MORE THAN A FRIENDLY CHURCH | ANDY BOND

One of the wonderful things about the past year and half has been seeing people who were strangers with one another become friends. (As an aside the most incredible thing has been watching and journeying with those who would have said God was a stranger who now would say he is their friend and King !)

When God took on flesh in the person of Jesus Christ He had those who hated Him and disliked Him, but also those who followed him, he had those whom he was close to and ate with. He had those whom he would call friends like Lazarus, an inner circle and John even calls himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Jesus modelled friendship for us.

One of the verses that Alpha training refers to is

“Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” 1 Thes 2v8

And if you’ve been around St Werburgh’s for any time at all you may have heard the phrase “authentic community.” One of the ways I’ve come to think about this is that “community” is simply a network of relationships or even friendships. From the front and as a staff team we can’t force authentic community, but we can try to model it and intentionally provide spaces for relationships to build and develop.

Now maybe I’m biased but I think we are great at the initial welcome in church - there are people on the doors, people on hospitality, many of us are very good at looking outwards for those who are sitting or standing alone and going up and introducing ourselves. So a massive thank you and well done ESPECIALLY if you naturally find that difficult.

But the other day Phil shared with me a quote from Nicky Gumbel

“People aren’t looking for a friendly church they are looking for a church to make friends”

If we are to truly be an authentic community which is Christ centred, we have got to go beyond an initial hello, we will need to extend friendship to those who are not like us (anyone can be friends with those who are like them). We will need to be people who continually make room at the table, continually look outwards to draw others in and fiercely watch our friendship groups for signs of becoming cliquey or inward looking.

One of the biggest tensions I have observed over many years of being involved in leading groups in churches is between the pastors whose deepest desire is to look after everyone who is part of the church community and evangelists who are desperate to reach those outside it. Yet these don’t necessarily have to be in tension with each other, there is a complementarity to them in that being a community in which authentic Godly friendships exist, is an example and an invitation to a watching world in which loneliness, especially amongst the young is continually increasing. And this will work if we keep inviting people in.

A few weeks ago I read a book summary of Take Heart by Matt Chandler which had the incredibly challenging question:

“When was the last time you ate with someone outside your circle of friends?”

A number of months ago I shared about CS Lewis’ image of the inner circle (which I stole from Jonny Gumbel at FOCUS) where he speaks about how every group has an inner ring or circle and there is a danger that each of us seeks to try and get into the inner circle. However as Christians we know that God is at the very centre of all the circles and therefore “in Christ” we are part of that too. Practically, this stops us continually trying to move inwards and frees us to look outwards and draw others in as well.

So I think what I’m trying to say is that if you have been here for more than a few months, you are Werbs, you are now the welcomer, you are now the one that needs to take the initiative in inviting people. A smile, speaking to people and supporting them when they arrive on Sundays is vital, but it is just the beginning because

“People aren’t looking for a friendly church they are looking for a church to make friends”

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