Responding to the Coronavirus season in smaller church contexts
We reached out to some of our partners leading smaller congregations through this Coronavirus season for insight into their approach to discipleship and care. We trust you will be encouraged by their wisdom, healthy expectations, simple communication strategies and focus on keeping first things first.
Responses from Ben Franks (Hope Church Rhondda, Wales), Owen Cottom (Grace Cardiff, Wales) and David Varney (Foundation Church, Belfast)
AS A CHURCH, WHAT ARE YOU PUTTING YOUR EFFORT INTO IN THIS DISRUPTED SEASON?
Most of our attention and energy has been on ramping up our foodbank and care for people self-isolating in our community that may not have the support they need. We’ve done a lot of delivering food parcels and that sort of thing. There has also been the challenge of moving our discipleship and Sundays online but we’ve kept that pretty basic.
As a church, we’ve seen this time as an opportunity to live with depth, live simply and live local.
Live with depth – we’ve encouraged our people to invest in their relationship with God in these difficult circumstances and launched a devotional series called Daily Grace on our social platforms to support that.
Live simply – we have encouraged our people to counter the panic in our culture with peaceful faith.
Live local – we have encouraged our people to love their neighbours. We want to live with eyes open to the relational gospel opportunities that God is opening up where we live.
As a small church we are reasonably well protected from massive disruption compared to friends in larger churches. Of course, the Sunday and midweek gatherings are no longer possible, but we have a strong core which is holding up very well. I am putting effort into Word and prayer and keeping connected as best we can online.
In a slightly paradoxical way, I am also putting effort in learning contentment. For the first few weeks I felt such a pressure to extend all activities as we shifted online but have settled back into a manageable groove. Being bi-vocational forces me to be realistic about what I can achieve with my time. When I’m not in the hospital, I’m at home looking after our three year old whilst Marion is at work herself (another medic!) so there’s not a lot of time for much more!
HAVE ANY UNEXPECTED OPPORTUNITIES EMERGED?
I think one of the joys has been seeing the church rise to the challenge of one-anothering. Our communication strategy has been pretty basic; 2 WhatsApp groups, one for each congregation. But to see the church family sharing, caring, encouraging and praying for one another has been wonderful. People leaving short video devotionals, people who we didn’t even know could sing writing songs and posting them to the group. It’s been wonderful! I think we’ve also seen some future leaders emerging too.
Many people in our church community have felt freshly connected to their neighbours in this time. Some of us have been praying for opportunities in this area for the past couple of years and this time of crisis has opened up the floodgates! We have also seen people who have previously been on the fringes of church life move closer towards Christ and church community, particularly through engaging with our live-stream Sundays.
As with most other churches I know of, activities are being shifted online with renewed emphasis. We have recently started our first ever online Alpha. It has been great! I’ve had so many people disconnected from church/religion reach out and register interest. There is a hunger and an opportunity. Allied to this, I’ve tried to up our social media output to connect with the disconnected a lot more, but this (personally speaking) is a bit of a slippery slope and can easily tip into obsession! I’ve found returning to Acts 6:4 again – concentrate on Word and prayer above all. The rest can (and should) be done by others!