The Last 12 Months of Church

It is now one year since we had what might be described as a normal service at our church. However, even that service was different. We all had to wash our hands on arrival and we were not allowed to shake hands or hug anyone. There was also no coffee served after the service. Although there were no restriction on numbers who could attend about one third of our congregation stayed away. Little did we know what lay ahead of us!

We were then closed the next week and after some experimenting we arrived at our current online worship format, which is a service done on Zoom and streamed via Facebook Live. It is also recorded and uploaded to our website too. We then have coffee over Zoom after the service.

In the summer, autumn and also in December we moved to a hybrid method. This consisted of limited numbers in the church building (up to a maximum of 30 people) and the rest of us met over Zoom or Facebook Live.

We closed again after Christmas, at the beginning of the third lockdown, and returned to a fully online service. At the beginning of April our church will be reopening again and we are moving back to the hybrid method mentioned above.

If someone had said to me on 1 January 2020 that this would be how church would be then I would not have believed them! But this is the reality for us all.

We are very fortunate at our church in having a good tech team, that has worked very hard making this new way of meeting for worship work effectively. Our team has spent many hours working on the technical aspects, such as making sure all the various gadgets speak to each other. And without their sterling effects we would not have been able to do what we have done.

It seems these days that virtually everything at our church is conducted over Zoom whether that is Sunday services, Midweek services, prayer meetings, housegroups, coffee mornings, Messy Church, PCC meetings and our APCM. Modern technology has certainly been a real blessing, as 15-20 years ago most of what we have done would not have been technically possible.

Whilst I am pleased that we have been able to meet, I do have to say that it is not the same as meeting in a church building in the normal way. There are times when it has been difficult to engage fully in the services. There are distractions at home too. I also feel that online communion does not really work. That is not to say that I do not appreciate our online meetings. I realise how fortunate we have been to still be able to worship together. It is just being honest. I have been to a couple of services in our church during these last 12 months, when we were open, and whilst they were different e.g. face masks, social distancing etc it felt really good to be back in the building again.

I am fortunate as I have a reasonable reliable broadband connection and am happy with using technology. However, I know there are some at our church who have not been attending our online services for various reasons e.g. no internet, uneasy with technology etc. For these people the last 12 months will have been difficult. In our housegroup 8 of 10 of us have continued to meet. Two of our members have not been attending the Zoom housegroup but others have kept in contact with them.

So what does the future hold for us? How long will we have to worship with restricted numbers? Will some members of our church be reluctant to come back? What changes might we need to make to our services e.g. social distancing, not sharing the peace with each other? What about coffee after church? There are some important decisions that need to be made. And they are not easy ones.

In closing I know it can be easy to get discouraged when looking at things from a human prospective. However we must remember that we need to keep on eyes focused on God and put our hope afresh in Him.

Who Is the Most Important Person in Your Church?

So who do you think is the most important person in your church? As they might say at the Oscars “here are the nominations”

  • Is it the pastor / vicar? Well you can’t have a church without a leader can you?
  • Is it the preacher? Well you can’t have a church without a preacher can you?
  • Is it the worship leader? Well you can’t have a church service without any singing can you?
  • Is it the youth leader? Well you can’t have a church without someone leading the young people can you?
  • Is it the Sunday school teacher? Well you can’t have a church without someone teaching the children about God can you?
  • Is it the crèche leader? Well you can’t have a church without somewhere to leave the young children during the service can you?
  • Is it the Treasurer? Well you can’t have a church without someone paying the bills and making sure that the church does not run out of money can you?
  • Is it the Technical team? Well you can’t have a church without someone making sure all the microphones, sound mixers, laptops and various other gadgets are working properly can you?
  • Is it the person on the coffee and tea rota? Well you can’t have a church which does not serve coffee and tea after the service can you?
  • Is it the caretaker? Well you can’t have a church where no repairs and maintenance are ever done to the building can you?
  • Is it the cleaner? Well you can’t have a dirty, dusty untidy church can you?
  • Is it the administrator? Well you can’t have a church that is disorganised and not run properly can you?

