Let me start by giving you the headlines of our past nine year history.....
Prior to 2004 we were a regular Apostolic/Pentecostal/Charismatic church meeting in a school hall. We had the normal Sunday service of praise and worship, communion, offering, preaching and prayer.
But things weren't going too good at our church and us elders came to the conclusion that we had to change. We also felt we did not really know one another and that looking at the back of somebody's head for 90 minutes wasn't exactly close fellowship. In view of this, we decided to look for a coffee shop, or somewhere neutral where we could meet, take time out to get to really get to know one another and relax enough to enjoy our journey.
Peter, one of our elders walked into the Waikanae Chartered Club one day and asked if there was somewhere in their building that we could hire for church. The bar manager told Peter that they didn't open until 2.00 pm, but that she was willing to open the building for us at 9.00 am; that we could use the restaurant and we could have it for free! It didn't take us long to say "YES"! (Over $1,000,000 had just been spent on renovating the building). So began our journey into the (to us) unknown.
I have since heard of countless individuals and many groups that have taken similar steps, searching for a more real, relevant experience of participatory, organic and simple church. Some of you reading this may have started on this journey, or are about to begin. Well, here are some of the 'new' things we have learnt (or, I should say, are learning).
1) The importance of having informal fellowship before we start our discussion, singing, prayer, teaching or whatever we are lead by the Holy Spirit to do. So, as each person arrived we would go to the bar and order a coffee or whatever we wanted to drink. Then we would sit at the restaurant tables and drink, nibble and talk.
At first, our informal fellowship would last around 10 minutes. Then it began to grow, sometimes 20 minutes, 30 minutes or more as we became more intimately involved with one another, sometimes praying together one-on-one as we shared from our hearts. We eventually came to the conclusion that this was a vital part of our gathering. That 'church' started the moment the first two people arrived.
2) We then began to see that the fellowship; the relationships we previously had with each other were so superficial. We simply didn't have the time to genuinely get to know each other. Greeting each other with a handshake on arrival and a few words over a cuppa at the conclusion of church made real koinonia fellowship an impossibility. And it was almost impossible to fulfil any of the more than 50 New Testament "one another" commands. e.g. love, pray for, encourage, etc, etc one another.
3) We also realised that as a congregation we were like spectators watching the singers, prayers, preacher doing their thing. This is so foreign to the New Testament description of the church as a many membered "body". And it was nowhere near the instructions of 1 Cor. 14:26. In fact this verse is one of the few verses that give us in detail what we should do when we meet together. A true New Testament meeting involves everybody. We were all challenged to come together, not to watch like spectators at a football stadium, but to be participators in the 'game'. Thankfully even the quiet people in our church began to respond and it was amazing the revelation and insights that they shared. It has been gratifying also to see a natural development in leadership that is emerging.
4) Our old planning of services was largely trying - very sincerely - to do the work of the Holy Spirit. Now, as we pray, listen and respond we are discovering in a surprising (to us) manner the way the Holy Spirit directs our gatherings as each member of the body shares their individual and unique contribution. These contributions can be teaching, prophecy, song, testimony, prayer, praise, words of knowledge or other manifestations of the Holy Spirit.
5) With people's contributions we hear what God is saying so much clearer. One example of this was a discussion we had on Christian behaviour in the work place. We listened to the views of some of our members who are employers, teachers, a baker, a store man, counsellors and people from other work situations. This is a far more effective way of learning than listening to one person's lecture (read, sermon). But we haven't rejected preaching, knowing that this is one of God's ways of communicating the Gospel, especially to non believers. (A study on "preaching" in the New Testament may give you quite a surprise).
This small segment of our recent Waikanae Cafe Church history is by no means complete. We certainly haven't arrived - we journey on. Nor do we think we have a pattern for other churches. God isn't into cloning! He's into 'organic' growth for every unique group of his special people.
You are welcome to 'Forward' this, or any letter on this blog to interested folk.