There is so much to think about right now. I recently heard that leaders are dealing as much with decision fatigue as with zoom fatigue!

The stark reality is we are not going back to church life and Sunday gatherings as we knew them for a long time. There is some appropriate grieving around that for many leaders. But don’t stop there!

Right now many churches are becoming a hybrid church (part in person, part digital), where we are streaming out to homes but there are the beginnings of in person meet ups. Some youth and childrens groups are meeting in bubbles outdoors, some small groups of 6 are meeting in gardens, some are streaming from buildings and allowing a restricted number of pre-registered people to attend with all the proper protocols in place and some are meeting in cafes. However, there’s some important longer term thinking to do and this is a moment not to miss.

We have a unique opportunity at this point to live up to our name and pioneer a re-imagined, re-purposed church. A church that is not unhelpfully reliant on Sunday morning meetings where 20% do 80% of the work but where the primary driver of how we do church is re-focused on mission and the primary principles are creativity, empowerment and multiplication.

What if the pre COVID model of church was getting tired and not really proving to be all that fruitful? What if we had inadvertently created consumers of a product rather than contributors to a cause? What would happen if church life gathered around mission (with teaching and worship fuelling that) rather than around teaching and worship (with mission as an add on for the super keen)?

We can be reluctant or discouraged leaders at this time or we can take a deep breath and be brave, transformational leaders. Transformational leaders know with deep conviction that God is up to something and we choose to align ourselves with His re-booting of church. A church where mission is the organising principle and expressions of church get built around the outward focused callings and passions of God’s people. This kind of thinking is not deconstructionism – we still need gatherings, we still need leadership, we still need structure and some strategy – but it’s more about stepping back and viewing all those things through the lens of the missional purpose of God’s church. “God’s church doesn’t have a mission, the mission of God has a church!”

One of the reasons that prayerwalking is key right now is that it’s helping people take greater ownership of the land God has placed them in. As we pray for our neighbourhoods, God gets more opportunity to break our hearts for the people around us and we can dream of what the Kingdom coming to our bit of earth might look like. It’s thought that about 20% of any given congregation has the ability to be a pioneering leader, it’s just we don’t always have the culture of permission for that or pathways to train and support. We might need to take more risks with people alongside a greater commitment to feedback and coaching. As we cast a bigger vision we will see some people’s callings get ignited.

I think now is the time to be asking God for eyes to see who he is raising up to take a missional lead into a network (people group) or a neighbourhood. As missional callings get ignited, we then can help to gather teams around those callings and find ways to begin to fuel passion and dreams and turn them into reality. A simple way to do that could be that after a Sunday livestream, a number of zoom calls could take place for people sharing the same heart for a network or neighbourhood in your area.

Even as buildings re-open, churches will be forced to break down into smaller units and the question is, how will we do that? If your church has a building, it is thought that 2m distancing allows for a third of the congregation to gather. The options with a pre COVID mindset and model of church are therefore: repeat the gathering three times a week to get everyone in or create a rota so that people can ‘come to church’ every 3 weeks. Or with a different way of thinking….. that same group could create three different expressions of church with a different missional focus, either in different locations or even in the same building but with a different missional focus.

If your church hasn’t got a building, or you can’t meet in a previous venue, then meeting up in cafes/pubs/restaurants is a good creative option. (Those venues will have the responsibility for being COVID compliant rather than you!). A talk can be given live or streamed in then reflection and discussion can follow.
Again thinking with a missional mindset, there can be strategic choosing of where a cafe/pub/restaurant is located or how it is themed, perhaps where you sense a person or a group of people are being called to become more intentional at reaching out.

If you are planning to continue streaming online, it could make it easier for new expressions to be planted, as a new leader could simply use the menu of live streamed content alongside live hosting rather than be daunted at having to come up with quality content every time they gather.

(If churches do go into smaller more missional expressions, there are key ways to stay connected as one church family eg. at Open Heaven we have three expressions so far, but do a Joint Baptisms every term, joint Weekend Away & Leaders Weekend.)

In order to help support this kind of pioneering thinking we are going to add a couple of extra modules to our Pioneer Pathway that is being re-launched January 21. One module will be on ‘Planting’ (and will cover both church planting and expressions/site planting within a locality) and one module will be on ‘Discipleship’ (as going smaller allows us to go deeper and re-capture the skills of intentional disciple making). Both these modules will be stand alone and can be accessed without having to do the full course.

I’ve made a video that you can play to your congregation if planting more missional expressions is the trajectory you’re thinking of going in. It covers being: Reset & Re-sent, Stepping up & Stepping out (asking what’s your missional focus?) Going Smaller & Deeper.

Finally, let’s keep resourcing each other. I know some Pioneer churches recently took a bit of a break and together did a ‘tour’ of other online Pioneer churches. Many churches have done a series on Acts recently and most speakers would happily send other churches the talks they’ve done. Other churches are looking ahead to creating a series around discipleship or wellbeing as we face the mental health crisis.

As a Core Team we are planning to make some talks available to Pioneer churches of the 4 Core Values of Pioneer: Relational, Missional, Charismatic and Kingdom Orientated. If you find any websites with resources for online church content, post them on the Pioneer Community News Facebook Group so we can all share them. I’ve posted one called We have also got the Glimpse films which are stunning – A heads up that a big announcement video from The Wall will be sent out soon to play on 13th September.

I know you have probably got a pile of books to read, but if you are keen to do some thinking about the future shape of church being around smaller more missional expressions, then check out: ‘Underground Church’ by Brian Sanders, ‘Multi planting’ by Colin Baron, ‘The Forgotten Ways’ by Alan Hirsch and ‘Hero Maker’ by Dave Ferguson.

As always, cheering you on,
Ness & The Core Team

Ps. Don’t let resources be a barrier to planting out. The giving platform has been set up to seed fund new missional expressions and plants.

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