And the winner is…….. well there is no winner because no one person is more important than any other. We all have different gifts and they all need to be used to build up the church.

It is strange though that we often act like we do not believe this. You will hear people say things like:

  • “We’ve got a really great pastor at our church”
  • “The preaching is outstanding at our church”
  • “The worship is awesome”
  • “We have a great youth leader”

However we rarely heard anyone say:

  • “We have a great treasurer and even though money is a bit tight they always insists we regularly give to mission work”
  • “Our caretaker is great he always ensures that repairs are carried out immediately and keeps the building in fine fettle.”
  • “The technical team are awesome. They arrive an hour before the service starts to set up the equipment and stay on for an hour to put it away. Nothing is too much work for them.”
  • “Our church is so clean and immaculate.”

I wonder why we tend to regard some people as more important based on their particular gifting?

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:4-8 NIV)

Returning to Church

Last Sunday I attended my first service at our church for seven months! The last time I had physically been to one of our services was on Sunday 16th March, which was our last gathering prior to lockdown. I have been attending our virtual services but it was great to be finally returning to church at last

My church reopened again in July. However we have been subject to certain restrictions for our services: numbers are limited to 30 attendees, face masks must be worn at all times, no singing is permitted and no drinks are served after the service. Additionally, if we want to attend a service we must book a place via our church office beforehand and understandably priority is given to those who do not have internet access.

We are currently running what our website describes as hybrid worship services. Basically this means that the service takes place in the church itself and it is streamed via Zoom and Facebook live. The services are also recorded and uploaded to our website. Those that actually attend the service watch parts of it on a large screen as some elements of the service are still online. All music is pre-recorded and as previously mentioned no singing is allowed.

When I first read about the restrictions that we had to follow, I decided that I would rather continue to worship virtually than actually attend a service. I did not want to sit in a service wearing a face mask and I certainly could not imagine not being allowed to sing. In fact I decided that not singing in church was a “red line” issue for me!

However, over the last month I had been thinking about possibly returning to church for a service. After pondering this I decided to apply for a place for last Sunday. One of the things that persuaded me was that it was a communion service, and I personally have found those services harder to engage with virtually. So I applied a few days beforehand and was allocated a place.

I found myself getting quite excited about the prospect of returning to church and set off eagerly on Sunday morning. Upon arriving at church I had to tick my name on the list of people signed up to attend. I was then given some hand gel to put on my hands. There were about thirty chairs set out in pairs in the service area, with good social distancing between them. I had a quick chat with someone and just before the service started our vicar went over the rules, including reminding us not to sing. Although we could hum to ourselves.

The service started and after opening prayers we watched the first song. Unfortunately, it was a song that I really liked and I suddenly realised that I was singing along to it, but quietly though! I decided to revert to humming instead. I think I got away with that!

The service continued as usual with prayers, a sermon and another song. As we came to communion our vicar reminded us how this would operate. We only took the bread and not the wine. Before we took the bread someone came round and gave us each hand gel to wash our hands. And after we had taken the bread we again were given hand gel to wash our hands. This is the first time I have taken communion for seven months and it was really good to be able to participate again. The service finished with a song and then we had to leave.

Although the service was the same as the other communion services I have attended virtually, it felt so different actually being at church. I really enjoyed the service and found that I was able to engage in it and focus on God much better than when I am at home watching it on the laptop. Of course I would rather not wear a face mask and would prefer to be allowed to sing, but I did not feel my enjoyment of the service was diminished in anyway.

Going forward I certainly want to go back again and will probably look at attending the communion service again, numbers permitting.

If you have not gone back to your church yet I would strongly encourage you to consider doing so. I realise that some people may have legitimate health concerns, which may mean that it is wiser to attend virtual services. However, if you are able to attend please seriously pray and think about it. Virtual services have been important over the last few months and no doubt will be going forward. But they are not the same as attending a service. I certainly enjoyed returning to church. Why not give it a go?

