Surrey Chapel in Norwich is an FIEC church based in the north edge of the city centre. It has an average Sunday morning congregation of around 220 people. The people are drawn from a wide area, urban, suburban and rural, representing a good range of ages. Most are from predominantly middle class backgrounds, so we have lots of teachers! The church has a historical reputation for expository preaching, and a fairly wide range of activities which enable us to connect relationally with non-Christians. These include art classes, seniors clubs, youth football and children’s clubs.
Up until now the church has had relatively little connection with the local community, although there had been a busy programme of leafleting. However, the church had also undertaken some weekend missions with the aid of visiting evangelists.
Background to the mission: In October 2003, Surrey Chapel held a mission under the strapline: ‘Illuminate – Christ Casts Light.’ The key feature of this mission was that, rather than concentrate on a shorter, intensive phase of activity over a single weekend or over a week, we spread our efforts over a whole month.
We did not seek to initiate additional activities or events, but aimed to turn as much as possible of our existing church life into an evangelistic event. Most events would be resourced from within and the pastor would put aside other duties and work as the evangelist for that month.
Why this model?
We chose this model to avoid ‘burn out’ and overloading of the team and church members, caused by concentrating numerous activities over a short space of time.
We also wanted to increase continuity between ‘special’ mission events and ‘regular’ church activity. This means guests see things as they actually are; changing the culture of church activity to make events more mission-orientated.
This model also helps in building a relational connection between the speaker and the guests that heard him at an evangelistic event.
Finally, in practice we have found that on any given occasion, whether at a weekend or during the week, a large proportion of our potential guests (not to mention church members) are away, busy or otherwise unable to come - even if they are interested. By spreading events over a whole month, we increased the possibility of member’s friends coming to an event.
The congregation was prepared for mission via several means. These included the promotion of the vision at our monthly church nights and through the ministry on Sunday Mornings in the preceding months. We also created material for our fellowship groups designed to equip and inspire people for personal evangelism and for connecting the gospel with world issues. There was a morning and evening of special prayer and every member of the congregation was given the relevant literature. The weekly prayer meeting continued throughout the month itself, and focused on the outreach. We also made themed publicity material available.
During the month, our services followed their regular pattern but were geared to be more accessible for guests. Mornings were based on the ‘I am’ sayings in the Gospel of John; which we began at our harvest service and later featured in a student service and at some baptisms. The evening services were themed around topics and given over to particular people groups in our church life; representing art, youth football, seniors and so on. Each fellowship group organised an evangelistic supper, or a similar event, to suit their own context and clientele. They did this, as far as it was possible, in the regular time and place that they normally used; so that it was not an ‘extra’ in an already busy schedule. Most events were resourced from within by the pastor and youth worker, with a few specialised guest speakers at specific events.
For follow-up, we made sure that the programmes for both the regular services and fellowship groups were accessible and appropriate for new believers. We planned a closing event and an enquirer’s group for the following Sunday evenings. In addition, we provided high quality and well thought-through enquirer’s packs and ran a team of people who were available to follow-up enquiries. This was, however, probably the least successful aspect of the mission. This was partly due to circumstances out of our control and partly due to ‘initiative fatigue’ on the part of leading individuals.
As a result of this mission, around 200 people or more heard the gospel in a relevant context. I am aware of only one person who actually became a Christian as a direct result, but for many others it was, no doubt, an important stage on their journey. It was not our expectation or our goal to see a great many conversions during the month itself.
As a model, the month-long mission worked well. The majority of people in the church were only personally responsible for a few events. Consequently, they did not feel overloaded, while the church’s awareness towards evangelism increased; resulting in an increase in evangelism.
Guests who attended events also gained a good impression of the ongoing life of the church and were inclined to continue their relationship and involvement with the church. There has also been some long-term benefit, as far as the evangelistic focus of the church is concerned. Since Illuminate, other initiatives have been set up in order to develop groups both for men (Momentum) and women (Activ8). A very successful toddler group, which works on the same principle as Illuminate, has also been started and all groups are starting to see some fruit. One fellowship group continued running monthly evangelistic events in the village where it was based for several years. It also proved cheap to run!
What were the downsides of the Illuminate model? First and foremost, it was an attempt to engage with existing contacts and friends but it made little or no new contacts or connection with the wider world outside the church (nor indeed the wider church). The events were most appropriate for those who had some willingness to darken a church door. However, it really needed the resources of a larger church in order to succeed. Ideally, it needed a pastor who could work well as an evangelist, while also being able to generate enthusiasm from his congregation. Even in my fresh and energetic phase I only partly met the bill!
We perhaps should have put more thought and effort into prayer, preparation, follow-up and literature distribution. In particular, it was an omission not to have Christianity Explored or similar courses ready and waiting to go.
inally, the whole mission took a lot of co-ordinating! Nevertheless, overall, we were positive about this model of mission and intend to use an adapted, extended and improved model for A Passion for Life in 2010.