We caught up with Andrew McNeil to hear how Birmingham Vineyard Church have been journeying out of COVID, and how God is leading them into a the early stages of a new church plant in South East Birmingham.
The COVID time was strange for everybody, and it got us thinking about Core Purpose and what we’re really about. It was taxing, but knew, coming out of it –
that it wasn’t just a ‘returning to normal’, but it was a ‘stepping forward’ because we are following Jesus – as he never just keeps the status quo… so what is he doing?
I think that focussed our prayer, and we realised that planting sites or churches is part of our story and part of our current calling as well. So we had a bunch of people who lived in the East of the city (Birmingham), towards Solihull.
Before COVID and during that time we got to connect with a couple that the Lord brought our way, who we felt were called by God to lead and pioneer something in that part of the world – so through conversations we explored what could that look like?
What steps could we take to see a bunch of people in a community really mobilised in a more focussed way?
We’ve had a history of trying to bless our community, and we’ve done that typically from our city centre site that’s resourced other parts of the church where we have got a presence.
But we made the decision to partner with another local church and actually house a ‘Grow Baby’ which is one of the ministries that we do in that local church, and it’s been a great partnership between two churches meeting at different times.
And that’s given us presence and connection with a whole bunch of families. So, the thing that was already established in our city centre, was multiplied into that community, and it’s given us a reason to be in the space, connecting with families beyond Sunday – so that’s definitely one of those points of connection and rapport with people. As well as some of the community fun days – which was a bridge to relationships with folks in the area. So, a combination of some incarnational presence – trying to be the ‘hands and feet’ of Jesus in the week and a space to gather on a Sunday are the two approaches – as well as trying to multiply some small-groups beneath that – and all of our small-groups are places where people who are on a journey to knowing Jesus can find places to connect and belong.
One of the things that we really realise is that people appreciated local community – where you live and the connections that are close to you, really matter –
that emerged – and we felt rather than just thinking ‘that was then’ and ‘this now’ and just back to ‘normal’, maybe there’s a moment to be thought about more deeply and that was part of our prayer journey and discernment.
The thing that we felt we wanted to do there was to give the couple who were called to lead, the chance to connect with team, and really have a sense of ‘core-team’ that felt called to that space and called to serve alongside them in that mission. So, the sort of period last year – from Summertime through to Christmas - was really building core-team and starting to do some pilot events in the community – just initial gathering events – fun-days in the community, just outward focussed things that connected with lots of people that weren’t yet following Jesus. And that gave a bit of traction to just reach people locally, with a sense of ‘we’re doing something in this part of the world’. It also gave that team (through prayer, through some activity) the opportunity to gel and coalesce and form, and as that took place
– there was this growing sense of conviction that this is not just an experiment, this is actually something that is on God’s heart, that clarified.
RHYTHM OF GATHERINGS
That then led to the decision that, in January this year, the way to be consistent in that space was to do an Alpha.
A Sunday focussed event that was ‘church-lite’ but that was Alpha every week –a focal point for the gatherings – so that the people who were community contacts could come to a space and connect.
I think the hope would be that at the end of the Alpha there will be a consistent presence on Sundays. It might be… 3 Sundays is like ‘normal church’; then one Sunday is more of an even-based thing, but there will be a consistent Sunday presence. I think the last term has given people a chance to say 1 – ‘This is really taking root’, 2 – ‘People are on their way to Jesus’ 3 – ‘We’ve connected with some new folks in the community’ and 4 –‘The team is strong – we want to do this thing together’.
And the interesting thing is that we’ve freed all those people up from core-teams in the other two services (that we have in our city centre sites, possibly even three services), and actually there’s been some gaps there, but it’s been helpful for the church, the other sites that were releasing folks, as it’s been a ‘step-up’ – C’mon guys we’ve got gaps, let’s step up, let’s expand teams – so it’s both positive growth in that community with a new site, but it’s also a knock on effect for the sponsoring sites – because
it sharpens your game and causes people to ask ‘So, what’s our core mission?’ and ‘Who are the teams’ and ‘How do we make sure we’ve got routes in for people here?’
For more information on the ‘Grow Baby’ ministry referred to see: https://www.birminghamvineyard.com/growbaby