Are You Keeping in Fellowship With Your Fellow Believers?

During these difficult and unusual times that we are currently living through, it is important that we still keep in fellowship with our fellow believers.

We may not be able to worship in the usual way, but it is imperative that we use the opportunities that we have to meet together. Of course watching a church service on our laptop is not the same as actually attending one. However, for many of us the virtual church service is the only option available.

The following taken from a book called “The Lord’s Supper” hopefully will encourage us to continue to keep in fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

He was a good man but, like many another good man, he had been tripped up. Something had happened in the church that had upset him, and so he stayed away. He was denying “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit”. He was absenting himself from the worship and from the Lord’s Table. The pastor went to see him, and after they had talked over the issues involved, as they were sitting by an open fire, the pastor took the tongs from the hearth and separated the flaming coals and spread around the outer circumference of the open grate. In a few moments the flame died down, and in another few minutes the coals lost their brightness and grew ashen and dull. The pastor looked at his member and said, “Do you understand?” The man had grace and wisdom enough to say, “Yes, pastor, I understand”.

Then he took the tongs again and, taking the coals from the outer edge of the grate, he drew them all together; and you know what happened. They had not been together many moments before they began to glow once more. Then they came up in flames and the dire was strong. Again the pastor looked at his erring member and said, “Do you understand?” Do you? Let nothing divide you in your fellowship with your fellow-believer, because you will both be the losers. Not only will you both be the losers, but so will the integrity of the church: the flame will go down, and the fires of revival will depart.

The Lord’s Supper by E.F. Kevan pages 66-67

Praying for Church Administrators

It’s not unusual for us to pray for those involved with spiritual leadership in the church but I wonder how often we pray for those involved in the administration jobs within our fellowships?

There are a number of jobs in the church which I would include in this category including:

  • Treasurer
  • Church Administrator / Church Office Secretary
  • PCC Secretary
  • GDPR Officer
  • Safeguarding Officer
  • Electoral Roll Officer

All of these are very important roles of service within the church and require the right people with particular giftings and abilities to undertake them. Just as some are called to spiritual leadership, others are called to these roles of administration. We all have different gifts that God has given us and we need to encourage those with the gift of administration to serve faithfully in this area.

Your church may have the best preacher or most gifted worship leader in the whole world, however if the treasurer does not pay the bills your fellowship will be in serious trouble! Additionally, if your treasurer does not advise the leadership that the expenditure is exceeding income then potential financial disaster awaits your church. Therefore as you can imagine, a good treasurer is critical to the running of a church.

The running of the church office is very important. For people outside of your church the Church Administrator / Church Office Secretary may well be the first contact they have with a member of your congregation. That is quite a big responsibility and requires the right person in the role. Just as some directors in big organisations cannot function without their secretary I expect that some church leaders would also struggle without a gifted person in this role in their office!

Within the Anglican Church the PCC Secretary has important duties. These include advising PCC members of meetings, keeping minutes of meetings and preparing reports for meetings. Their role ensures the smooth running of the PCC. This role requires someone with good organisational skills and the wrong person doing this could cause chaos!

In May 2018 the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect which meant more administration tasks for our churches. At my church we have somebody who is responsible for seeing that we abide by the regulations. This requires someone who can understand the legislation and draw up an appropriate church policy.

The Safeguarding Officer is also fulfilling an extremely important role too. Sadly there have been some awful things that have occurred in churches in the past. Churches need to have a strict safeguarding policy and the appropriate trained officers in place to ensure that everyone is protected and safe.

In the Anglican Church the Electoral Roll Officer is responsible each year for ensuring that the Church Electoral Roll is accurate and revised correctly. Every sixth year they have to prepare a completely new one. This is an important role because the roll is used to determine those who can participate at the APCM and stand for election to the PCC. If mistakes are made with the Electoral Roll then ineligible people could get elected which will obviously cause problems.

