A small group of men and women were cowering in an upper room in a remote part of the Roman Empire. Their leader had been executed, but in a remarkable turn of events had returned from the dead. Now he entrusted them – a small, timid, uneducated bunch – with a message of hope to spread throughout the world. The odds seemed stacked against them. But only a few years later, it was said of these early Christians that they had “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).
I think our world today could do with the same sort of seismic occurrence.
Life in the twenty-first century is hugely challenging, and there are many things about our world that could do with being “turned upside down”. Or perhaps “the right way up.”
London was recently labelled the loneliness capital of Europe. 28% of people here say they feel lonely most or all of the time, and doctors says that loneliness increases our risk of sickness, strokes, or heart attacks.
One-in-four Londoners experience some kind of mental health problem each year, and there is often such a stigma attached to mental health that they suffer in silence.
London has the second largest immigrant population in the world, with 1-in-3 residents having been born in another nation. That creates a diverse environment, but also brings challenges, as we seek to build a world together, in spite of often quite different views and assumptions.
Over half of the world’s population – 4 billion people – live without the protection of law. In many nations the public justice systems are so broken or dysfunctional that there is nothing shielding the vulnerable from violence.
In many nations women in particular are marginalised, and girls uneducated. Experts say that one of the most effective ways of fighting global poverty and extremism is to focus on the wellbeing of women and children.
It’s an extraordinary claim I know, but I think that the answer to these challenges can be found in a man who hung on a cross 2,000 years ago, and in the community of people who continue to follow him.
In January 2016 we are starting new services right across the city; in the South, Centre, West End, and East. We hope these services will provide many new opportunities for people to hear the message of hope that Jesus offers, and hopefully find healing and restoration through him.
As we have shared these plans, a few people have asked why are we starting new services, when we could get involved with existing churches? And isn’t it arrogant to suggest that we can do better than others who are already there?
Well, I would say it depends on how we look at it. If we think of ourselves as being competitors, fighting over the same market share, then of course it seems arrogant and unnecessary to start new services. But if we see ourselves as being on the same team as other existing churches, then everyone benefits. Here are three reasons:
1) Our communities need new churches.
New churches tend to be more outward looking and innovative than older churches. Their mission is fresh in their mind and they’re typically better placed to try new things in a way that is harder for a church to do when they’ve been around for a while. Also, we need a diverse range of churches to appeal to the diverse range of people in our communities. No one size fits all! So a larger selection of churches and services gives more opportunities for people to explore faith.
2) Our city needs new churches.
London is growing and so must the church. 100,000 more people are now attending church than seven years ago, and if that trend continues then we’re going to need more church communities to provide homes for them all.
3) You and I need new churches.
One of the downsides of large churches is that they can make us lazy! Far fewer people volunteer in large churches than in smaller ones, since large churches can give the impression that they’ve got it all sorted and there’s little need. But with a smaller church, people can immediately see the needs, and can get involved as a result. Smaller churches can make better use of people’s passions and skills and provide a context for everyone to contribute.
We think that starting new services is good for everyone, and I hope that we will maintain a pioneering spirit that goes beyond 2016 as we start many new services that bless our city, and welcome others as they do the same.
Visit the four services page to find out about where our new services will be starting. We are also running a number of evenings to help us prepare for the new services, where you get to know others, build community, worship and pray together. If you’ve decided which service you will be attending in the new year, join us for these evenings. And if you’re still undecided, come along to help you decide. All the dates and details can be found on the service pages here.