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22 February 2018

Above Bar Church | East: Vision and discussion

John Risbridger (LT pics 2016) John Risbridger Minister
East - girl 2 lunch

The start of spring can be one of the most wonderful times of year. The air is still crisp and cold. The clouds start to lift, revealing beautiful clear blue skies. The snowdrops and bluebells come up in woodlands, bringing fresh colour and lifting us from the greyness of winter.

But spring isn’t simply a season of beauty, it’s a season filled with promise and hope for what is to come: an influx of new-born animals, vegetables soon to be planted and, as the days draw longer, the sun starts to shine.

As I look to the coming year, and think about the different aspects of church life, I can see a season filled with promise, a year filled with excitement and hope. There is fresh energy, intentionality and focus as we seek to build new initiatives and deepen existing ones. We can look forward to the coming year with hope, expectant to see what God will do in us and through us.

Spring doesn’t come from nowhere, however. And, in the same way, our plans for this coming year flow out of a journey that we believe God has been leading us on over a number of years; this is simply another step on that journey together. Of course that doesn’t mean our journey has always been completely clear or that we haven’t made some mistakes along the way — but I do believe that God is at work, taking us forwards.

But what are the next steps of our journey and why are we taking them?

This is the first of four blog posts that try to unpack more of our vision for the church in the coming year, and particularly highlight more of the vision for what we hope to do in the East of Southampton.

Setting out together

Why are we on this journey at all? Let’s begin with a number of deep convictions that we all share:

First, that Jesus calls us all to make disciples of all nations. We are called to go.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Mathew 28:18-20, NIV)

Second, that this call is not only to “the nations” but a call to make disciples “as we go”, as we attend our daily activities. In other words, that responding to this call brings a desire to reach people where we are all across our city.

Third, that the pattern we observe in the New Testament (laid out in Acts 2) is that the coming of the Spirit (1-13) and the preaching of the word (14-40) leads not only to the conversion of individuals (41) but to the birth of the church — into which the new believers are gathered (42-47).

Working out what that means for us is the key to the challenge.

East - Riverdene Park

Facing the challenge

In 2008, we started the year with a vision series much like the one that we have just finished. One of the key phrases was this: "All of us involved all across the city leading lives that make a difference."

There was a resounding, “Yes!” But this was only the beginning; we still needed to see what it would mean for this to become a reality.

Our clusters and missional communities helped us start thinking beyond the four walls of the building. They have strengthened community, stimulated prayer and helped spawn some mission initiatives. At the same time, fantastic new opportunities to reach out in the city centre have opened up in exciting ways that we hadn’t foreseen.

Nonetheless, many of us in the church have had a growing sense over a number of years that these groups were part of journey and not the whole journey. So in 2010 we held a Leadership Team weekend with a focus on church planting. The conclusion at this time was that we should move in that direction, but that the timing was not right. In 2015 we revisited the idea as a team and began to feel that the time was getting nearer to taking a step forward, but, aware that there were many models to consider, we spent some time reflecting on the right one for us.

We felt that the “multi-site” model was a good next step to explore — one church with two sites: with a common leadership, common vision, common teaching programme, shared ministries, shared resources, shared charitable status but providing an extended reach into a new part of the city.

We concluded, as we prayed and reflected, that the East of Southampton would be the best place to start. This approach would give us an extended missional reach into an area, without having to duplicate everything in the way that would need to with an independent church plant. The aim would be to share resources effectively but gain the many advantages of a more locally-focussed church.

East - boy

Treading the path

In January 2017 we held another Leadership Team away day, with a number of people from East of the city. Several months of prayer followed and in June we held a vision and discussion evening. The general conclusion at the end of this meeting was that there was great potential to explore further, but that, before a decision could be made, more work was needed to clarify the vision.

A proposal team was formed mostly of people on the East to draw up details of a trial, and a follow-on event in the early autumn was held to discuss this proposal. There was a spectrum of views but there was general agreement that we should move on to an experimental period of new initiatives in the East to help inform a decision about whether this was the right next step on our journey.

Our next three blog posts will explain more of the vision for the coming year. We’re looking to develop lots more intentional personal and community outreach, new ministries that meet needs within the local area and an accessible Sunday gathering in the East of Southampton.

It’s important to be clear that we are not only looking at the development of a Sunday service in a second location; our dream is to see a step change in disciple-making focus across the whole city but especially in the East, both through focused local mission and through new expressions of fellowship, worship and partnership between Christians living here.

But this is a big challenge. There will be costs and challenges right across the church. However, our conviction is that it is an important first step, and our prayer is both that God will help us learn through it and that it will help stimulate new developments and disciple-making opportunities across the whole city.

Categories

City, East

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