We asked our young people the following question: if you were ship-wrecked and adrift in the open sea, what would you most prefer to see: an ocean liner in the distance, or a lifeboat coming towards you? Unsurprisingly they all went for the lifeboat option! At Countess Free Church we have been thinking on how we make ourselves willing and available to any and all who need rescuing …
For a few years we have been experimenting with new small groups where whole families of all ages come together but with a simple format. The families have been able to unpack their faith together, and have been able to welcome in newcomers who want to explore faith. The straightforward approach has enabled people with very little understanding of things like the Bible or ‘how to pray’ to join in, and discover for themselves what it means to follow Jesus.
The pandemic has accelerated this, with new groups forming during the restrictions. Using Zoom or (when permitted) small outdoor gatherings different families and individuals have come together to encourage each other in their faith, again with simplicity being key. They have been able to invite newcomers and encourage them to journey forward too.
These groups are not complicated, or big gatherings with lots of shiny resources … instead they do the job of a humble lifeboat! The everyday believers are able to roll up their sleeves and encourage those seeking or searching to climb on board. There they can hear about the claims of Jesus, ask questions, and be led towards Jesus at the pace that is natural for them. The existing families grow in their faith too, as they share and wrestle with the same very real questions of life and faith.
In this way the lifeboats help people who are ‘just interested’ – stretching their thinking and inviting them to look deeper. They also help those who definitely want to find out more – unpacking what we believe and encouraging them to join. Finally, for those who have decided to follow Jesus but are still very new to it all – they help lead them in their early months of discipleship.
In the past decade it has become obvious that for many who have never been to a church service in their life, the prospect of ‘just turning up’ to the big gathering on a Sunday in unfamiliar church buildings is too daunting. Yet to come along with an individual or family that they already know in order to join with a few others is not such a great hurdle. It therefore seems to us that these new ‘lifeboat groups’ are actually a better place to invite people to.
In fact we can argue that these lifeboat groups ought to be the primary point of invite to newcomers, because they are so much more accessible. Our calling is to ‘take people to Jesus’, and not simply ‘to church’ – so inviting on board our lifeboats fits with this. Of course faith is best done in community, so we will still encourage newcomers to also join the wider church community as they grow closer to Christ with us.