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Everybody Welcome Online7 months ago
George Fisher reflects on our new online mission field and asks how we can make newcomers welcome as we do church differently
In the midst of all the fear, suffering and grief cause by Covid-19, something is happening.
The Church of God has gone online!
It is amazing how churches of all shapes and sizes have responded with such alacrity to turn what many feared would be the demise of the church into a new beginning with a new online mission field. We have seen turnarounds like this before.
When the missionaries were expelled from China in the 1950s there was only a tiny church left in such a huge country, leaderless, and facing persecution. No church services could take place and everyone thought the church would vanish. When the Bamboo curtain came down 35 years later the church had grown to an estimated 60 million. Exponential growth took place because the Holy Spirit moved and the church became indigenous, meeting in small home groups rather than western-styled services. Today’s Coronavirus has stopped church services but we are finding new ways to do church through the internet. Many are using Zoom for internal church meetings and countless churches are streaming services and using the internet to transmit the message of God’s love and grace in new ways.
A few years ago I co-authored the training course ‘Everybody Welcome’ (Church House Publishing) with Ven Bob Jackson. It is about how to welcome and integrate newcomers into our churches. In this period of Lockdown it is mainly redundant. Churches are doing an amazing job of going online and we are seeing amazing numbers accessing our online offerings. But are they being welcomed? So, on this beautiful day on the south coast, where I retired to last summer, I have been catapulted out of retirement by this question along with my co-author.
We have contacted many churches to ask what is happening and are heartened by the numerous stories of people who do not normally attend church accessing the online church and saying how much they appreciate it. Just as the early message of the gospel was made available through the cutting-edge technology of the day, the Roman road, so the spread of the gospel is being made available today through the internet highway. At the same time as being greatly saddened and challenged by the suffering with lives lost and untold grief through the Coronavirus pandemic, the church is responding by offering the grace, love and peace of Jesus through new channels.
The Great Commission in Matthew 28 challenges to make disciples of ‘all nations’. I prefer the translation ‘people groups’. Online church gives us the opportunity to reach people who would not easily hear the good news when the message was locked in our church buildings. As the churches of God serve their communities with practical love and care, and take the gospel out through the internet, we pray for a move of God among people who are crying out for answers now that they are confronted with the shallowness of much of present consumerist celebrity cult existence.
Let’s pray for great outpouring of the Holy Spirit on believers and for inspiration to use the internet to transmit the message of Jesus in new ways. Alongside this we also need to share good practice and learn how to effectively welcome those who are accessing church for the first time or returning after a long time. So we have written an additional chapter to our training course on welcome and ‘Everybody Welcome Online’ is a free resource for all churches and can be found at bit.ly/ewo2020. When you read it we hope you will be inspired and informed, and pass it on to others. It’s full of practical advice, heart-warming stories, and challenges to do online church well. Let us know what you are doing so we can learn together and share good practice, but above all let’s pray for a fresh move of the Holy Spirit upon our online church and our broken world.