One of my favourite theologians, Lesslie Newbigin, once said that the church should be an explosion of joy in its local community. I love the image of a church that is so wholehearted in its worship of God that it can’t help but explode out into its community – and hearing that this is happening around the country is one of the great joys and privileges of my job.
One story I heard recently started 25 years ago, when two Christians invited a young person begging for money in the street to their church, where he was given a hot drink and something to eat. They realised that they didn’t want this to be a one-off event, and so they started the ‘Open Door’ café in the lobby of Colchester Baptist Church. Now they have a purpose-built café-lounge in their church serving40–50 visitors every day. I think that’s amazing.
But it can be hard for a church to do this alone. Everyone needs inspiration and support, as well as the chance to learn how to do something new from the experiences of others. As churches engaging in their neighbourhoods see every day, we do better working together as part of a community.
Recently, I’ve had the chance to get involved in a new project, called Serve. Over the last year the Evangelical Alliance in the UK has been bringing together a group of Christian organisations united by a desire to serve the local church and enable it to shine in its local community – and it’s really, really exciting to be able to talk about it publicly at last!
We want to resource and equip Christians who are passionate about community mission while representing the Christian voluntary sector to local and national government. We’re going to do this by sharing resources – from inspiring courses, to nuts and bolts such as policies and procedures. We want to encourage good ideas, consider together the theology of mission, and to gather and celebrate in public places the transformative power of church.
This autumn, we’re running two events called Serve.Transform. They’re taking place in London on 4 October and Bradford on 12 November – and you can buy tickets on the website for £25. I can’t wait for the opportunity to come together as a group to share together and learn from each other, and to celebrate stories of transformed communities. There are going to be seminars on fundraising, envisioning volunteers and working with local authorities, as well as the chance to look at the theology of local mission and the opportunity to win a £2000 grant to set up a community franchise from the Cinnamon Network Fund. Whether you’re just starting out or already experienced, you’ll come away encouraged and empowered to better serve your neighbours.
We had our first Serve gatherings in the spring and there was a definite sense that God is in this, an excitement as we shared stories about what is going on around the country and a sense of privilege to be alive at this time. I’m looking forward to even more.