Somers Park Methodist Church
This week three of us met at Lansdowne Crescent with the CEO of AgeUK Malvern to discuss how we might work together. The 2014 Review pointed towards the need to make our church more visible in the community, thereby bringing more people in. What struck me was in order to show AgeUK around we had to navigate through rooms full of people. French Conversation was taking place in the Welcome Room and Pilates in the main hall. (So that's what Pilates is!). On a weekday morning this is not unusual, and I began to wonder if the assumption we don't get enough people into the building is correct. I have begun to think our problem is something else, that the church building is actually quite well used, but this doesn't bring people into faith and into the worshipping fellowship.
People have always told me what they like about the Methodist Church is the friendliness and the welcome they receive. This is true in our church. I want to slightly challenge that assumption too. Yes, we are friendly and welcoming when people cross the threshold of the church, but what are we doing to extend the hand of friendship? Just expecting people to turn up, which is what most Methodist Churches have done for years, has lead to steady decline. We need to be reaching out in friendship. Already Somers Park Avenue have shown the way with "Messy Church", an invitation event, and also Upper Welland with their "Lite Bite Lunches" and Coffee Mornings.
It is well established that most people come to a Christian faith over a period of time, and relationships are a key part of this. I myself became a christian as a teenager because I was invited by a friend to come to a youth fellowship. I became a Methodist because two girls at that fellowship invited me to their MAYC Youth Club. (Well, what's a fourteen year old boy to do when faced with such an approach?).
At Lansdowne Crescent in August we are starting a new type of monthly evening service at Lansdowne. It will be at 4.00pm, and will be called "Café Worship." The style will be to sit around tables, with coffee, tea and cake. (I'm hoping offers of cakes will be forthcoming.) The service will be informal, and interactive. There will be quizzes and discussion around a given Christian theme. We will still sing and pray, so many of the familiar elements of worship will be there. This informal style will enable us to share together our Christian experience, but also our questions. This will be an all age friendly service where everyone can join in from the youngest to the eldest. Importantly this is a monthly service to which fiends and neighbours can be invited. Reaching out in friendship and welcome will be key. So on the first Sunday in August why not come along, and bring someone with you! I'm including Somers Park Avenue and Upper Welland in this.
Alongside this we have many long standing activities where fellowship is to the forefront. I wonder whether some of these groups have been together so long and become so familiar that maybe they have become a little closed? That's just a thought, not an accusation. In any case I would like each church group to consider holding regular invitation events rather than sticking to the same comfortable routine. Our House Groups, Tuesday Afternoon Fellowship, Tuesday Café amongst other groups are much better suited to attracting people to the Church than Sunday Service. Who can we invite from people we know? And if those groups are full, then maybe its time to split into smaller groups sometimes to make room for those we invite.
We know that Malvern has an increasingly retired population, and through age, bereavement and isolation people are longing for company. There are people out there who are just waiting for an invitation. We need to intentionally reach out in friendship and in the name of Jesus. It's time to do things a bit differently, but also to do something we're already quite good at, offering friendship. It's over to you.
With every blessing