Developing Faith in church community centres

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“Developing Faith”  (or Intentional Faith Development)

This document is designed for you to use locally in working out how to help people to come to a Christian faith of their own. It uses the community links you already have, through people who visit your building for community groups, so that you can engage with them and help them to engage with God, and develop a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Around the district churches with good community facilities have dozens, hundreds or even thousands of people using their buildings each month. It would be possible for all these people to use a Methodist Church building and to go away non-the-wiser about what Methodist Christians believe or how God shapes and sustains our lives. These people will see the church as a ‘landlord’ or a community service provider.

If you are a church which has community group activities on the premises, you have the opportunity to be intentional in the practices which encourage growth in faith and I invite you to move from being more of a ‘land-lord’ to more of a missional community which encourages growth in faith for ourselves and others. 

Firstly ask yourselves this question: Do you really want people to become Christians, through the contact that they have with your Methodist community?

(This is not asking ‘Do you want people to join your church)

Secondly ask yourselves these questions, about your Methodist community life as it is:

How do we use the contacts we already have with people, individually and as a church:

a) to grow in our own faith as we engage with others who are not currently part of the
     church?

b) to create opportunities to engage with people about the questions that are relevant for       
     their own lives?

c) to challenge people about faith and meaning in life?

d) to invite people to engage with Christian beliefs and practices?

The key thing is to work out if you really intend for people to come to faith, to commit to this, and to pray and to plan for this to happen.

In the diagram below is a cycle of day-to-day practices (things we do) which I have noticed help in the development of faith and I invite you to think about how you use the following things, in your own way and style.

In practice, around the district, churches are helping people come to know God in Jesus and it happens in a variety of ways. These practices are not in any order because people do not come to faith by these happening in any logical order. Rather they are small things which connect with people over time… sometimes by the second or third ‘round’ of encountering them. Anybody could ‘come in’ to this process at any point. But all of these have worked, and are working, in different places.

I have seen these regular practices making the difference.

 

Exercise 1

As a group think about one of your community activities at a time (e.g. lunch club, Toddlers…) and ask yourself these questions for each group.  Write down your answers, for each group, next to the circle above.

Imagine that you are a person coming to this group, and have no connection with the church so far. Ask yourself this for each practice, being really tough on yourselves about how it would be if you weren’t part of the church already!

Statements of belief: how do people know what Methodists believe when they are on the premises?

Invitation to pray: how do people know that prayer is crucial to your church and how do you invite them to share in this precious and life-changing experience?

Invitation to events: how are people personally invited to something that the church is organizing?

General conversations: what opportunities do you make for people to talk, generally, with anybody from the church?

Introduction to church members: how do people meet people from the church when they attend community activities at the church?

Engagement with questions: what opportunities do you offer for people to engage with church members about the questions that people are asking in their day-to-day lives?

Introduction to the Bible: what opportunities do you offer for people to hear and talk about what the Bible has to say on the things they are interested in?

Now you might want to have a break, and perhaps spend some time walking and praying around the building thinking about the experiences non-Church people have when they come in to their activities week-by-week. Having done all this first, and maybe even on a separate later session, move on to Exercise 2.

Exercise 2

Go back through the cycle of ‘developing faith’ practices and make a plan for offering a minimum of one of these opportunities each year for each group. Some of these opportunities can be used across all groups of course… but some groups might need different kinds of opportunities from each other, depending on age range, ability, interests etc.

SAFEGUARDING: Make sure that you think through all these ideas with Safeguarding in mind and ask for support if you need advice on anything new that you’re thinking of doing

Use these ideas with Care!!

I have collected here some of the ideas which have worked in some part or other of the district, for each of the headings BUT please don’t feel you have to do any of them and do recognize that you know best for your church setting! These are just ideas to prompt the imagination if you are ‘stuck’… even if you use them you will want to adapt them for each context, and possibly even for each community group.

Here are some ideas for each of these practices which invite people to develop faith. Some of these I’m sure you will be doing already. No doubt you will also be able to think of your own ways of doing these things… and the District MANGO would love to hear about them!