As the above examples show there are many important and essential administrative functions that are required in our churches. Are these job holders appreciated by the rest of the church? Do we realise their full value to the church? Let us not forget to pray for those who do these roles and support them as they use their gifts of administration to serve both the Lord and His church.

Housegroups with Zoom

Like many church groups, our housegroup decided that we would continue meeting during these unusual times, using Zoom instead of meeting physically, as the lockdown restrictions do not permit us to meet in the normal way. Now that we have done this for a few weeks I wanted to share my thoughts and experiences of meeting virtually.

The format we have used each week is:

• Welcome tea and coffee / catch-up

• Opening Prayer

• Worship song

• Bible reading and short reflection / discussion on passage.

• Prayer time

• Worship song

• Saying goodbye

Our housegroup normally has 10 people who attend. Unfortunately, 2 of these are unable to join the Zoom meeting, leaving 8 of us who have meet each week from 4 households.

I think we all found it initially quite strange looking at each other, and ourselves, on our computers / laptops. One starts to feel self-conscious of everybody looking at you!

It obviously goes without saying that it is not the same as meeting together and cannot replace that. However, currently we cannot do that and therefore this is the only option available. We all agree that it has been good to see and talk with each other again.

As far as the individual parts of the meeting have gone, I would say:

• Worship – the host of the meeting plays a worship song via YouTube. It is a good way to start the meeting, but the videos sometimes suffer from pixel issues when played back via Zoom. We discussed this last night and the problem is with the speed of the broadband connection when streaming the video via Zoom. I think it is something which we are just going to have to live with!

• Bible reflection – We have found that it does not really flow in quite the same way as when we normally meet together as a group. One of the problems is that sometimes it has been difficult for the group leader to gauge the mood of others in the group and if they want to contribute. This is a lot easier to do when we are all in the same room and you can see people’s expressions. That said our reflection last night did flow well and we may find that as we get more used to meeting virtually this might improve.

• Prayer time – I think the prayer times have worked very well. We have a prayer list which is shared on the screen and we quickly run through it, adding anything new, and then we pray together. I would say that the prayer times have probably been the best part of the evenings.

On a personal note there have been times during our meetings when I have struggled to hear exactly what one of the others have said due to the poor quality of my laptop speakers. I could put my headphones on to resolve this but then my wife would not be able to hear anything! I did investigate downloading the Zoom app to my tablet, however they wanted what I considered excessive unnecessary access to my tablet, which I was not prepared to grant.

Anyone who has used the free version of Zoom will know that meetings are limited to 40 minutes. We are fortunate to be using one of the subscription versions so do not have this time limitation.

One of the drawbacks of meeting virtually is that there is the risk that two people in different houses might start talking at the same time. Zoom does have a facility where you can put your hand up if you wish to say something. However, that facility is only available to the host of the meeting and in our group the leader is a different person to the host.

When all is said and done the majority of the issues we have experienced are not major ones. Some might call them “first world problems!” We as a group have enjoyed being able to meet again, even though it is virtual and will continue to do so until we are permitted to meet physically again.

We are very fortunate with the advances in technology over the last few years that we have this option which enables us to continue to meet during these times. I would certainly recommend that if your housegroup has not tried this yet then you consider doing so. You do not necessarily have to use Zoom as there are other options available e.g. Jitsu. Whichever option you choose it is worth meeting virtually to encourage one another.


Online Church Services

Due to the current lockdown it’s now been 31 days (15th March) since the church I attend has been able to meet together in our building. Since that time we, along with many other churches, have moved our services online. We are uploading our online services to our website. Additionally, we are uploading videos for our Messy Church to our Facebook page. Other churches are live streaming services on Facebook.

We are used to services being broadcast on platforms such as BBC Radio 4, Premier Christian Radio, United Christian Broadcasters and not forgetting of course Songs of Praise on BBC1. However, all these programmes will have professional sound engineers working on them. Therefore they will be professionally produced and will be of a high technical quality. Most of our churches will not have access to such skilled personnel, and instead will have to work with the skills available to them within their own congregations.

