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Story 5 - Missional Adventuring

North Winchester Community Church 
Written by Revd. Danny Paine – Winnett, Minister of NWCC, June 2020  
North Winchester Community Church was planted into a 1950s-1960s housing estate in the early 1990s. 
Initially based in a secondary school, it relocated to a local community centre in 2003.  The church has never quite thrived or had the impact that was hoped for.

North Winchester Community Ch

In 2017 the leaders recognised that they needed to do something different.  Whilst for some the impetus was survival, for others there was a desire to see the church change to become more impactful in the local community. 
The church had served the community in a number of ways, but the age profile had become significantly older and there were few visitors or enquirers.

The church invested in a new minister to act as a catalyst for this change.  The first shock came after a community audit was done – the community that existed in 2018 was not the community that had been started in the 1960s. 
Most of the first and second generations with skilled manual or middle management jobs had been replaced by younger and more professional people. 
There were fewer ‘seniors’ and many more children – yet the church members reflected the 1960s first- and second-generation families, for whom most were now empty-nesters.

The second shock was after a discipleship audit of the members. 
Who had felt they had grown closer to God in the last year? 
What spiritual tools helped you to grow? 
How did spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, worship, Bible study, etc help you to grow? 
The astonishing answer was that not one person felt the church was helping them to grow spiritually.  Something had to change.

At the same time, the key question had become “what is God doing here?” 
Time and again it was apparent that people outside the church were acutely interested in spiritual questions – they just had no interest in turning up to sit in a hall on a Sunday morning to sing songs and be talked at. 
A number of conversations were started with people who expressed an interest in spiritual things – which we called ‘The Curious Gathering’! 
We gathered a hallucinogenic drug user who found spiritual enlightenment when high, a down-to-earth builder, a barber, a project manager, a company director and the minister for Sunday nights of open spiritual conversation – all men in the 30s to 50s. 
They really invested in this group, and questions began to be answered and doubts and fears were expressed, and community and fellowship was formed. 
After several sessions one of the guys asked whether I hoped they would “attend church”?  My reply was that “we were already being the church”. 
None have yet visited on a Sunday morning.

In early 2019 a number of church people agreed to join a small mid-week discipleship group. 
The focus was not strictly on Bible study – although we often did some of that – but on whatever was most helpful in growing closer to Jesus. 
Members of the group were encouraged to share things that they found helpful, and things they were struggling with. 
There was a gentle accountability as we talked through and prayed for difficult areas of our lives.  At the end of the year each person was asked to reflect on their experience – every person reflected how much they had grown. 
The group ended after a year to launch three new groups, involving three times as many people in a growing and healthier relationship with God.

In summer 2019 the church stopped meeting every Sunday “for worship”, i.e. the formal time of singing and praying and sermons, etc.  This still happens every other week (mostly!), but we have introduced alternative ways of gathering. 
In the summer we went to a park for ‘play’ and reflected on the playful God in whose image we are created, and we went to the beach for a ‘rest’, and a walk to think about our Creator. 
From September this has continued – once a month the church breaks into five or six alternative gatherings: some walk; some visit a local care home; some use craft; some have a reading group; some make music or use art. 
Central to all of these is a deliberate intention to reflect and engage with God, and to invite people who would not normally go anywhere near ‘a church’ to join us. 
The church gathers three times more people on its alternative gatherings than on a ‘normal’ Sunday. 
Alongside this is active community involvement.  This might be gardening or decorating for an older person or a community facility or a single parent, etc. 
The thing is that as we ‘do unto others’ so we take time to talk with neighbours and family members about God’s love in action, and invite them to join us for prayer, and coffee, and conversation. 
There are so many doors that want to open with a genuine welcome when you come to serve and share and not just preach – and who are willing to listen, and share, and engage when you do!
The missional focal points of these (so far) have been in Creative Sundays – a blending of Sunday morning with community input and creativity about once each quarter – and the Carol Service – following a week of community-involved Pantomime! (Oh yes we did!)
NWCC has changed significantly over the last year or so.  We have learned that God is at work ‘out there’ in our community, and by spending time really listening to people and serving them on their terms they are willing to engage with us. 
We have no idea what we are doing, or where this is leading, but we believe that God is doing “a new thing” (Isaiah 43:18-19), and we want to be obedient in that.   

 

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