I grew up in a small Northamptonshire village. Croughton, since you ask. You’ve not heard of it? At the bottom of our road, about 40 metres from our front door was a small Methodist church. When I was very young I once watched the evangelistic film ‘The Cross and the Switchblade’ at some youth event there that someone had organised. It may even have been part of a holiday club. But it was the only time I ever went into that building. Sadly, it’s now a very nice home. Week by week throughout my teenage years there seemed to be very little going on. As a family, we drove 5 miles into a neighbouring church where we attended a church with which my three sisters and I became increasingly disillusioned. It could have been the only thing we ever agreed upon growing up! I wasn’t a Christian. And I was in no danger of becoming one if I stayed there. So, it was perhaps providential that I was sent off to Boarding School for sixth form studies. At Monkton Combe School I became sympathetic to the Christian faith without ever really understanding it. But I encountered Christians of integrity and worthy of respect and that challenged my preconceptions. That could have happened sooner.
I came home from school during the holidays and often wondered about giving the church at the bottom of our road a go. In the time I’d been away an infusion of enthusiastic Christians from the nearby American Airforce Base had started attending and there seemed to be signs of genuine spiritual life emanating from within the four walls. It also helped that they had the amplifier turned up to eleven and in a quiet rural community that gets you noticed! But at no point did that church try to connect with the community in which it was placed. In one sense, it didn’t matter because God found other ways of reaching me with the gospel and bringing me to faith. But it could have happened sooner.
Rob Pickering, the pastor of Selhurst Evangelical Church came into the Antioch Workshop this week to talk about Community Engagement. Under Rob’s leadership and with the enthusiastic support of the congregation, God has used a very simple four fold strategy at Selhurst. It’s summarised in the alliteratively natty
1. Focal point and footfall
Getting the church out of the building and into the community to increase people’s awareness of their existence. In usually involves standing outside Sainsbury’s as people do their shopping and presenting a friendly face and a warm greeting before letting people know about the church.
2. Follow the community map
Door to door visitation to advertise the existence of the church and provide people with an opportunity to engage with the gospel on their doorstep if they so wish.
3. Face to face on the frontline
Providing people with the opportunity to engage with the bigger issues of life through walk up questionnaires and conversation starters.
4. Free to invite
Creating an ‘every Sunday’ invitational approach to church among every member of the congregation.
Every one of those four approaches encourage church members to act as human signposts pointing people to the hope held out in the gospel. Rob’s session got the creative juices flowing. We were provoked to ask what are we doing where we are with whom we’ve got and with the opportunities God has given us to engage our community. It’s what the Methodist Church at the end of Wheeler’s Rise, Croughton failed to do. We don’t want to make the same mistake.