In this month’s issue of Life and Work I have been challenging Church of Scotland congregations to reconsider what it means to nurture Christian friendship among ourselves and to extend that friendship to those outside our church circles, picking up on some of the ideas in our I Have Called You Friends theme. In the article I suggest that Christian friendship should take the definition of friendship to a much higher level. In order that deeper friendships can be sustained we require to create opportunities for Christians to meet in smaller and more informal groupings.
The Church Without Walls Report, quotes research from the German Institute of Church Development highlighting statistics from 1,000 growing churches across the globe. These stats show that the multiplication of small groups had a profound effect on developing and deepening relationships within the churches. The small group creates a feeling of belonging to each other and the body of Christ. The report sums this up in the following sentence: “Human nature seems to require different dimensions of belonging: the small group for support and intimacy, the medium sized group to share in tasks and the larger gatherings for inspiration and celebration.”
The typical Church of Scotland church model has focused on the congregation as the basic unit to the exclusion of the cell and the celebration. As we begin to re-imagine church we need to learn the lessons of the Cell Church Movement. They have shown that to begin small and go deep with a few people, may appear lacking in vision. However in time the Gospel spreads and there is a multiplication of groups, In many ways this model is following Jesus’ own pattern of investing in twelve people. What would happen if we started to encourage small groups to be established in our congregations or perhaps our communities? The research shows that they may well multiply.
Beginning Lent 2019, Sanctuary First is launching a new set of resources to encourage people to gather together in small groups to pray, read the Bible and have engaging discussions. The material With Fresh Eyes comprises our themes for March and April, In The Neighbourhood and Behold The Man. It is an invitation to the variety of people who make up our Sanctuary First community to consider becoming involved.We are looking for a good number of individuals and even congregations to take the initiative and start up a small group in their area, either using their home or a local cafe to bring friends together during Lent to look at their neighbourhood with fresh eyes and eventually during Holy Week begin to look at the life of Jesus with fresh eyes.
We have already produced the theme material and discussion questions, you can see Part 1 here and Part 2 here. We intend to put this material into a book form under the combined title With Fresh Eyes so that it can be used in a variety of settings. As this is a pilot we will publish around 100 booklets so if you are interested please get in touch with us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org In addition to the daily worship prompts and group discussion questions the booklets will contain 7 Lent Disciplines which can be followed week by week encouraging regular mindful reflection.
The idea is that you find a small group of people who would be interested in meeting regularly together to have fellowship. Starting up a Connect Group gives an opportunity to build new friends and strengthen old friendships. We think perhaps a group size of 4 to 8 people would make up a good group, but we are no being prescriptive. The material is intended to be open ended and you are welcome to adapt or tailor it to suit the needs of your group.
We all know friends who would like in some way to be more connected with their faith. This is an opportunity to get in touch with them and invite them to a Sanctuary First Connect Group. We will supply you with small invitation cards, all you have to do is fill in the time and place where you’re going to meet. We suggest that you start the groups from the week commencing 4th March onwards. There is enough material to meet weekly but it is up to your group how often they meet. Easter Sunday is later this year on 21 April. This gives about a 7 week period to begin to rekindle or make new friendships. Hopefully we will have a Sanctuary First Easter Sunday evening event which no doubt will be being streamed out on the net.
We have entitled the study With Fresh Eyes because we want to encourage a fresh approach to being church. In part one of the study we will encourage discussions about our neighbourhoods. What do we see in our neighbourhoods if we go looking with fresh eyes? The challenge for Christians today is that we must engage with the people and the issues that we live alongside. Our discussions will seek to show how the Bible speaks into our modern lifestyles and offers meaningful alternatives.
In part two we take a phrase from the King James Bible, that Pontius Pilate used when baiting the crowd, he shouted “Behold The Man” in our study we will look again at Jesus with fresh eyes and perhaps help others come to recognise who he really is.
It is the calling of the church to keep looking at the life and ministry of Jesus with fresh eyes. So often our friends know the name but have they really ever taken a moment to think about who Jesus really is?
This study is an opportunity to help us show friends that the faith we follow is grounded in the reality of our lives and is able to speak into the issues of our communities. Secondly we want our friends to realise that Jesus of Nazareth has something very relevant and powerful to say to 21st century people. The call to follow him is just as relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago.
Each week we will post a short two to three minute video on the site to help introduce the theme and we intend to have a Weekly Connect segment online which will give feedback as to how the groups are working and give further insight on the theme of the week.
As we are producing a limited number of study booklets. If you think you might be interested in creating a Sanctuary First Connect Group regardless where you live in the world please get in touch through our admin email address email@example.com we would love to hear from you and put your group on the map. We of course will not share address details but simply show the ares where groups are meeting.