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Reform Magazine | May 21, 2018

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Drop the pedalo!

Drop the pedalo!

What makes a church grow significantly in size in three years? The answer is not ‘Holding on to its traditions’. Ashley Evans shares his experience

A few years ago, my family went out on a pedalo which had a crack in it and started to sink. My son tried to hold onto it for dear life because it he was afraid of getting in trouble for losing it, but my friend said to him: ‘Let go, it’ll drown you.’ So he let go and it went right down to the bottom, 30 feet below.

So often, in churches, people are holding on to something that used to keep them afloat, and don’t realise that that is the weight that is sinking them. People are frightened of letting go of the traditions that have held them together – traditions like the idea of ‘one church, one minister’, and the familiar kind of church service. That’s the weight that’s going to sink them.

In three years at Bolton Villas Family Church in Bradford, we’ve gone from a regular congregation in the 40s to the 60s and 70s, mainly families. We’ve done this in a number of ways. Firstly we wanted to celebrate that we are a family of all ages and nationalities, in relationship with each other and God, in Christ Jesus. Another is the new way we structure the service, which is very different from the traditional linear structure but fits in with younger families’ understanding of life. The service is three blocks: first, worship, often with newer, culturally relevant songs, which gets us into the place where we can hear God; secondly, the Word, where we are challenged and encouraged to put into practice that which God requires of us; and then ministry, which might be communion, prayer for healing, a blessing, or another song – but it is in response to the Word, not the structure. Those who could be described as the faithful, more traditional church members are not as happy with it as the new families, but they’re sticking with it because we’re growing, so they can see it works even if it’s not their cup of tea. This is a true blessing.

As we move forward, we are giving people responsibility in certain areas, making them pastor of that area. Josh, who happens to be my son, is the worship pastor. He’s not just the guy who leads worship on a Sunday, he looks after that team. When they meet, they have a biblical reflection, talk about where things are, practise new stuff for the future. Marguerite looks after Refreshed, the charity shop and the cafe at church. She is not just the centre manager, she is the pastor for the volunteers. There are others that look after other teams, and that’s not just sorting out the rota, its building a team, developing their understanding of what team means. This is still a journey of discovery and it’s a model that can grow as the church grows…

Ashley Evans is Minister of Bolton Villas Family Church, Bradford, and Evangelist for the United Reformed Church Yorkshire Synod. He was talking to Stephen Tomkins

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This is an extract from an article that was published in the May 2018 edition of  Reform

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