A three-pronged initiative to give churches of any size or churchmanship confidence to seek growth has been underway in the diocese since Easter. Come and See (what God will do) has offered resources and ideas which are accessible to any church, under the three headings ‘Come and Pray!’, ‘Come and Read!’ and ‘Come and Tell!’. The basic idea has been to encourage prayer for growth, and to equip parishes and individuals with the tools and confidence to encourage and teach new enquirers.
Here’s a snapshot of what has happened within the diocese during the mission.
Come and Pray!
Between Ascension Day and Pentecost Sunday, as part of the national Thy Kingdom Come prayer initiative, the Cathedral set up a prayer trail around the building. One of the stations offered people the chance to write the names of five others who they would love to see come to faith in Jesus. In just over a week, almost 1,450 names were written there. The Cathedral, although obviously not typical of the footfall of the average parish church, is nonetheless just one of over 360 churches and sector ministries in this diocese, many of whom took part in Thy Kingdom Come with special prayer initiatives taking place all over the place. It is exciting to wonder how many people in total have been prayed for across the diocese! It will be even more exciting as time goes by to hear of individuals starting to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and becoming known to their local churches. If you have any encouraging stories of answered prayer, please share them for the building up of the whole diocese (see below for the email addresses to send these stories to).
83 churches from nine deaneries told us of their initiatives for encouraging congregations and individuals to pray for God to pour his Spirit afresh on the Church, and to bring many people closer to faith. Only three deaneries apparently did not participate at all, although it is possible that some did join in but simply didn’t get round to letting us know!
About 150 people came to the Cathedral on Saturday 25th May for a time of worship and prayer to inspire and equip us for Thy Kingdom Come. With Daventry Deanery’s “No Labels” worship band and speakers Canon Jean Kerr (from Lambeth Palace) and Bishop John, we made a good start in bringing a new diocesan event to the Cathedral. Watch this space. We are now committed to a much bigger service next year on the late afternoon / early evening of Pentecost Sunday (31st May) for the whole diocese. Put it in your diary for 2020 and bring a busload. It will be quite an event.
Come and Read!
In faith that God hears and answers prayer, we have tried to resource parishes for when God blesses us with new enquirers and opportunities for conversations. Over 200 individuals from growth-seeking churches across the diocese – mainly lay people – were trained in the use of a one-to-one Bible reading resource – The Word One to One. This is basically an annotated edition of John’s Gospel designed for ordinary Christians (if such exist!) to read with enquirers, friends or colleagues in bite-sized chunks over a cup of coffee. Two training sessions in May were led by co-author and evangelist Richard Borgonon, and more than half of the attendees obtained copies of the material to use. If only 50% of those people read The Word One to One effectively with just one person, then we could potentially be blessed by 50 new Christians – not all at once or in the same place, to be sure – but still the equivalent of a good-sized new congregation. Early signs are encouraging and the Mission Team are hoping to hear your stories of how it is working out across the diocese.
We have already received a lot of encouraging stories. In Peterborough, for example, one young man from a completely unchurched family, with whom a church member has been reading The Word One to One, is now sharing the resource with his mother at home. He deliberately keeps one session ahead of her, and actively looks forward to his next reading time each week. He has told his friends and family how he spends his lunchtimes reading John’s Gospel, and was utterly bowled over by the faith testimony of a terminally ill gentleman at one of the events in the Cathedral. Elsewhere, a Bible study group is reading The Word One to One together in order to learn how to use it, and in another part of the diocese, PCC members are pairing up to read it together.
The Word One to One is a great discipling tool too, regardless of churchmanship or context. It is easy to read and it seems to be the case that once an individual is open to inviting people to read it, God sends the opportunities. Only today we heard of two staff at a church member’s place of work just starting to read together. This is the Word of God in the hands of the people of God, and it is exciting to see people respond.
Come and Tell!
Most of us are not that confident at explaining what our faith means to us. A free resource from the diocese is already proving useful to small groups and PCCs. Sharing Faith helps individuals identify what is so difficult about talking to others about our faith, and shows us how to tell our own stories naturally and un-obnoxiously (!) in the course of normal conversations. If you have used this material, let us know how you got on with it.
Although the official period of ‘Come and See’ is over, seeds have been sown in abundance. We now look for the first shoots of harvest. If you or your church has a story to tell that might encourage others or warn of pitfalls, please do share it – either with our new Director of Mission, Charlie Nobbs (firstname.lastname@example.org), or with myself (email@example.com). We hope to build on this work over the next months and years, and would very much value a sense of how God is blessing those churches who are praying for growth, who share God’s Word and who are willing to talk about the faith that we have in our Lord. Keep the stories coming!