Introduction to church members 

  • Church members agree to be on the premises for a particular group and are just ‘around’ as a friendly face until they become known (N.B. safer recruitment according to our safeguarding policies will be important here)
  • Ask members of local community groups if they’d be willing to walk round the building with you and tell you how it, and therefore your church, ‘comes across’… this is a good way of valuing other opinions and getting to know people by name
  • Have a week now and again when somebody from the church is there at every event/activity to give something out (suggestions below)
  • Ask people to pray for and make friends with anybody on their road, including therefore, any who come to church
  • Invite people from the community groups to be on a stall at fund-raising events with a church member so that everybody is paired up
  • Hold a barbeque, or coffee morning, or pancake party outside your building so that people will stop and chat and make a connection they will remember
  • Do some fund-raising for a local charity and invite your community group members to join in or to plan it with you… they will probably be glad to use your space

 

Invitation to pray

  • A prayer board or book
  • A prayer box
  • A prayer ‘post’ box on the outside of the church building
  • A prayer event with prayer request slips given to each person
  • A ‘prayer on the streets’ time outside the building
  • A poster saying how to ask for prayer
  • A space with easy access from the ‘community spaces’ which can be used for people to think, pray or just to sit quietly
  • Ask people if they’d like prayers (of thanksgiving or intercession) to go into the ‘notice-sheet’ or in the worship prayers on Sunday or midweek or whenever
  • A leaflet explaining that we believe prayer makes a difference… given to each person using the building from time to time… and telling them how to ask for your prayers, and with suggestions about how to pray themselves
  • Text-a-prayer scheme
  • Space on the church website to explain prayer and to offer suggested prayers, and to explain how to ask for prayer
  • Prayer booklets, or cards, for people to pick up
  • A Christmas tree with decorations for people to write and add their own prayers (at Christmas obviously!!) or a Spring, Summer or Autumn tree would work just as well
  • Various ‘artistic’ expressions of prayer: see Art at the Chapel if you are on Facebook: website https://www.facebook.com/artatthechapelleicester/photos for some examples or contact Ruth Joy, the art worker there for more ideas
  • A prayer labyrinth or prayer walk outside your church or around your area. You could ask if community group members would like to join in or for you to call at their business, school, or wherever.

 

Statements of belief

  • Posters with statements on them, inside and/or outside the building
  • A poster or board in each community room saying what the Methodist Church stands for
  • Seasonal posters with explanation of the gist of the Christian festival
  • Leaflet to say what your church ‘stands for’ and believes, either to be given out from time-to-time or to be picked up, or both… somewhere easily accessible, on the way out of the door perhaps
  • Photo displays of the members/attenders saying what they stand for
    ( for example   
  • )
  •  Give out something free (a wrapped chocolate at Christmas, an Easter egg at Easter, a flower for All Saints Day, wet wipes for Ash Weds, or whatever random ideas strike you) to everybody who enters the building…. to make a clear statement about our belief in the grace of God as a free offer
  • Statements from the Methodist Church in Britain website … on walls, in leaflets, or on your own website… at times of ‘crisis’ or particular event in the world/UK
  • Give everybody who uses your building a mug (or other free gift) saying what your church believes.
  • Projected ‘messages’ of what you believe onto a wall, or on a ‘big screen’

 


 

Engagement with questions (don’t be afraid to be honest if your answer is ‘We don’t know’)

  • Have a question box and a board where you will put up the questions (anonymously) with various Christians’ answers…. Could be researched from ‘famous’ Christians, or be more local people’s answers, or a mixture of both.
  • Have an event where somebody texts you a question with a request for a free pizza, and you deliver the pizza with your own answer, or that of ‘famous’ Christians… it could be fun researching these!
  • Hold events where people can come and ask whatever they want… have a church member, a local ‘celebrity’, a local councillor, maybe the minister as well, on a panel. Invite leaders of other denominations or faiths to join in.
  • Have an inter-faith event where you do a ‘speed-dating’ approach to asking questions (ask me if that doesn’t make sense)
  • Hold regular film evenings with time to eat and talk after the film
  • Alpha and Emmaus type courses
  • Table Talk activities (can be incorporated into normal ‘coffee mornings’) where you put questions, or newspaper articles, around on the table and just wait for people to pick them up and start to talk about them. (Ready-made packs are available from The Ugly Duckling company, but you can easily make your own).
  • ‘Go on… Ask me’ people at fund-raising events and fairs  (perhaps wearing a sash)
  • Order and use the new resource ‘Ruth’s cards’ in any number of ways (advertised on the website soon)


