. Our Church is called not only to reach people but also to make disciples – to teach people, to build them up, to strengthen them and encourage and equip them in their quest to be Christ like. The Scriptures are filled with commands to mature and grow up in faith. Discipleship is a lifelong process that God uses to bring us to maturity in Christ.
Worship … When we express our love to God we’re Worshipping. Worship is celebrating God’s presence and honouring him with our lifestyles. It is our reason for existence. In Romans 12:1 we are told, “…offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this s your spiritual act of worship.” Worship is expressed both publicly and privately in several ways: such as praying, hearing God’s Word, giving, meditating and through administering the sacraments (baptism and communion). This must be a priority for it is out of this relationship with our Father that everything else flows.
Fellowship – of the believers as members of God’s family. We are called to belong not just to believe. Baptism is a symbol of salvation and it is a symbol of fellowship. The church exists to nurture and provide fellowship for the believers. True fellowship happens when people are known, cared for, held accountable and encouraged in their spiritual journey.
Wider through …
Outreach – the church exists to communicate God’s word – we are ambassadors for Christ and part of our mission is to evangelise the world. GO and as you are going SHARE! Share the Good news wherever we go.
Service … Expressed by meeting people’s needs (all kinds of needs: spiritual, emotional, relational, physical), caring for them, helping to bring healing for their hurting in the name of Jesus and speaking up for those who have no voice. God has blessed every believer with special gifts to be used for ministry both within the Church community and in service to the wider world.
Secondly, we noted that if healthy churches grow then ‘the secret’ of church health can be summed up in a word – balance! Healthy, lasting church growth is multi-dimensional.
Rick Warren says how church health has five facets: Every church needs to grow…
The challenge for us is to find a balance between sustaining and deepening a closer relationship with God, the development and ongoing nurture of our Christian community here at AAURC and our outward mission as a church to represent Christ in our wider mission to the local community and the world.
We recognised that Growth means change, taking risks, the need for vision faith and expectation.
Thirdly, we prioritised.
As an eldership we felt that God is calling us to focus internally as a Church on:
And externally by reaching out to those under represented within our current Church family especially: young families and those on the 18-30’s age group and Young people 11-18. Why these three areas? Because we recognised that we live in a different culture than we did twenty, thirty years ago. The world is changing at a faster pace than ever before, it’s a new world and we need to contextual the gospel for people today. 46% of 20 somethings don’t believe the Jesus Christ was even a historical person, however, they are the most open age group spiritually. We also noted how 85% of those who do come to faith, do so by the time they are 23 and the average age of a person coming to faith is 15. As a Church we need to adapt to new ways of being Church, of sharing the good news of Jesus, bringing alongside what we are already doing fresh expression of Church to reach those who the current format and programmes fail to reach or attract.
In September 2016 AAURC introduced a new additional morning service called the Gathering.