Imagine an ordinary Sunday morning, and people across the country are getting ready to head out to church. Imagine that you could peer into people’s houses and tag along with them to church.

There’s the mum of small children. She remembers a time when Sunday mornings were taken up by lazy breakfasts in bed, a leisurely shower and time to try on several different outfits and experiment with new hairstyles. These days she most often finds herself at the backend of the priority list - small people who get up too early need to be fed and dressed (basic mothering skills) as well as cuddled, read to, assisted with some sort of construction project, mediated between and cleaned up after (advanced mothering skills). By the time the whole herd arrives at church, mum is pleased if there is no food stuck to any of her clothes and she’s wearing matching shoes.

What will she find in church?

What a relief when the service leader welcomes the congregation with a poem outlining how we are all different, and at different stages of life, yet welcomed to God as we are. Mum looks proudly at her brood during the poem, displaying a range of avant-garde fashion statements and uncombed hair, “Yes” she thinks, “We’re OK. Life is messy, but right now, we are a welcomed part of this church.”  When the service moves on to sung worship, mum joins with the rest of the “messy, but OK” people of the church who worships a God of extravagant welcome and grace.

Or, there’s the single man in his 50s. He has recently got chatting to a new work colleague at the accountants office where he has been employed for 20 years. This work colleague had not seemed as uncomfortable as other people when the man brought up his existential questions over lunch one day, and as their conversations continued it became clear that the new colleague had a Christian faith and attended church. So here he is, our single man in his 50s, putting on a tie in preparation for going to church for the first time since school. He is not sure how he has agreed to this, but there was the promise of a roast dinner afterwards, and something in the new colleague’s attitude to life which had sparked an interest.

What will he find in church?

The man was surprised at the range of people present at church - he had envisaged a sea of firm, grey perms - but the most memorable moment, the one that brought him back to church the week after, and the week after that, involved ordinary office post-it notes. When the service leader announced that there was an opportunity to write something that one was thankful for on a post-it note and pass it to the front, the man assumed that these “thank-yous” would concern what he thought of as spiritual things, using words that he wasn’t sure what they meant. And yet, when they were read out, in the midst of a smattering of words like “salvation”, “grace” and “gospel”, there were mentions of runaway cats being returned, fine weather for gardening, and even good work appraisals and a job-seeker finding employment. The man was surprised to find himself joining in with the simple “thank-you” song, which was weaving in and out of the post-it notes messages.

Or, there’s the family that recently immigrated from Ghana. Due to the husband’s new job, they find themselves in a town far away from the distant relatives that are already in the country. The first few weeks of their new life have been tough; the cold seems to seep through however many layers of clothes they wrap themselves in, the children are finding it hard to settle into school and understand the playground politics, and the wife has still not had a single conversation with any of their neighbours. But as is their habit, on Sunday morning they get themselves ready and head for their nearest church.

What will they find in church?

Our Ghanaian family has arrived early, and with excitement, to church this morning. Last week was their first visit to the church and in the midst of some unknown-and-difficult songs, and unknown-but-easy-to-pick-up songs, there was a simple chorus which the family knew from Ghana. Of course, the person leading the singing sung it it a peculiar and slightly awkward way, but nevertheless, the family joined in with gusto. Afterwards, the worship leader had taken time to chat with the family, welcome them to the church and get to know them a bit. Today, the family is excited, because the eldest daughter, who has the keenest musical interest, has been asked to share a song from their homeland during the service. It is a song about how God is our rock through the toughest of times, and the family from Ghana sings with their hearts overflowing, feeling able to bring all their difficulties to the God who cares. The worship leader and the minister of the church expresses their thankfulness afterwards, commenting that this was a helpful song for everyone in the church, and it was added to the worship team’s core repertoire of songs, and the daughter was offered a place in one of the bands.

Or, there’s the elderly lady, sitting there in the hallway of her bungalow, waiting for her lift. She has been waiting for five minutes already, and her lift is not likely to turn up for another few minutes, but she hates the idea of being late and causing problems to the kind family that takes her to church each Sunday. The waiting time gives the lady some time to reflect. She so wishes that her dear husband was still alive, they would chatting right now, getting ready to drive to church together, perhaps extra early if her darling husband had been due to lead a service in his role as an elder. She misses him. But she is grateful for the money that they managed to save up, which now means a comfortable old age. She is especially grateful for the home carer who comes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Charito - a small filipino women who is kindness personified. Where other carers rush in and out, with hardly a smile or the time to boil the kettle, Charito always makes time for a chat over tea and biscuits. Our elderly lady has recently discovered how little her carer knows about Jesus, and she is pleased to get a chance to talk to her about him. Finally, there’s a knock on the door and the lady’s lift has arrived.

What will she find in church?

Church has of course changed many times during our elderly lady’s life, but she has taken it in her stride. She might not fully be able to sing along to some of the newer songs, but she delights in seeing the young people engaged. She also knows that “new” does not necessarily mean “bad”; their new, young minister had brought in some new ideas which the lady finds helpful and meaningful. Her favourite is their new way of praying together, what they used to call “the intercessions”; a couple of clipboards are passed around before the service, on which the congregation can note down their items for prayer. Our elderly lady already knows what to write. In intricate cursive lettering, she writes: “Pray for those who are bereaved and lonely” and “Pray for Charito that she will come to know Jesus.” Later in the service, as the minister leads the congregation in prayer, the elderly lady feels carried when her prayer points are read out, and she takes pleasure in carrying others too.

Or, there’s the twenty-something, recently moved back in with mum and dad. Graduation didn’t lead to the dream job, and while studying for the MA which might do, the night-shifts at the Wetherspoon’s won’t pay the rent for anything better than the childhood bedroom. So, there’s the awkward return to the family home and to the local church. Having grown spiritually and theologically over the student years, our twenty-something isn’t going to church like the carefree teenager he once was. Where once he was happy to sing, clap and be happy, he now carries a burden while walking down that familiar street to church: How about workers’ rights in Bangladesh? Most of the church goers will surely be wearing something made in a sweatshop - how is that Christian? How about global warming? Does Jesus care about that at all? Or is “Jesus is coming back soon, let’s use plastic plates” as his youth worker once told him, the Christian response to environmental disasters?

What will he find in church?

Although there’s a certain amount of familiarity for our twenty-something when he arrives in church, he is surprised at some of the changes present. There are several songs that he has not heard before which calls for God’s mercy and our own action, for situations of poverty and brokenness. There’s also a time of confession which specifically deals with our lack of response to issues such as global warming and stewardship of creation. Our twenty-something leaves, knowing that he has had an authentic encounter with the living God.


How about you? Did you feel a sense of relief when you read about how these dear, beloved people got to meet with God in a meaningful way in their local church? I’m sure you’d be able to imagine alternative scenarios, perhaps more common ones, where people are not welcomed just as they are or engaged with in this way. Perhaps you could play a part in changing the culture of the church where you live?

When you come to plan the service this Sunday, or write the sermon or choose the songs - will you keep these people in mind? Will you remember that they’ve served Jesus for six days before they come to church, days that they can’t just forget as they walk through the doors of the building? Will you, in the choices you make - however small they may be - create a culture of whole-life worship in your church?

We hope you will. We hope you will join our movement of change. 


Find out more:

We especially invite you to join us on the 23rd of June, 2018, for a day on Whole Life Worship in central London, details and to book in here.

For other training events, click here.

To buy the Whole Life Worship book or Journey Pack, click the links.