A Successful Partnership with Thames Valley Police
I think it is a critical question that every church must ask and revisit at least once a year is, ‘Where are we going?’ or better, ‘Where does God want us to go?’ The answer is both the ministry’s mission and vision. The mission determines what the direction is; while the vision, in particular, concerns what that looks like.
Chesham Methodist is a Church with a Vision: a missionary Church on an upward path with participation at all age levels. The Youth and Junior churches are growing strongly and play an active role in our worship, through the Youth Band, and occasionally by leading services. An active toddler group, energetic uniformed organisations, and a very well-supported Drama Group are popular in the town, and act as channels encouraging greater direct participation by young people in our Church. Prayer meetings and two fellowship groups complement our Sunday services in developing and sustaining our faith. An outward looking approach helps to maintain Chesham’s strong links with other churches, both in our newly extended circuit and within the excellent Churches Together community in the town.
So when we look around our community in Chesham, and also around the UK which is marked by increased spiritual hunger and activity, why has the overall attendance in churches decreased? The number of people in weekly attendance in the Methodist Church has been declining for years – dramatically so. Meantime, our culture today is all about personalization, and so churches focus on personalized pathways of discipleship that meet individual needs, rather than one-size fits – all programmes for the masses. They shift the emphasis from quantity to quality, and from church growth to church health and maintenance to mission.
At Chesham Methodist Church, we have realised that a relationship with Jesus is not about escaping from the church or staying in a comfort zone or having plenty of church committees meetings. It is a call to engagement. To get out from the four walls of the church and to go into the community, getting to know, and building relationship with, unchurched people and caring for those who are hurting. The people God calls us to serve have all kinds of needs – physical, emotional, relational, and financial – but at rock bottom their greatest need is to be related to God.
With that in mind, a Youth Club set up in Chesham Methodist Church in partnership with the Thames Valley Police is attracting over one hundred youngsters from the town only three months after it was set up.
Over half the young people attending the Youth Club at Chesham Methodist Church are from non-Christian backgrounds, and quite a number are members of the town’s Muslim community. Buckinghamshire is often assumed, especially by those who do not live there, to be an area of affluence and privilege, yet the town of Chesham, like several other parts of the county, has many inhabitants who live in varying degrees of need and deprivation intensified by the nation’s current straitened financial circumstances. Rich or poor; everyone has spiritual, social and personal needs as well, and in common with the town’s other churches in ‘Churches Together for Chesham’, the Methodist church has tried to address these needs. In recent years, following a time when the church comprised of mainly older members and adherents whose children had grown up and moved away, there has been a partial regeneration. It still continues, with a number of young families coming to the town and a widening demographic profile in terms of age and ethnicity. Inspired leadership has led to an increase in the number and range of activities on Sundays and throughout the week, and to a vision of how the church can and must look beyond its walls.
I am pleased to say that the idea for a Youth Club germinated at the Alpha Course (including a Youth Alpha) held in spring 2008. We were challenged to serve the community, and Jason Hollier, one of our Youth Leaders, and the young people in our Church have responded to this vision to extend our outreach in this way. We have been absolutely delighted with the response.
The co-operation of the Thames Valley Police has been absolutely invaluable in getting the club off the ground. On the first night, two police officers spent two hours playing football in the car park of the Church. We have regular meetings with local officers at the Church – and they attend Youth Club meetings.
The Youth Club is one of a series of initiatives within the Church which is leading to its growth and renewal through Outreach. Monthly Sunday evening ‘Doughnut (Contemporary) Services’ are very popular with young people – and attract congregations of over 75 to worship through creative, inspiring, lively worship including music, prayers, witness, a powerful message and teaching that is biblical and relevant to life. This is a huge contrast to the handful that evening services at the church were attracting when they were discontinued several years ago. The Youth Church is very active during morning worship also, and meets on a Sunday evening once a month at the Church for a JAM (Jesus and Music) session. The Church has launched a major fund raising initiative to renew the premises with a new AV system and kitchen to support this growth.
As our quarterly newsletter MUSTARDSEED regularly reminds us, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17: 20 – 21). Our ‘action in the world and in the church’ includes working in partnership with the police and other groups beyond our immediate church family to support community development, and through such action we can see that we may be able to speak of God to those who hear little of Him. For us, this will indeed be a fresh ‘way of being church’.
Finally, I would like to say that loving God with our hearts, minds and hands always translates into loving our neighbours. It is using our time and talents in Christian service. This includes being involved with the needs of people, sharing a portion of our resources with these young people, and ministering both within and outside the church to demonstrate the unconditional love of Christ to others in the community which we are called to serve. Jesus said that his driving passion was to “seek out and to save the lost.” If this was Jesus’ driving passion, it must be our driving passion in our churches.
As a minister, here’s the conviction that I came to be seized by: Jesus Christ is the solution to the deepest longings of the human heart. He is the answer to the most serious problems that plague our society. When Jesus is Lord and the Holy Spirit enters the heart of the believer, we find the empty places filled, and the dark sides of our soul and our society transformed. My personal experience is that a relationship with Jesus Christ changes everything in our lives; it makes all of life more rewarding, joy-filled and hope-full.