Deep and Wide

When I first started working at EBC I spent a long time thinking about what our mission should be for the seniors work here and what things would look like if that mission was successful. As far as mission goes, the words "wider and deeper" came to mind - we should reach out widely to bring in as many older people as possible and then help them towards a deeper relationship with God.

Here's a straight "cut-and-paste" from the document I wrote at the time :
What Would Success Look Like?

  1. Older people would flock to the church and enjoy ever-deepening relationships with the church and with God.

  2. Older people within the church would be respected, looked-up to and cherished by the younger people. 

  3. The strengths of our older people would be fully recognized and fully harnessed for the numerical and spiritual growth of the church.

  4. Views about older people in the surrounding area would change for the better – the positives would come to the fore.

  5. Our children and young people would interact all the time with older people – such that the young people would naturally grow up respecting their elders and learning from their wisdom and experience, while the older people felt a renewed sense of purpose and vitality in themselves and in their work for the church.

  6. The church would offer holistic support to older people, either directly or as a conduit to trusted, expert help.

  7. We would have such resources that the church building would be busy every day with the church’s own activities (including activities for older people).

Additionally, successful funding would look like this:

  1. The older persons’ ministry would be entirely self-funding.

  2. There would be a surplus to re-invest into growing the ministry further.

As it happens, I’m currently reading a book called “Deep & Wide” by Andy Stanley, the senior pastor at North Point Community Church (NPCC) in Atlanta, USA. Regulars at EBC will know that we have been very much influenced by Andy’s ideas and methods, and teams of EBC people have been to NPCC two or three times over the years to learn more.
In fact, the way we have adapted our environments, the way we structure our services and the way we write and deliver our sermons have been deeply influenced by the NPCC model and Andy’s various sermons and writings – and we have seen great results as we have gone about becoming “a church that unchurched people love to attend” (and yes, we borrowed that phrase from Andy too!).

Along the way, we have also been influenced by a guy called Michael Harvey, who set aside a highly lucrative career in the City to go around the world championing the simple message that church people need to invite their friends to church as a main priority. The training was really simple, Michael explained, and it goes like this: “Would you like to come to church with me?”
In our case, we can go with baby steps if we’re worried that coming to church may be too big a jump for some people.  Instead we can invite them to Refresh, or a social event or into a cluster or to Lunch Club or Messy Church and so on – we have all these great, non-scary events we can invite people to and (thanks to the NPCC influence) when people get here they find really great environments and feel very welcome.

So we’ve done very well on the “reaching wide” bit – over the last few years EBC has grown to the point where we now have around 500 people coming along on a regular basis (once a month or more) to one or more of our services (Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, Messy Church, Lunch Club, Thursday service).
What we’re now noticing is that our ability to keep running things really well is starting to be hampered by our very success – in short we have so many unchurched people and so many services and events that the (relatively) few people who make it all happen (staff and volunteers) are really stretched!

Our Elders and Leaders teams have come to believe that in order to keep reaching wide, we need to do better at helping people go deep – not by changing our preaching and teaching but by helping people actually put into practise some of the simple things that make a huge difference. That would mean that those unchurched people, in time, start helping – and that in turn means that even as they go deeper, we would have the extra resources to reach even wider.

As I look back on my little list, I believe we’re doing really well at the numerical growth bit, but perhaps less well at the spiritual growth bit. It’s happening, but maybe we can accelerate the pace. So I’ve been really taken by this book “Deep and Wide” and in particular the section called “Going Deep”.

In it, Andy sets out five catalysts for (spiritual) growth that NPCC has noticed time and again with many thousands of people who have come through their doors. The five catalysts are as follows (Andy assures readers that though they all begin with the letter “P” this wasn’t a force-fit!):

  • Practical teaching (showing people how God, the bible and biblical principles are both relevant and really helpful to people in their everyday lives)

  • Personal ministry (this is about getting people to transition from attending to helping – which will deepen their faith)

  • Private disciplines (making it easy for people to get into regular praying, giving, fasting and reading the bible, and showing them how to start)

  • Providential relationships (these just happen, but we can make them more likely to happen by creating environments like clusters, life groups and “EB3’s” that foster them).

  • Pivotal circumstances (big life-events that again, just happen, but which can be perceived and lived through totally differently if a person has been taught to expect them and to see them through the lens of faith in God and his infinitely bigger perspective).

We are moving towards a new season at EBC and I believe that the catalysts above may really help us to make it a fruitful season in which our roots in God grow deeper and our faith in him ripens.
And as the roots grow deeper and the church matures, so new vitality and energy will flow in and new growth will follow just as surely. In the coming weeks, please think, pray and reflect on all of this and let me or Steph or another of the Elders or Leaders know what you think. Oh, and if you would like a copy of the book, shout up and we’ll get you one. 

Simon Lace, Joint Acting Senior Minister, 21/10/2016