How we revamped our Sunday service
Addlestone Baptist Church altered its traditional Sunday service to a more informal gathering based around food. It's had a profound effect on the life of the church
Ben Fortescue is the minister of Addlestone Baptist Church in Surrey. When he arrived nine years ago there were about 70 regular attendees on Sunday mornings, which saw a traditional offering of 30 minutes expository Bible teaching, hymns and prayers. “I’d described us as an average Baptist church,” Ben says.
Four years ago, Ben noticed people’s attendance was becoming more erratic. Numbers were falling. Attendance was more irregular. Visitors weren’t staying. If this continued, he realised, in five years time the church’s very existence could be threatened.
“There was just a sense we were stagnant,” says Ben. “We were in decline, and we needed to address it.”
A church meeting was held, followed by several prayer meetings. Out of this a vision began to emerge of doing services differently.
But it wasn’t just a different type of church – it was a culture change, explains Ben. “We needed to become much more relational. If we wanted to be a community, we had to do what a community does.”
One expression of this was sharing a meal together. Thoughts began to coalesce around an earlier, shorter service that began with breakfast, continued with a block of worship and featured a short, accessible 10-15 minute talk. All would take place around tables to allow for relationships to build. There would be no rota - this was a church family, and, like families, people were expected to muck in. If held from 9am, it would allow people the rest of the day for other activities, (such as sport).
As the idea was discussed, it was suggested to have this service once a month as a way of testing the waters. “However, then we felt if we wanted to bring a culture of change, we needed to be more intentional,” says Ben. “So it was a case of going all in, with both feet. This would be our new way of doing church, every Sunday.”
Breakfast Church began two years ago. At 9:00am members tuck into a selection of cereals, pastries, toast, coffee, tea and juice, all free provided by the church. The talk explores the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the Christian faith and how our faith impacts everyday life.
There is an opportunity to worship God together, which happens in a number of ways including singing together, praying individually and as a whole, and giving God the opportunity to communicate with the congregation.
Ben is pleased at how life at Addlestone has developed.
“This feels what church should be. Having breakfast is a great way to make new friends and get to know one another better. It’s family: our pastoral care is happening in a much more natural basis. It’s accessible to seekers.
“There has been an upturn in numbers. The congregation had dropped to the mid 40s, but numbers are now back up to what they were. When we do have visitors, they seem much more likely to stay. They get a good welcome, have good conversations.
“And having no rotas has contributed a sense of family, and feels less burdensome. We have an atmosphere where everyone joins in.”
With such a big change it was inevitable there would be some fall out. But while it wasn’t easy for some members to accept, most were on board.
There is still a longer Bible seminar for those who want it after Breakfast Church, which lasts around 30-40 minutes. Even with this, the Sunday service finishes around 11am, leaving plenty of time for all the other weekend activities people get up to.
Ben still believes the church needs to be more missional. Around two-thirds of visitors are staying, but Ben would like to reach more. He is reflecting on how the church can make everything more accessible to everyone. But it’s all about God’s leading.
“It was never our intention to go down this route. We just wanted to follow where God was leading. People have sometimes commented, “You’re brave for taking such risks!” but in a funny way, when God is leading it doesn’t feel particularly brave. It just feels like the right thing to do!"
“I’m very excited by what’s happened – but it’s been very much led by God.”
Images | Addlestone Baptist Church
This article appeared in the Summer 2019 edition of Baptists Together magazine