The big thing that I would be learning about was Welcome, firstly by meeting a guy in Catford, who heads up the Welcome side of the King's Church, Catford, and then also at Christ Church London (CCL), the city center church led and started by David Stroud 5 years ago but already at about 400 or 500 people.
I also had a few hours with a couple who know they are called to northern Europe, and feel that this could mean planting into Helsinki. I wanted to help them with this and get to know them a little more. It was really good to have been able to start a relationship that will continue long after they have moved. When Helsinki does get planted, it will be something that as a local church in St Petersburg, we have real involvement in. So I loved the time with the family.
But my first trip, a one hour lunchtime chat, was to Catford, just 25 minutes up the road from Sidcup, where I met with Ben Welchman, a leader at the church and the man responsible for all the Welcome team.
These guys do this particularly well, which is why I had come. CCL even based all they do on what happens here. So I was again blessed to be in such a context of excellence!
Any visitor coming here on a Sunday, for example, is met warmly on the door. There is a specific welcome area within the church for these people, clearly visible with a wonderful display board by all in the hall. They have their own drinks served, and their own places to sit after the meeting (very comfortable leather sofa's, no less!). There is clearly the message "We want visitors and we want to treat them well!"
Having chatted with the visitor, being warm, not pressuring them but also getting to know where they are at & what has brought them to the church, their details are given and this person is then called, by the same person, within 48 hours - usually on the Monday. They are also sent a post card that just thanks them for coming, and encourages their future involvement.
Each visitor is given a very good welcome bag (I was given one by Ben, and apart from going through the three cards that were in there, as I write this I haven't actually studied the rest yet!)
But instead of over-loading the visitor with loads of information, they are selective. There are just three cards - one is a response card for their details (phone and email), the other is an invite to their Alpha course, and the third, maybe a surprise one, is a card that shows how they are get involved and serve within the church. Because, aside from the obvious leadership/worship/working with children roles, they allow anyone to serve, even if they aren't a 'proper' member of the church yet. They know serving will draw someone in.
But over all these, isn't the faceless gathering of names on a spreadsheet, but the warmth and love of truly serving those that come to visit, to making sure every person who has come to meet God really gets the chance too.
Within the CCL context, it was good again to see this model outworked within a meeting basis, and to see how they have adapted it to meet the needs of a city center location in a venue that is not theirs, which is probably the case for all new city center plants. Through their website, I had seen that they invite their visitors to a local coffee shop an hour before the meeting, to have a free drink (they do a free lunch once a month as well). Here I met the first of 5 teams that work within the welcome context for every meeting. Five teams! The others are on the main doors, on the doors to the hall, within the hall looking for those people on their own (they then sit with them) and another team doing the same in the balcony area. The team on the main door also give out the church's in house magazine. This is probably posted or otherwise to church members, so anyone with one of these on a Sunday, in a rather clever way, shows to those around that they are most likely a visitor! How clever.
And without the church planning ahead (I had turned up unannounced), I was warmly greeted in the coffee shop, then again by a guy on the door (also another Tim), who gave me my copy of the magazine (clever!) and the coffee shop team then led me to the hall, where we sat together.
Now if I was someone who had no church experience, this was a very warm and safe welcome - I could better experience what would follow because I was safe and with people I had got to know (albeit only an hour before!).
Then after, using the facilities that meeting in a central London theater offer, they had a separate bar area just for visitors, and where the church leaders make an effect to go straight out to and chat to the visitors - again, having just spoken from the stage to the whole church, they show by their actions that its the visitors they want to meet first, over conversations with friends (which can happen anytime outside of the Sunday meeting).
As bonuses to my time in London, it was great to be able to meet the guy heading up the Mobilise Team coming to St Petersburg on the 2nd April - I really hope I can get out in time to help with and be part of the week. Only God knows about that one though!
Then it was back to Oxford, a late Valentines Day arrival to my very pregnant wife, and poorly little girl, who had come down with a sickness bug that morning.
I'm now largely based in Oxford, and will write a separate part, in time, about what I've learnt from this vibrant, student heavy church here. But not yet.
Thanks for reading - I really hope you have found this interesting - I want to serve those planting into the cities - whether you are going as the leader or just as a member of the team, whether its a capital city or university city, a big or small city, I would love to be an encouragement and source of information to you. If there is something I haven't covered but you want to ask, do get in touch.
I am working on pulling through my notes and starting a blog series that'll be a rough city church planters 'handbook' style reference - so watch this space!