Obviously all this is a big change for churches and I felt it might be useful to share some thoughts on my experiences of online services.

Our vicar mentioned that he encountered a lot of technical challenges in putting together the services for last week. As it was Holy Week there were four services to produce: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. We are using the Freemake video converter to put together our services. This means that everyone who is taking part in the service has to record their contribution and send it to the organiser of the service. The various different files then need to be converted to the same file format and the video produced. Anyone who has been involved in any audio or video production will know though that invariably things are never straightforward. This can be very time consuming and frustrating! Whilst a service might last 30 minutes it would take significantly longer to produce the final video to upload to the website.

When watching an online service it is obviously essential that your internet connection does not crash. Whilst watching a live streaming service on Facebook on Easter Sunday our connection went down at home. Fortunately the outage was only 7 minutes, so we carried on from where the crash occurred. Depending on where you live in the country, the quality of the broadband can vary. For those in areas where the internet signal is weak live streaming services may not work.

Generally speaking the contents of an online service would contain all or some of the following: a sermon, worship, bible reading, prayers, children’s talk, testimony and communion. If we go through each of these individually:

Sermons – most churches these days upload versions of their sermons onto their websites anyway. Therefore in that respect we are used to online sermons. Over the years churches have recorded sermons, making them available in various different formats dating back to the days of cassette recorders. For most of us then this is not really a significant change in how we have listened to sermons if we were unable to attend church. The big difference is that normally these are audio and not video recordings.

Worship – it can seem strange watching someone singing and leading the worship from their own home. We can find ourselves distracted, looking at their wallpaper and pictures that are hanging up! Another potential issue is we might slip into the role of a spectator just watching them sing, rather than joining in the worship ourselves. Our church helpfully includes song lyrics for people to download from our website. In some ways it can be similar to listening to a worship cd whilst driving. Although unlike with driving you can close your eyes and raise your hands!

Bible reading – ideally we should close our eyes and listen to the passage of scripture being read. I have, if I’m being honest, found myself distracted by the same wallpaper issue though as mentioned above.

Prayers – in the Anglican church we have the practice of someone leading the prayers each week. This has worked well in our online services. Obviously it prevents any open pray, as we are all in our separate homes, but I personally have found this part of the service helpful. The important thing is to ensure that you close your eyes and concentrate on the words of the prayers. The same as in “real life”.

Children’s talk – the ones I have watched in the live stream services have been specific and to the point. They have included some visuals too which have helped get over the main point and been done well. In our Palm Sunday service we had a donkey appear which I’m sure the children would have enjoyed seeing. Interestingly the donkey seemed to have a very familiar voice!

Testimony – this is really similar to the section above on sermons. The only thing I would add is that it’s nice to see another member of the church speaking and see a different face.

Communion – one of the online streaming services on Facebook which I “attended” was a communion service. I took the bread and wine, and personally found the service beneficial. This particular service was put on by a baptist church, which has different rules to the Anglican church in this area. In respect of our church on Easter Sunday the service was a communion one. However, that just involved our vicar taking communion on the video. To be honest it felt strange not taking part but that is the current practice in my denomination.

The obvious criticism of online services is they are not the same as meeting together to worship. Of course it’s difficult to disagree with that view. However, at the moment we cannot meet as a church in the normal way. We do not have that option. Therefore this is the best method we have available and we should seek to embrace it. There are many countries in the world where Christians do not have the freedom to worship and they would I’m sure love to have this facility.

Also although we are unable to meet it least it gives us opportunities to see members of our churches on our screens. Additionally, when you post something online, you never know who will watch it. God can use our services to speak to people all over the world.

A lot of work has been put in by churches in producing these services and therefore I am not inclined to criticise online services. Instead let us pray that they might be powerful and effective in spreading the gospel message.

What did I give to the Church Service today?

If I am being honest I admit that on occasions in the past I have had a completely wrong attitude when attending church services. This has resulted in me thinking and actually saying “I didn’t get much out of the service today.” However, instead of making that statement I should have asked myself the following question: “What did I give to the church service today?”

