by Chris Kilby
In the words of protest singer Bob Dylan, ‘The Times they are a’ Changing.’
We have much adventure ahead, and are excited at the new things God is doing in us personally and as a church. God has been leading us since the end of last year into a renewed passion to pray, to love one another, and to serve our city. Life Church, we’re all on adventure!
After three months of lockdown, the government has announced the easing of restrictions. They are small steps forward and it will be a while before we can embrace some of the things that we were familiar with in the years BC (Before Covid!) and things we are grateful for now that we may have taken for granted previously yet there are plenty of positives for us to celebrate together as a church family.
Church online has opened up many opportunities for us and we are exploring what that may look like AC (After Covid!) but we are a gathering people and so we want to make you aware of our current plans as lockdown eases. Please be aware though that while we are being as clear as possible, the further down the road the changes, the more changeable those plans are likely to be. We will adhere to government guidelines at every stage and may need to scale back depending on the situation at the time – there will be grace for everyone at every stage, including the leaders making these decisions.
Stage 1: Gathering in small groups for our online church services, Life Groups and prayer
During lockdown we have gathered together in scattered households for our online services. From 4th July we have permission for two households to join together, if they wish, to enjoy the online service together. We would therefore encourage you, if you wish, to gather together with others to attend online church within the guidance that the government gives. We would also encourage you to use these freedoms to continue to love and support one another as you have done so well throughout lockdown. It is important to understand that there will be those amongst us who do not feel comfortable or able to avail themselves of these opportunities yet – and those people should neither feel forgotten nor judged for doing so. During this stage our Life Support Network will continue to function to make sure that everyone who wishes to has a direct point of contact.
Prior to lockdown we were on the verge of launching a wide range of varied Life Groups. As restrictions ease we are meeting with life group leaders in order to establish how these groups could look as restrictions ease further after the summer.
We are desperate to gather people for prayer, even individual prayer, at the life centre once we can be sure that we can ensure the guidelines are able to be complied with and without putting staff at undue risk. Gathering to pray will be one of our highest priorities – look out for more in Dave McNee’s blog coming soon.
Stage 2: Gathering together in larger groups for our online church services
Life Church would normally meet in three sites. West End, Lordshill, and Central. Our public meetings in these venues are likely to be among the last locations to open up as they depend on the hirers managing their own procedures first. It is expected that we will be permitted meet in groups larger than life groups but smaller than whole sites and so we are hoping to gather together in limited numbers in the life centre before we do it in hired venues with as much ‘church’ as we’re allowed to do within the guidelines at the time (e.g. singing, communion etc). Church online will continue to run alongside these gathered meetings to allow as many as possible to continue to engage with church. It will be a real joy to gather together, but please be patient as we work out sustainable timings and methods for the eventual reintroduction of even some elements of live services. With restrictions on singing these things are not as simple as we might hope!
Stage 3: Gathering together for live Sunday services in the three current sites
We want to re-launch our Sunday gatherings in all of the locations where we gathered before lockdown. We also want to honour and bless the people who lead and serve in those locations, so if it takes a little while to launch back out again then we would always want to put the people before the pressure of a deadline. This may mean that we don’t begin all three sites in one go and there will certainly be differences from where we left off (for the better!), but we will get there!
We are also keen to learn the lessons and reap the benefits of online church, so we are likely to carry some elements of our ‘lockdown learnings’ into the future in order to continue to reach new people with the gospel and further our reach, and serve those who are part of us in better ways. We have discovered new ways to pray, connect and reach out. We will retain what is fruitful and press into where we feel God leading us. We will also reconsider some of our pre-lockdown strategies, seeking God as to which of those are still part of our mission in the years ahead, and which we should draw a close to.
Stage 4: Actively pursuing our ongoing vision to work to all that God has called us to in Southampton
It may be unclear when lockdown has ‘finished’ and normal life has resumed taking into account local restrictions but as we emerge we will give thanks to God for his faithfulness in leading us through this difficult season.
We intend to gather people who are interested in hearing more about our 4th site, and prepare the ground through increased prayer and through growing a core team to take this forward. This is likely to involve the forming of a new Life Group in time, which will eventually emerge into the Site Planting Team although the timeline of this is still uncertain.
Alongside this our Eldership, Trustees and Buildings Team continue to pursue a number of possible buildings and should any of those prove genuine possibilities we shall bring them before the church at the first suitable opportunity. Please be praying, and also please keep giving towards the Building Fund. Our prayer is that one of the positive outcomes of an economic downturn will be that God makes a way for us to own an excellent resource for Kingdom life and mission!
As we press on, we will remember what God has been teaching us through the lockdown. The importance of prayer, the vitality of our ‘one-anothering’, and our priority of serving our neighbourhood and city, and we shall use these things to help us set out on the next part of our shared gospel adventure.
We know there are still a lot of questions to answer and a lot of pitfalls to be avoided as we move through these four stages but we hope that this helps you to envisage some of the steps which we will take together as a church in our journey out of lockdown. How quickly we move through these steps depends a lot on how quickly the coronavirus is managed, a vaccine is made available and on how quickly the government lifts the lockdown restrictions, so let’s keep on praying together, loving and serving one another, and being a blessing to our city.