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Members of a Methodist church in Bristol have taken their evangelism online to tell friends and neighbours about the gospel and bless their community. The Freedom Church in Kingswood has set up Freedom Groups which meet weekly via Zoom. Church members in the groups are encouraged to invite neighbours to join. The church has also created a prayer line, Prayer4You, where people can contact the church for spiritual support.
‘We wanted to offer a bit more than a leaflet through the door offering help,’ explains associate pastor Revd Dr David Hull. ‘We wanted to offer the opportunity to engage in light touch way with questions of faith.’
The Freedom Groups and Prayer4You fit perfectly with HOPE Together’s encouragement for churches to do mission through words and action. David is a guest elder at the Freedom Church and has only been in post a short time. But his connection to HOPE goes back to its very beginnings. He chaired ‘Love Cornwall’ from 2006 which became Hope Champions for Cornwall when HOPE was launched in the years that followed.
The Freedom Groups are a simple idea but are proving a success and more are planned. As well as places to talk, pastors at the church record a short video message every week for groups to watch. Each introduces a faith issue which the group can then discuss.
‘It is an opportunity for people outside the church to begin to think about and talk about questions of faith in any way they want to,’ says David. ‘Sometimes they have lively conversations, sometimes they want to go away and think more deeply. It is a way in on their terms and it enables Christians to reach out to their neighbours and be the evangelists we are all called to be.’
The videos have also included interviews with church members facing specific issues because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
‘We had an NHS consultant talking about her work at this time and the sorts of things we can be praying for,’ says David. ‘And we had a local business leader talking about the pressures on local business and role faith plays in his life. We try to open up questions of faith in an interesting and relevant way.
It is appropriate that a Methodist church in Kingswood should adopt new ways to take the gospel outside the church walls – it was Kingswood where the founder of Methodism, Charles Wesley, first preached to a crowd in the open air.
Lockdown has also prompted The Freedom Church to re-think its community’s needs.
‘We were aware that one of things that people are searching for the most on Google at the moment is prayer and so we thought how can we offer what our community seems to need most and want most at this time,’ explains David. ‘And so we came up with the idea of the prayer line.’
Prayer4You is advertised in local newspapers and on social media. Callers are routed through to a pastor who will talk to them and pray for them. They are also invited to drop in on another initiative run by the church which has been forced online by Coronavirus.
The church ran a High Street drop-in centre, The Meeting Place, where people could come in for a coffee and chat. The lockdown meant a change of direction was needed urgently.
‘We wanted to continue to offer that service to the community because we know it is appreciated,’ says David. Sessions now take place on Zoom and the church advertises times for people to drop in electronically to chat.
David believes embracing technology has created natural opportunities for evangelism at the Freedom Church.
‘It’s about encouraging members of the congregation to do what they are doing already: staying in touch with family and friends but gently building another element in – introducing questions of faith.
‘It can also be a wonderful way of connecting with people on the fringes of church. More people have time now and are looking for ways to connect. Think about who those people are that you have some contact with and build on it.’
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