The Lake

Years ago I read a brilliant book called ‘Mission Shaped Evangelism’ by Steve Hollinghurst. His opening story is an allegorical account of the British Church today.  Recently I have been reflecting on this story as I have been thinking about the mission and direction of our church – so I thought I’d post it for you to read this week to see if you find it as challenging and inspiring as I do.

The tale of the fishing community.

Once upon a time there was a large lake and on its shores lived a fishing community. They had become experts at fishing the lake and knew exactly the right kind of boat to use, the right nets to cast, and where and when to cast them. So, they thrived for many generations. However, after a while they noticed that their catches began to dwindle, and then some days they caught nothing at all. They began to be anxious and wondered what was going wrong, as they had kept faithfully to all they knew about fishing and worked hard to put it into practice. They decided to investigate.

Now earthquakes were not unknown in this area and indeed a large one had happened a few years before. As they investigated, they found that the earthquake had thrown up a cliff, diverting a river that had fed the lake with fresh fish several miles in a new direction. They decided they would sail down it to find where it went. Having navigated the river’s new course, they found it opened out into a strange new lake they had never seen before. Moreover, round this lake were some of the weirdest people, fishing in a way they had never seen before. Not one of them was fishing properly with a boat and a newt; instead they were using all sorts of strange methods and were landing catches of the strangest fish. They decided to see if they, too could catch some. So they put their boat onto the lake, sailed out and lowered their nets but caught nothing. So, they tried the other side, and behind and in front and every trick they knew, but they still caught nothing.

Dejected, they went back home and called a meeting and the whole community discussed what to do. Some said that it was clear they would never get fish from the new lake and would simply have to keep fishing the old one; after all there were more fish in it yet, perhaps still enough to last their life time. Others suggested that if they waited long enough, perhaps another earthquake would divert the river back again and solve the problem.  However, others said they had to face the fact that the old lake would soon have no fish and they had to find a way to fish the new lake or the community had no future. What were they to do? What would you do, for indeed this is our story, the story of the church in Britain today.

Taken from Mission Shaped Evangelism: The Gospel in Contemporary Culture by Steve Hollinghurst


PSY consultationShould we continue with two Sunday morning services or try something different for our Sunday morning worship times? Are two services the most effective way of ‘extending God’s kingdom, enabling more people to come to saving faith in Christ’?  This was the focus of the open church meeting last night and it was encouraging to have such a full meeting (74 registered) with so many people engaged in the discussions. This is the start of a consultation process in which the Elders will collect information and opinion before bringing a proposal to the church meeting either in March or May this year.

Below is a précis of  how I introduced the topic last night.

In the years leading up to 2010 RBC was a growing church, this put limitations on room for the church gathering  and the children’s work. In September 2012 after a long consultation period two morning services were introduced with the aim of  ‘the extension of God’s Kingdom, enabling more people to come to saving faith in Christ’.  The primary factor was to grow, by making room for people, providing an opportunity to meet God and hear the gospel and respond.  I love this mission statement because its looking at growth through conversion/evangelism rather than simply transfer from other churches.

But RBC at the start of 2018 is a very different church, counts and data collected over the last year tell us that, based on the current attendance numbers, we could all fit in one service. This is based on a comfortable capacity of 260 seats (although there is room for more if needed).  Our average combined total attendance is 212 per week  but the regular count is around 220.

What about the children’s work? If we combine attendance at both services the average numbers are:  CoG’s: 10.   DJ’s: 31.  Youth:18.  Are these viable group sizes to run on a Sunday morning?

Of course, data is only part of the picture. What’s else needs to be considered.? What’s the mood of the church at the moment? Are people weary or raring to go? Are people tired? Do we need a change?

It’s interesting to note that in my six ‘getting to know the church’ questions 11 out of 35 people answered ‘return to one service’ to the question, ‘What would you change about RBC?’. On balance 24 people didn’t, but the question wasn’t about one or two services, for these 11 people it was important enough to mention.  I’m also aware that we are asking a lot of our musicians who arrive at 8 and leave after 1 most Sundays, although this is on a rota basis- not every week.

Are two services the most effective way of ‘extending God’s kingdom, enabling more people to come to saving faith in Christ’?

There’s many considerations to stay with two services:  Some weeks are fuller than others, smaller children’s groups, less congestion at the coffee point, it’s easier to find a seat and some people prefer a quieter 9:00 am service. But the vision was to have two growing services not two smaller services, so many of the advantages of two services were only ever intended to be short lived.

