By: Shannon Youell
Hello 2021! We have entered our eleventh month of living in a Covid-19 world. Eleven months ago, we as church leaders and congregations were scrambling to figure out how we continue to be missionally faithful presences in our neighbourhoods, encouraging and discipling our churches. As we’ve tackled the challenges that have slammed into us, I am hearing stories of churches both adapting to the challenges and struggling with the challenges and changes. Many are hanging on waiting for when things can go back to in person meeting so the church can carry on their practices of worship, prayer, discipleship and joining God in his mission. Others are catalyzing the opportunities within Covid to rethink, reimagine and reorient their ecclesiology and asking good, hard and revealing questions.
Many have become aware of things Covid is exposing in our lives, our relationships, our work and our worship and how it is accelerating what was already happening. Often what we see is not surprising, we knew it was lurking around us all along and we managed to keep it from breaking the surface, but there are also things exposed that surprised us as well. The challenge, I believe, is to be open to the Spirit of God to work in the things exposed as opportunities rather than curses that lead us to discern how we are church both amid Covid and beyond.
One such church is New Life Church in Duncan, BC. I spoke with Pastor Ken Nettleton a few months ago about the shift this congregation is making in reidentifying themselves as a people on mission with God in their local neighbourhoods and beyond. As Covid descended last March, the strategy they adopted is a three-fold model of: House Church, Village Church, Cathedral Church. Each is dependent on the others with the shared purpose to “train and equip Jesus’ followers in the mission they are on”. This, of course, sounds like the mission statement of most churches. But the delivery is different. (for a brief overview of how each element connects to the whole click HERE
Full disclosure: New Life had already been working to reshape themselves, especially in the area of small groups. Their experience with small groups is likely your experience – add-ons to Sunday Services viewed by many congregants as optional and consumeristic. Ken and his leaders also conceded that while attendance was increasing and baptisms were happening, “measuring church health by attendance, buildings and cash” is the wrong metric. Rather, church health is measured by engaging relationally with each other and asking, “important questions of ‘how are you following Jesus this week inwardly and outwardly – how is that going?’ and being really intentional about that.” Shifting the metric meant also acknowledging that intentional committed discipleship happens primarily between Sundays, not on Sundays. “We needed to structure Sundays to resource our House Churches instead of expecting committed Sunday attendance but optional small group attendance. We wanted our people to eventually see their small group (House Church) as their most important community gathering.”
So, New Life focused on small groups, renaming them House Churches, and is working on shifting them in people’s lives from optional ‘add-ons’ to the most important gathering of the week. And thanks to Covid these House Churches have become right now the only community – where a small group of Jesus followers gather and are pastored by the House Church leader – a volunteer identified as someone called and willing to be equipped by the pastors to shepherd 8-15 people. These House Churches begin with the youth group who are organized and led in such clusters and carry on into adult ages.
Ed Stetzer, planter, missiologist and host of the New Church Podcast describes the differences in Episode 63. He says that home groups are ministries of the church whereas house churches are churches: they baptize and administer the Lord’s supper; they teach and preach for the purpose of deep, intentional, accountable disciple making; they have a mission. Ken agrees, and again points out that Covid has created exactly this opportunity to reorganize, learn and grow.
Ken also notes that house churches must look ‘outside’ themselves. “They have to go out into this valley as 35 churches that are New Life, each having a specific mission in this valley – and the mission isn’t the same. We should be having an impact all over this valley, working with non-churched people who are also committed to addressing issues of justice and mercy, and bringing Jesus with us as we do.”
Again, it’ is important to point out that New Life had already committed to shift in this direction prior to Covid, and see this pandemic as an opportunity to accelerate what God was already up to in our Canadian culture. “As I prayed about things, God impressed upon me that many of us have been asking Him to renew and revive His Church for a long time, and that we shouldn’t be surprised that the answer to our prayer would look like this. “What were you expecting my refining fire to look like?” were words that burned into my heart, and I had to admit that God’s activity almost always brings external pressure and change.”
As 2021 unfolds and we are all hopeful that we will begin to see restrictions relax, New Life is bringing imagination and good questions as to how best to gather in the ‘Cathedral’. As Ken explains, not all things work as well in House Church in a similar way that not all things work well in Cathedral. That is why all three aspects of House Church, Village Church, and Cathedral are integral and necessary. The strategy is to continue using the opportunities Covid has gifted us with as we wrestle with asking good questions and reimagining, through prayer and discernment, how God is shaping his church for the future.
What opportunities are you seeing in your church community? In what ways has the Spirit been encouraging you to reimagine being church? What good questions are you asking yourself?
Come join CBWC January 26th for a CBWC supported event for Pastors and their teams in an interactive webinar with Ken Nettleton, Cam Roxburgh and Tim Dickau and myself. We will hear stories both ours and yours and have time to ask good questions together.
Details and Registration HERE