All Souls is a City centre, central London church. Our mission statement is, “Growing an international community to reach a multicultural society for Christ.” Lewis Rolph, our deputy church warden, has counted 81 countries represented at All Souls.
This means that there is a tremendous rotation of people coming in and leaving. We reckon we lose and gain about a third of the congregation each year, with (fortunately!) a core church family which holds together the leadership.
In the core church family, people are pretty middle-class and we are trying to get other nationalities into leadership. One of the issues of being in a city centre is that people travel in, so the community is not all living within 10 minutes of each other. People can literally live an hour apart across London, so we have to work hard at community. The biggest issue we face is loneliness.
Preparing for mission
Godliness and reaching the lost
The key to preparation is to understand Titus 1 v 1, that the knowledge of the truth leads to godliness. At the heart of godliness is reaching the lost: That’s what it means to be godly. Exhibit A – Jesus, whom God sent to rescue us. So I can’t be godly and not be concerned for evangelism. If I’m like God, I’ll seek the lost.
The reality of hell
Within that, we tried to help people understand that hell is a reality, so a mission statement we often put out, with which we ask people to run their diaries, is something from Bishop Frank Retief in Cape Town, who says, “People without Christ go to hell.” That gives clarity to the priority of mission, as we ask ourselves, ‘Where will these people be in 100 years’ time?' and affirm that the success or failure of any life is what we do with Jesus. Having got hell clear, we must get grace clear.
So we want to help people find their identity in God’s grace. Here are some words Bishop Alf Stanway preached to some men entering the ministry in Pittsburgh in the 1950s. They highlight the privilege of being involved in God’s work: “If other people knew you like God knows you, all your faults, all your vain thoughts, all your sins, all the things in your heart, all the wrong thoughts you ever had, would they trust you with this kind of work God trusts you with? Here is the supreme confidence that God has in his own grace. He’ll take the likes of you and me and give us the privilege of being his saints.” Quotes like this one were often used in the notices.
So we let the engine of grace drive our mission as we find it at the centre of our identities. It means that whether I’m rejected or accepted by you as I ask, that does not make me any less or more valuable. What makes me valuable is that God has set his love upon me in Christ. As Victor Hugo wrote: “Life’s greatest happiness is to be convinced we are loved.”
Getting sovereignty in place
Another key to getting the congregation to think mission, is to get sovereignty in place. So Acts 17 v 26-27 is a great tool because it reminds us that what is really happening in history is God placing us next to our neighbours and colleagues, so they can be reached with the gospel.
Looking at difficult questions
The aim of building confidence with neighbours and colleagues was followed through by our house group series. We looked at difficult questions people ask, like suffering, why trust the Bible and science. These were broached from the perspective of building confidence and competence.
All of this enabled us to build momentum in the church family, but the key instrument for getting the church family focused on the mission was encouraging prayer. When we prayed, we not only asked God to open blind eyes (2 Corinthians 4 v 6), but we also thought about the friends we wanted to invite and then, almost automatically, time with those friends went in the diary. We not only prayed in our regular prayer gathering but we set up a weekly morning meeting. It’s interesting that out of the mission has come a rhythm of doing weekly morning prayer meetings before guest events and Christianity Explored courses are run. The aim is to mobilise as many people as possible. To that end, we set up an e-mail distribution list of people who wanted to receive a weekly prayer letter about the mission.
Internalising the gospel
We also ran a course called Sharing the Gospel to help people see a Gospel tool (2 Ways to Live) and not just be familiar with it, but internalise it. This means training in 4 stages:
- You see the tool
- You do it yourself
- You get feedback
- You repeat it
As we used 2 Ways to Live in role play and in applying it to the daily papers, people really found they became confident in communicating the gospel. Wonderfully, since they were now much better prepared, the Lord opened the door for opportunities and it was thrilling to hear how people had used the tool throughout the week. This was a key strategy for the mission. It meant that even before we had proclaimed the gospel we had a wonderful focus with which to train the church and mobilise the church in prayer.
The mission programme
A huge part of making the mission work was picking up the structure that was already in place in the weekly life of All Souls and giving it a big evangelistic thrust. For example, the women’s group already met on a Wednesday morning, so they met as normal, but ran an evangelistic event. This strategy was reflected with the students doing events with groups that were already formed, the young people, and those in workplace ministry. It doesn’t require too much energy to tweak things to be evangelistic!
We also did guest services and some one-off events – a banquet with a talk, a ceilidh and an evening with Jonathan Aitken.
We ran a Christianity Explored course and our sermon series were particularly seeker friendly. The big weakness we have and would love to work harder at is producing good one-to-one workers in the church family. Someone who can open the Bible one-to-one is the best follow-up because they can then make sure people get into groups, get to good preaching and read the Bible for themselves.