There’s also many considerations to move to one service:  We believe that God is speaking to us about unity, healing and restoration. For the people that miss being together, worshipping together in a full church in one service would bring a sense of unity.  Simplicity! It would simplify our programme and rotas to have one morning service. Opportunities! One service allows more space and time for other acts of mission and service such as street team evangelism, practical acts of worship in the town, hospitality, large church lunches and even post-service quick church meetings.

So we have begun this consultation period of listening and praying. We will shortly be sending links to an on-line survey for all regular church attenders to complete that will help this discerning process.

What do I think? That’s easy for me to answer. We cannot stay where we are carrying on doing what we do. There is a community, town, country, world out there that is desperate for good news and we the church of God have the best news to share.  It’s not enough to put on services and hope people come . We need to be sharing, telling, living, demonstrating good news in whatever circles we move in.

I see this consultation as a fresh start. Whatever is decided we need a new offensive to build, train, disciple and send out, seizing the opportunities to put missional outreach into practice. Our focus must be kingdom growth and when we get to physical capacity we’ll have a new vision, not based on where we were 2010/12 but where we are today.

As always, I’m interested in your views and thoughts on what I’ve written so please feel free to comment.

We are meeting for worship this Sunday at 9:00, 11:00 and 6:30 .

Look forward to seeing you then






Happy New Year everyone!

Just before Christmas I rushed down to Devon to collect my eldest daughter and bring her home for the festive break.  I stayed with one of my best and closest friends (we’ll call him Simon) and we ended up doing what what we used to do before I moved: sit outside around the chimenea, drink wine, have a laugh and sort out the problems of the world. I must have been going on about how great RBC is, because he suddenly asked me whether RBC folks got my sense of humour or not.

Now, I should explain that Simon knows me extremely well and has been witness to the times when my ‘hilarious’ jokes have spectacularly misfired and resulted in upset, complaints and urgent damage control apologies.  He was probably referring to the time I made a joke about council parking officers in front of our local counsellor at the first community party in the park we organised. Considering the council had generously provided their services and expertise for free, it wasn’t wise to hack them off.

The reality is that I have reigned in my penchant for practical jokes because I don’t want to get fired just yet and because I have learned that sometimes the tone of my humour is misunderstood. So I’m being careful.

What about our tone in other circumstances?

I was shopping in Sports Direct just before Christmas and witnessed an angry customer unleash his fury at the sales assistant because of a labelling mistake. In front of a growing queue of people he bullied, berated and belittled the assistant, seemingly living out his ‘Suits’ lawyer fantasy, even his partner was telling him to leave the assistant alone. He may have been correct in all he was saying but his tone was ugly and wrong.

Last term I took the RBC staff team to the Global Leadership Summit conference in Bracknell. In his keynote address Bill Hybels talked about the need for civility in an age of growing disrespect and division.  In his hard hitting summary he unpacked 10 rules of respect for Christians to live by:

  • Christians must set the example on how to differ with others without demonising them.
  • Christians must set the example of how to have spirited conversations without ‘drawing blood’.
  • Christians must not interrupt others who are talking and must not dominate the conversation.
  • Christians must set the example of limiting their volume levels and refusing to use incendiary words that are guaranteed to derail a conversation.
  • Christians must set the example of being courteous in word and deed to everyone at every level.
  • Christians must never stereotype.
  • Christians must apologise immediately when they are wrong.
  • Christians must form opinions carefully and stay open minded if better information comes along.
  • Christians must set the example of showing up and following through.
  • Christians must set rules of respect for everyone in the organisation they lead and enforce them relentlessly.

It seems to me that a lot of what Bill is talking about is our tone when speaking to people both in and outside the church.

I think 2018 will be a year of change and challenge for many of us at RBC. I believe that we will see growth, conversions and baptisms. (If you haven’t been baptised yet- it’s your time… let’s do it.)

We are going to review our current format of two Sunday morning services.

We are going to think about the roles that Roberta and Gerald are vacating and the opportunities this opens up for RBC.

We are going to think about how we can do discipleship better. I don’t think we do it very well at the moment and we need to do it better with some urgency. (Note my tone, I say ‘we’ including myself rather than pointing my finger.)

There are important discussions and big decisions to make this year, and my plea is that we watch our tone in how we speak.  Let’s model civility even when we may disagree. Let’s be examples of respect and courtesy as we go into 2018 together.

I’ll finish with a much quoted sentence from an unknown source.  “Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates: “Is it true?” “Is it necessary?” “Is it kind?” ”

Has your humour ever spectacularly misfired?

Have you ‘jokes’ ever had disastrous consequences?

Has a practical joke gone wrong?

Why not let me know by sending a reply

We are back to three services again this Sunday morning: 9.AM , 11.AM & 6.30 PM

Hope to see you at one of them