I like to start each term by getting the whole church together so we can remind ourselves who we are and where we are going. It is an opportunity to set our gaze on the road ahead and make any course corrections that we need to. We pause and focus for a moment on our vision, which is why the evenings are called Vision Focus!

We gathered last Thursday at the Grace Centre for our first Vision Focus of 2019. Ask most people what they remember of the evening and they will tell you: “It was COLD!”  Er, yes, apologies for that. The numerous gas heaters that are at ceiling level throughout the main auditorium space were meant to be working by then. Unfortunately, it is taking longer than expected to get these commissioned. If it is any consolation, I had just got back from Mumbai, where it was 30°C!

Anyway, in case you were not able to be there, or you were there but had brain freeze, here is a summary of the main things I covered. Mostly I was answering the question:

What sort of church are we?

A Spirit-filled church

The church is like no other group or organisation on earth. We are the temple of the living God! When we gather, the Holy Spirit gathers with us. We have fantastic times of worship in Grace Church and we can expect for even more. Our prayer and worship evenings are important events in our diary. I also want us all to contend for our Sunday morning worship. We are not just singing songs. Rather we all have a part to play in lifting up the name of Jesus, and encountering Him as we worship.

A Disciple-making church

A key indicator of the health of a church is whether it is effectively making new followers of Jesus. Our preaching series this term is called Foundations. Hopefully, this will bless and equip the whole church, old and new Christians alike. We are also running a Short-term group (also called Foundations), which is specifically for people who are newer or less sure in their faith. This uses personal study, the Sunday preaching, and the group time each week to dig into the things that give us strong foundations as Christian believers. There is a study book, written by John Groves, which we are basing the series on. You can get one of these on a Sunday morning for the bargain price of £4.50!

A Multi-site church

I took the opportunity to emphasise again how God has called us to be a church in multiple locations. When we first became multi-site in 2013, it was important to understand why being separate sites was better for us than being one central congregation. Now, six years later, it is more necessary that we remind ourselves why being one church is better for us than being four independent churches. There are many reasons! Not least, the sharing of resources and economies of scale that it brings, the scope of the vision and the leadership gifts that God has given us, and the unique call that God has placed upon us to serve this region.

My encouragement to everyone in Grace Church is to love the place where God has put you, but also celebrate, enjoy and engage with everything that God has made us as one church together. Come to whole-church events, support our mission in every site and, most importantly, be praying into everything that Grace Church is doing across all our sites.

As a side note, video-based preaching continues to be a slightly unusual experience and will never be as good as having the same preach delivered in person. BUT... video-based preaching is something for us to celebrate and enjoy because (a) it means we take the Word of God seriously, and (b) it enables us to follow God’s call to be a multi-site church.

I took the photo above from the guest house I stayed in last month in Pokhara, Nepal. The peak on the left is over 8km high, one of the tallest in the Himalayas. It was lovely to spend time with our Commission churches from NE India and Nepal. But I also never got tired of the view!

A Fun church

Everything we do should be fun or we are not doing it right! Some things undoubtedly take effort, like setting up for Sunday meetings or preparing for Life Group, which is why having a clear vision of who we are and why we do things is so important. It helps us maintain a lightness of spirit and joy in serving. It is also important that we have events in the calendar which are simply for having fun.

Our men’s events and our women’s events always fulfil this aim of having fun together, as well as helping us to build friendships and equip one another. Westpoint is also really important. I am also keen that throughout this year we have other, whole church events that are unashamedly for the purpose of having fun and enjoying each other’s company. Come and talk to us if you would like to be involved in planning such an event. Otherwise, watch this space!

A Welcoming church

I always ask people on our Exploring Membership mornings how well they were welcomed when they first came to Grace Church and, on the whole, the feedback is overwhelmingly positive. We welcome good! That said, I believe there is more that we can do, and it is time to rethink how we help new people feel welcomed from the moment they drive through the gate to the moment they leave. We are going to spearhead that in our Chichester site this term, then I am sure there will be lessons learned that we can benefit from across all our sites.

Also, regarding our Chichester site, we are planning to change the start time of our Sunday meetings to 10 am. Having a start time an hour later than other sites has served us well in the past but is now less of a benefit. It makes more sense to align all our start times, and it seems most people are in favour of the earlier time. Sorry if that does not include you! We will give you plenty of notice of when this change will happen. It is important to get some of the teams in place that serve our set-up and welcome first.

A Giving church

We had an excellent Special Offering before Christmas. Nearly £60,000 was given, and this was at the end of an exceptional year of giving towards the purchase of the Grace Centre. Thank you so much for all your giving through 2018. What a year! Much of the money from the Special Offering will be required to balance our budget for the 2018/19 financial year. We have also fulfilled our commitment to model generous giving by giving 10% away to support Gateway Church in Tura, NE India with their building project.

As we approach the coming financial year, I continue to be in faith that God will provide sufficient financial resource for everything he has called us to do. I ask everyone to join me in a very specific prayer: that we would be able to meet all our financial commitments, not backing off from our mission in any way, whilst doing that entirely through our regular weekly/monthly giving. (I am also praying that we can ‘replace’ Chris Kimbangi with a fulltime staff appointment at eldership level within the next year or two.)

As it stands, we will need to plan for another Special Offering this year in order to meet our budgeted income. However, it would be much better, and I feel more honouring to God, for us to be living within our means month by month. In our latest GraceLife magazine (excellently produced yet again, by the way!) there is an article in which I encourage us all to consider taking the “tithing challenge”. This is where we commit to giving 10% of our income back to God for a limited period of, say, 6 or 12 months, and see what God can do in our lives and in our church with that kind of faith expressed through generous giving. I am praying for an increase in our monthly income of £6,000. That is a big target, although spread across 400 people (our average Sunday attendance) it is only £15 per person!

This does not mean that we are done with Special Offerings though! Such freewill giving moments are good: they stretch our faith and release God’s blessing. I want us to be free within God’s timing to give at specific moments for the development work on the Grace Centre. We do not need to rush, but God has led us on an incredible journey over the last 18 months and we are not done yet.

We have reached a significant milestone in taking possession of the Grace Centre. We have now relocated our offices and equipped one room as a church meeting venue for up to 30 people. But there is much still to be done before the Grace Centre is able to fulfil its potential to serve the community and provide a resource base for our church. We have appointed an architect to produce a final design concept and feasibility study for the Grace Centre. This is underway now – I can’t wait to see it! They will then take us forward to the completion of ‘Phase 1’, which hopefully will be completed before the August break. With finances that we have in hand, this initial phase will comprise of the bare minimum work that we need to do in order to meet in the building feasibly.

We hope that our Chichester site will be able to relocate to the Grace Centre from September at the latest. This will also mean that we can hold whole-church events there like Vision Focus, in slightly more comfort than we achieved last week!