I’m not talking about how much money I might have placed in the collection bag. Instead I’m referring to how much of myself did I actually give to God in the service. Did I worship God wholeheartedly during the service? Did I fix my eyes on Him as I joined in the singing or was I inwardly criticising the musicians or singers?

When the sermon was being preached was I praying for the preacher or wishing they would hurry up and finish? Did I have my ears open to hear the Holy Spirit’s voice through the sermon or did I switch off because I disagreed with one small minor point of their theology?

After the service did I go home and moan about the fact that no-one spoke to me at church or did I make the effort to speak to others after the service finished?

Obviously no church is perfect because it contains humans and none of us are perfect. However if we all, (and especially me) approached church with the attitude of “What can I give to the church service today?” we might be pleasantly surprised at the outcome!

The Importance of Housegroups

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews in Chapter 10 verse 25 says,

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

One of the ways in which we can do this is to belong to a housegroup. So what is a housegroup? Generally speaking a housegroup is a small group of Christians who meet together during the week in someone’s home to study the Bible, pray, encourage one another and to build up relationships in the body of Christ. Although the sizes of groups will vary they often would have between 6 to 12 members. Once a group grows beyond this number then it might be wise to split the group and to form two separate groups.

Bible study is very often a key feature of the group. One of the advantages of a housegroup is that the group can study the Bible together and members can discuss how the passage they are studying is relevant to their everyday life. There is also the opportunity for people to ask questions about anything they do not understand in the passage. Generally speaking when we are listening to the sermon on Sunday it’s not normal practice to interrupt the preacher and ask them questions if we don’t understand the talk! However, in the privacy of an individual’s home there is the chance to ask questions. And often we find that other people may have the same questions as us too. Discussing a passage together in this manner can be very helpful because we get onto real issues that concern people and we can discuss them to a depth that is not possible on a Sunday.

What’s the best Bible study for our group to do you may ask? Well there are literally hundreds of very good Bible study booklets available. Some people like to discuss subjects for example: Women of the Bible; whilst others may like to study a particular book of the Bible. Some churches will do a study based on the current theme of the sermons that are being preached at their Sunday services. If you are not sure what to study in your group a visit your local Christian bookshop to see what they have in stock or chat to your Church leaders.

Another advantage of the housegroup is that you can share prayer needs within the group and pray for one another. Whilst your Church leaders would probably be happy to pray for you on Sunday the opportunity for this may not arise. If you belong to a larger Church then there might be too many prayer needs for everyone to be prayed for on Sunday. However, in a small group you can share your needs and ask for prayer. One of the groups I used to be a member of would have a “sharing and pray” evening from time to time. We would go around the group saying how life was treating us and mention any prayer needs we might have. The other members of the group would then pray about the issues raised and then we would go onto the next person. (In that Church the housegroups were known as “Support Groups” which was an appropriate title). These were important meetings as we could be honest with the group and share disappointments or struggles we were having as well as praising God for the good things in our life.

Sometimes group members may have personal prayer requests which whilst they are happy to share with the group they would not want the rest of the Church to know about. Housegroups is the ideal place to do this.

Many people do find praying in public scary. They worry about getting the words wrong or drying up. However, praying in a housegroup can be a good place to practice and build up our confidence. It’s often a good idea to write down the items you prayer about so that when you meet together again you can see if the prayer has been answered yet. It can be very encouraging for the housegroup to see God answering the prayers they pray.

Another benefit from attending a housegroup is getting to know your fellow Christians better. It can be daunting for anyone who is quiet or shy to get to know people in a big Church. However, a housegroup offers a good opportunity to get to know people in the comfort of someone’s home. In some housegroups I have attended at Churches I have been fortunate to build up some great friendships as a result of cultivating them through the housegroup.

If you do not currently belong to a group I would strongly encourage you to consider seriously joining one. Not only will it benefit you but you too can also be a blessing to the group and the Body of Christ.