Invitation to events

  • Posters
  • Named invitations where the group is a church group or the organization have permission to pass on names (they could be asked to ask for this as part of their use of the building perhaps?)
  • Facebook friendships and Church FB page
  • ‘Link’ person for each group (if you’ve chosen to do that above) could give out invitations to people who, by now, they will know
  • Include some entirely sociable but distinctly fun events of the kind that people would like to go to anyway… try an open mic event, or karaoke, or a board games evening, bowling, or a meal out
  • Be ‘up front’ about invitations to church worship or faith development events… this is who you are!

 

General Conversation

  • Just have a go at listening and talking more
  • Plan some deliberately inter-generational events to make cross-generational conversation possible
  • Put a ‘have a chat sofa’ somewhere obvious (preferably with free hot chocolate) … in your entrance where people wait, in your shopping centre (if you can get permission), even outside, or in your car park (somewhere safe) and be available to chat and pass the time of day
  • Whenever you have an event make sure that you nominate two or three people to ‘be around’ chatting as well as having teams to do the practicalities and the refreshments etc.
  • Make sure there is a comfy space for people to sit and enjoy a drink together, whenever your building is open
  • Try just opening (if your location helps this) and sitting together, doing your crosswords, or your knitting, or ‘odd jobs’ around the building and being ready to put the kettle on when anybody comes in.

This is the basis for all our other conversations… but it does need to go along with some of these intentional faith development practices for us to share our faith with others. Some people find this very easy and others find it very difficult. If you think about organizing a session helping people to get better at it (yes seriously) do please let me know so we can have a chat about how to do this.

 

Introduction to the Bible

  • Have a box with Bible texts for people to take away… one church found that they were having to re-fill theirs every week because people were helping themselves through the week!
  • Have a good stock of Bibles in an obvious place, in a variety of translations, that people are invited to take away for themselves
  • Hold ‘What does the Bible say about….?” events (church members will probably be interested too). You could invite people who use the building to suggest topics
  • Take photos of your members/attenders holding a card on which they’ve written ‘For me the Bible is…’   or ‘My favourite Bible verse is…’ and display them somewhere most-seen and on your website
  • Use an old fashioned ‘promise box’ to offer people and then talk with them about what they’ve picked
  • Design a mug/pen/memory stick/balloon with a Bible message that you think is suitable for your community and give one to each person who comes to the building
  • Encourage church members to practice saying “That reminds me of the Bible story about…”
  • Invite people to courses on the Bible and to your Bible study groups or one-off sessions (lots of younger people might come to a one-off but not join a regular group)
  • Organise a children’s Bible story telling session for families to join in with, or organize one for local residential homes to come to. Again one-offs are possibly better than regular events (Open the Book could perhaps be used) https://www.biblesociety.org.uk/get-involved/open-the-book/?source_code=99012_openthebook.net
  • Give every child who comes to your activities a Bible story book with the permission of the group leader… maybe as a Christmas gift from the church (perhaps you could ask every adult member to consider buying one as an extra gift for the ‘church family’ to give to the wider church community ‘family’)

IMPORTANTLY: please check everything you do in line with the Safeguarding Policies and Procedures of the Methodist Church.

CRUCIALLY: pray for the people who use your premises and keep in your prayers those who seem to be showing an interest. God will use what you offer and God is at work in people’s lives. The Holy Spirit will prompt people to respond to the offer of love in Christ.

LASTLY: it would probably help to ask somebody (from your circuit or from the district MANGO group) to get back to you in a year’s time, to see how it is going. We can all learn from each other and be encouraged by each other. So please keep in touch.

 

Of course feel free to add your own ideas and please send them to me…. jill.marsh@methodist.org.uk      Thanks. 


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