As part of our Identity Theology series last term, Simon Shorey preached on ‘being relational’ drawing from the foundational passage for our church, Acts 2:42-47.
‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.’
Here he summarises the key points made and offers ways that we can put our value of ‘being relational’ into practise.
Since its birth, The Point Church has upheld the value of being relational. I’ve heard stories of the early days when people connected every day and everyone ate together after the service each week. No wonder the church grew so quickly! It certainly does have an Acts 2 feeling about it. Yet today, with 270 adults and 75 kids and youth spread across our catchment area of Mid Sussex, it doesn’t come quite so naturally. Why? Well, let’s remind ourselves of those four relational challenges that we face today as a church.
1 We are a big church
Relationships come naturally and quickly when the gathering is small. Little needs to be formalised for relationships to grow and our God given desire to relate flourishes. However, research suggests that when a church reaches around 100 people, things change. People are missed, forgotten and neglected. So, the challenge is to transition into a new operating model with more structure and organisation. As a large church, our Small Groups and Sevens accountability groups are an important starting point. Furthermore, our Pastoral Team provides specific support to individuals and couples. But with all this structure, we need to be careful that we don’t turn The Point into a business or organisation where everything relies on a plan or an organised team. We still need to act like family and for a family to be healthy, everyone needs to engage. Our relational value must be owned by every member.
2 We are a busy church
In his book, ‘Shaping a Discipleship Culture’, Cris Rogers comments on the danger a busy church has in slipping from people-focused to programme-focused. He says, ‘When we’re programme-focused we are driven by tasks, diaries and rotas rather than by people and relationships. Tasks are elevated and people are critiqued and pulled down.’ We must ensure that our love for people comes before our love for quality delivery. Jesus always prioritised people. His ministry was constantly interrupted by women at wells, tax collectors in trees and people on the street. Yet, He stopped every time to engage because people are more important than a plan.
3 We are a network church
Unlike most other churches, we don’t benefit from all of us living in one parish community with weekly natural connections at the school gate, the high street, football pitches, gyms, pubs, etc. We are a Network Church, planted to be a transforming presence throughout Mid Sussex. With all the freedom that gives us, it also means we are a dispersed church: 270 people from 19 different towns and villages, spread over a 500 square mile area! This means that there is little spontaneity in our connections. Because we rarely bump into each other, we have to work hard at building relationships here at The Point – harder than most other churches because it won’t come by default. We have to be intentional. The problem widens because when we don’t connect with church friends during the week, we do all our catching up on Sunday morning, and cliques can form in the very place we are meant to be looking out for people who are disengaged and building new relationships to support and encourage the whole church.
4 We are a welcoming church
The Point is deliberately newcomer focused, so our welcome of everyone is fantastic – which is a great thing! Yet, how much do we progress beyond the smile and the handshake to an actual relationship? We can’t delegate our relational value to a team on a rota – we all need to be involved. We need to welcome people and progress the connection to a relationship – engage, talk, invite!
The Acts 2 passage shows that the early church not only knew the importance of this relational value but they fully lived it out as well. During the period of fastest growth the Church has ever witnessed, a second century scholar called Tertullian commented, ‘See how these Christians love one another.’ It wasn’t their love for God that inspired people to investigate Christianity – it was their love for each other and their devotion to each other. Our visible love for each other is the evidence and a sign of our invisible love for God. How is your love for people? So how do we compare to the Acts 2 church?
v42 – ‘They devoted themselves to fellowship.’
Are we devoted to each other?
v44 – ‘All the believers were together and had everything in common.’
Do we give of ourselves completely for others?
v45 – ‘They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.’
Are we sacrificially generous to each other?
v46 – ‘Every day they continued to meet together.’
Are we committed to each other every day?
v47 – ‘the Lord added to their number daily.’
Are we growing in number every day?
Dare I say it, we’re not quite there yet. Here are four simple actions that we can commit to that will see us align even closer to this inspiring early church model.
Our four actions:
Join a Small Group and/or a Sevens Accountability Group. Don’t hide away – connect. Be honest with others and truly know people.
Be intentional about creating shared experiences. Allow genuine fellowship to develop – it takes time but it will come if we are devoted. Arrive at church earlier to allow time to chat with others over coffee before the service. Look out for people you don’t know, ask how they are and follow-up with them in the week.
Be spontaneous! Invite people over for a last-minute Sunday lunch? Relationships are more important than a perfect meal! (If you are the anxious type, put an extra bit of food in the oven before you leave for church!)
Be relational beyond The Point. Don’t just be relational at The Point, be relational wherever you are. Engage in the communities you find yourselves in Monday to Saturday – workplace, neighbours, gym, pub. Get to know people – especially those who don’t know Jesus – how else will they meet Him?