When there is an invisible elephant in the room, one is from time to time bound to trip over a trunk – Karen J. Fowler.
If 2024 is going to be a season of change, then the elephant in the room that needs addressing is the whole subject of multisite (or ‘one church with two sites’ as it says on the signs outside of our buildings). Right? Certainly from conversations over the last few months I’ve heard countless ‘takes’ on what is currently happening and just as many ‘ideas’ on what should happen in the future. I suspect, as well, that there are a whole host of swirling emotions (some strong) that are attached to this ‘elephant in the room’.
So in preparation for a season of exploring the multisite (or one church, two sites) elephant, let me help us explore three key ideas, which hopefully will help us all engage with this subject in a more focused way.
DON’T MUDDLE YOUR CATEGORIES
It’s really important when thinking about the whole idea of multisite that we don’t muddle our categories, otherwise we will automatically reach the wrong conclusion. Let me explain what I mean. Multisite is only ever a methodology, it is not the mission. Or, let me put it this way: having one or two or three locations is never the goal. The mission is that an ever-growing number of people across South East Manchester will be treasuring Christ and then together proclaiming Him to the world around us. Church family, that’s the mission! How we look to achieve that is a methodological question and gives us lots and lots of flexibility as a church. Not convinced? Imagine for a moment being the Apostle Paul’s missionary partner. How must it have felt as the Apostle Paul looked to live out the following:
Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.
(1 Cor 9:19–22).
No that’s flexibility or one might even want to call it plasticine-like methodology! However, what’s important for us is that Paul has kept the mission (‘I might save some’) separate from the methodology (‘by all possible means’).
I think as a church we need to strongly grasp this reality otherwise we could end up confused and even upset because we’ve muddled the mission and the methodology. So let me say it again, what is our mission? Our mission is that an ever-growing number of people across South East Manchester will be treasuring Christ and then together proclaiming Him to the world around us.
BUILDINGS MUST ONLY EVER BE TOOLS FOR MISSION
I want to touch on something sensitive, but again this is important if we are going to keep the mission central. Buildings in NEW TESTAMENT thinking must only ever be seen as tools for mission. Whenever buildings take on more than that they will become a distraction to the mission that God has for us. We can fill buildings with memories of the past, which is not wrong, but they can cloud out the mission today. We can also fill buildings with security and status, which again clouds out the mission which God has called us to which is to treasure and proclaim Christ together! It’s really really hard, but buildings need to be seen as a flexible tool that can be shaped and reshaped and reshaped again for the ever-changing methodologies of our unchanging mission.
We are in a very privileged position to have two buildings. We must be grateful to God for these wonderful tools. We must also be thankful for those who have gone before us and sacrificially given (sometimes over and above) so that we can be in this position today. However, with this comes an added responsibility. These buildings are tools for mission in 2024 and not the 1970s or even 2015 (for the Mill).
UNITY MUST TRUMP MY PREFERENCES
Finally, let us not lose sight of the central and beautiful theme of unity in the NT. Jesus in his great high priestly prayer said ‘My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you’ (John 17:20). Forget, for a moment, the huge challenge this verse is to the unity pictured across the global church. Let’s just pause and allow these words to penetrate our own hearts and our church congregation. These verses call us to consider unity that is measured up against the unity seen in the Trinity! Secondly, consider Paul’s words to the church in Galatia: ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal 3:28). Being ‘one in Christ’ must supersede all other potential divisions (like I’m from The Heatons or I’m from Reddish). So friends, as we look to explore what’s next with regard to multisite, can I urge us to keep unity and oneness in Christ as front and centre. There will be plenty of time to explore, ask questions and discuss together, but let that never push to the edges Christ’s desire for a unified people who are living to treasure and proclaim Christ together.