St Bart’s is an Anglican church in a suburban context amongst a mixture of housing. For example, there are large Victorian villas (many converted into bed-and-breakfast or hotels), mid-range terraced housing and some ex-council housing. The congregation are mainly professionals with an increasing number of students and young families. We currently have about 180 adult ‘members’ and a growing ‘fringe’.
Introducing Roger: Our recent mission - entitled Life - was held in October 2008 and was done with the help of the evangelist Roger Carswell.
We invited Roger to lead a church weekend away in July 2007 where he gave four talks on Christian apologetics. We did this so that our congregation would develop confidence in Roger as a speaker and bring friends to hear him during the mission. We also wanted to equip the congregation with ready answers to some of the common objections raised against Christianity, and we wanted the non-Christians to hear the gospel explained!
In November 2007 we gave every member of the congregation a copy of Dorothy Carswell’s Real Lives to read. Then, in December, we gave every member three more copies to give away with Christmas presents; in anticipation that it might spark conversations with the people they gave them to.
We then began to encourage the church to pray for friends and family in prayer cells, fellowship groups and at our main fortnightly Prayer Gathering. We held a Saturday event for the whole church complete with input designed to encourage and equip people for the mission. During the day we also had a sermon series on 2 Corinthians which focused on evangelism; this series was later discussed in our fellowship groups. We also issued a booklet with ideas on how to develop relationships and how to pray for our friends. A regular leaflet was also published, which updated people on the mission plans and aimed to keep the mission at the front of people’s minds.
In the few months before the mission week, we held a number of more social events for people to invite friends to – a barn dance, a soirée, a wine tasting evening etc. These deliberately had no gospel message, but simply included a verbal invitation to the mission week. We also ran a programme of door-to-door visiting in the area immediately around the church in which we invited people along to the mission week. We had a small number of people attend as a direct result of this; but most people who attended the mission week were brought along by church members.
Over the past 12 months we have run a seven week course each term entitled Sharing Christ, developed by our Assistant Minister, Charlie Ward. It is designed to train, enthuse and equip people in personal evangelism. More than 30 people have attended Sharing Christ and have found it extremely encouraging. Many of them have since been out on the door-to-door visiting, which is indicative of how effective it has been!
The Mission Programme
The week itself was focused on six evening meetings. We rearranged the church to create a café atmosphere (with round tables, coffee, tea and soft drinks, nibbles etc.) Each evening began with Roger interviewing a guest speaker. Our guests included: Fiona Castle, John Mosey (whose daughter was killed in the Lockerbie bombing), Debbie Flood (the Olympic silver medal rower), Haydn Davies (a promising professional footballer who was paralysed in a car accident and then came to faith), a Gambian student from our own fellowship who was beaten, threatened with death and imprisoned as a teenager after she became a Christian, and Billy Burns (who was shot in the face by a bank robber when he attended the crime as a policeman). The advertisements for the evenings included information about the guest speaker and also informed people of Roger’s talk on the Christian faith. There were two guest services on the Sunday, a men’s breakfast and a lunch for senior citizens – Roger spoke at both of these. Debbie Flood also spoke in one school and at a late afternoon youth event.
While there were some people who attended every meeting (and others who attended each evening) we found that each evening attracted a different group of people. For example, the evening with Fiona Castle attracted a number of ladies, especially widows, while the Debbie Flood evening was popular with many young professionals - including people from the local gym who had been invited. Meanwhile, the evening with our Gambian student attracted a number of students (including non-Christians) especially from her course. The evening with Bill Burns (who lives in Bristol) meant a number of local folk, who remembered the newspaper reports of his attack, came along to the event. So we found that the variety worked in our favour.
Having people interviewed made it easy to invite folk to the meetings. Many church members brought friends and family they had not felt able to invite to our regular invitation/guest services in the past. People knew they were coming to hear a Christian speak about their faith, and knew that there would be a gospel presentation from Roger; so when people came they knew what to expect. But people were sufficiently interested in the life stories of the ‘interviewees’ to mean they were keen to come to an openly Christian meeting. One major lesson we learned was that, for many people, this was their first real exposure to the gospel. Congregation members felt sufficiently confident with Roger and the format to invite folk they have never invited before.
There were people who came to Christ during the week, people who made recommitments and many who wanted to know more. We ran Christianity Explored as of the following week and a good number attended. We also started an International Christianity Explored for the significant number of Chinese folk we have in the church, and their friends and contacts. We followed up some people individually.
We believe it is important for us to build on the enthusiasm within the congregation so that evangelism becomes our natural activity as a church and as individuals. We ran a Christmas Carol service and held a number of social events in the New Year with non-churched people in mind. In the future we plan to have some one-off evening meetings similar to the mission week meetings, in anticipation that we can capitalise on the confidence developed by church members over the coming months.
The mission part of A Passion for Life falls at an ideal time for us (just 18 months after our Life week). We plan to maintain evangelism as a priority in the church and work towards the mission in March 2010. At that time we will be able to develop the strategies that worked this year and build upon them.
We believe the mission has given folks a greater understanding of and a greater confidence in the gospel. In addition, it has also meant that people have recognised more clearly the urgency of proclaiming the gospel to the world (including their families and friends). We believe the mission gave church members confidence in talking about their faith, and in inviting friends to church events. However we recognise that that must be maintained and developed further.
The style of mission developed by Roger Carswell is extremely effective in our contemporary culture and with the groups we are dealing with. As most people know, he is an enthusiastic evangelist and his enthusiasm has rubbed off on many of us here. God has gifted him in presenting the gospel clearly and in an accessible way, and his interview technique is second only to Michael Parkinson! But Roger is clear that the church is doing the mission; he is only there to support and help. And we believe that this point has been crucial for us as a church. St Bart’s would too readily leave the evangelism all to a visiting speaker, but the way the mission was set up, that could not happen!
We rejoice in what God has done already amongst us, and look forward to seeing him at work in the future, in bringing more people to Himself.