THE LOOP

Multisite: Grappling with change

by | Jun 4, 2024

“What if change is central to the story of a loving but mission-focused community?”

[Trphena] Were you at the recent church meeting? 

[Talia] Which one?

[Trphena] You know, the one about the changes. The one where we heard about these new fangled, what were they called… deacons?

[Talia] Oh yes. I don’t really get it. Why do we need to change how things are done? I mean, the leaders have always managed to preach about Jesus and teach the church and care for those who are most vulnerable in the church. So why the change now?

[Trphena] My mum always said, “don’t fix what’s not broken”.

[Talia] Exactly.

The above is a made-up bit of dialog, but I suspect you’ve heard countless versions of this. Very few people actually like change, yet what if change is not only necessary but also part of God’s purposes? What if change is central to the story of a loving but mission-focused community?

Acts 6:1-7

6 In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2 So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3 Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

5 This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. 6 They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

My original, made-up bit of dialog was based upon these verses from Acts 6. I was trying to imagine a couple of friends, who in verse 2, along with at least 10-15 thousand  (yes, thousand!) other people were invited to this important church meeting where the apostles (who were kind of operating as elders)  were basically instigating change – and massive change at that! Let’s explore this a little more:

Verse 1: Something good and something bad

In verse 1 we read about something wonderfully good and, at the same time, something terribly bad happening in the church. On the one hand the number of disciples was increasing. Praise God! Don’t we long for that here at ECC? Yet, at the same time, some of the most vulnerable within the church community were being neglected (the widows from a Hellenistic Jewish background). We could say that the church was advancing, but at what cost? Mission was being accomplished, but was love and unity growing? 

How did they arrive at this place? We’re not totally sure whereabouts in the timeline, but somewhere between Acts 4 and Acts 6 the pressure of growth and an expanding mission (plus existing radical issues) led to this neglect. Put bluntly, Trphena’s mum was still possibly right:that we don’t need to fix things that aren’t broken. The problem was that something had broken in the church and if it wasn’t fixed then one of two things would happen (and these are interrelated): either the mission would stall, or the community would start to fracture. 

Verses 2-6: People playing in their God-given sweet spots

So in the face of gospel advance and growing need in the church community, what did the apostles (elders) do? They didn’t try to remain as generalists (doing a bit of everything), and they didn’t try to work harder. Instead They recognised the need for them to play in their sweet spot (prayer and the ministry of the word) and at the same time to release others to play in their sweet spot in caring for the widows in the church. 

Let’s just pause and consider these verses a little more because I think they are very instructive for us when talking about culture change in the life of the church. What must it have felt like on day one of this new set up? I think for some people it will have felt like a backward step. We used to see the apostles at the widow’s food distribution, but now we don’t. We used to have a quick chat with the apostles when the bags of flour were being filled, but now we don’t. I think for some people this could have felt like a backward step, yet – and this is really important – if the mission of God and the care of God’s people was going to continue, this change was essential and needed! Put really starkly, mission and care can, on occasions, look and feel different or even alien and yet be just as good (and maybe even better) than in the past. Why? Because size and circumstances do change how we look to build and structure. 

Verse 7: Navigating change leads to continued mission

Notice what verse 7 says. After navigating this change the end result was not more of the same, it was actually a rapid increase in the mission of God being accomplished among them. And yet at the same time, having a solid and secure care system in place for those who were vulnerable within the church community.

Multisite is a major Acts 6 moment for us as a church! We’re wanting to see the gospel continue to spread. We’re wanting to see Jesus made famous across an increasing number of communities. Yet, some Sundays our welcome team are struggling to find seats for people. Some Sundays we’re having to split up families so we can get them a seat. Something is starting to break for us. So we want to restructure how we operate so that mission can rapidly increase and God’s people can be effectively cared for in a growing context. This is what we are navigating through at the moment.

So what can you do to help us navigate through this change?

  1. Pray. This is not primarily an organisation jigsaw; this is a restructuring of the church to create more capacity for more mission and care. To do this well, we need God’s help!
  2. Try to not  look over your shoulder, but rather try and ask the question,’ are we creating a context where mission and care can expand to an increasing group of people?’ If the answer is yes, I think we are on the right track.
  3. Be patient. We’re not going to get everything right straight away. Please be patient with the elders and deacons and also with each other.
  4. Jump in. We really do need everyone to find their sweet spot over this coming season. If you’ve got some extra capacity and can serve, then please do get in touch and we will help you find your place. This could be on a Sunday, midweek, virtually or even hybrid (I’ve never used those terms in the context of church life before!).
  5. Pray some more.
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