Last week I had the privilege of sharing something of the story of Grace Church at Gospel Yorkshire's second annual conference. I'm not going to rehash it all here. But I did want to just share one key thing which I think has been hugely helpful at every step of our journey as a church so far and in thinking about the future. It's not original, it's based on an idea in the Redeemer church planting manual which I have always found stimulating and thought provoking.
However, as the saying goes no battle plan survives first contact. So as we launch we need to be ready to re-learn. How do we do that? By listening as we get to know others in the community and work alongside them. By continuing to ask questions and have open eyes to observe the community and our interactions with them. Are people wary and suspicious of a church? Are there other things that clash with when we meet? Are there needs that are now apparent that weren't when we first started meeting?
It's also important because areas change. The area where we meet now was only 680 houses 10 years ago. Now it's well over 1,000 and still growing and the nature of those houses has changed as a new estate of 4 and 5 bedroom houses is rapidly being built. It's prompting me to ask new questions as I relearn about the area as it grows. How are those moving in now different from established populations? How will they get on with those established in the area? How can church bridge the gaps? How are their preconceptions and misconceptions about church and the gospel the same or different to those already here? How ought we to adapt to reach them with the gospel whilst still reaching those we are already trying to reach?
The process is never ending. It is not just one that is good for planters to be aware of but for all pastors and elders. The social landscape around us is shifting all the time, the gospel does not change but barriers to it shift as populations do and so do opportunities. If we are not engaged in our communities, asking questions, listening to responses and praying about and for our communities we will grow increasingly distant from them and so will the gospel and the way we present it.