When I first started my Zoom meeting with Josh Duncan, Pastor of Blacktown Baptist Church (BBC), I thought he was just sitting outside to make the most of a beautiful, sunny day. But at some point in our chat, he explained: “I’ve intentionally sat outside, in front of this passionfruit vine.”
“I planted this two years ago in the church carpark – A, because I love passionfruit – but also because I wanted a visual reminder of who we are, and how what we’re about is going to be made possible. The idea is that we are not fruitful because we come up with grand ideas…We thrive because we stay connected to God, as the vine,” Josh says. Referring to the Covid season, he adds: “Seasons like this have always humbled me and drawn me back to the idea that all God is asking us to do is remain faithful to him, and we will bear much fruit.”
And Blacktown Baptist Church has seen surprising fruit over the Covid season. Josh had been trying to get small groups going ever since becoming Pastor 4.5 years ago, with limited success. But now, the church has five small groups that do a bible study and fellowship over morning tea – with half the church attending each Sunday in people’s homes – and Covid has been the catalyst to make this happen. “Small groups are an essential step for a church like Blacktown to breakthrough growth barriers,” says Jamie Freeman excitedly (our Gen1K Mission Team Leader).
“Our church had been very Sunday-centric, in danger of the ‘Sunday Club’, where church is where you rock up and that’s it, as opposed to doing life together regardless of where you meet. But Covid has given us a wake up call of what church is, why we meet, how we do that when we can’t come to a physical building…and a reminder that the ‘church’ is the people, not the building,” Josh explains. “Covid has revealed that we are relational, so people have been challenged to consider what they’re willing to do in order to achieve and maintain those relationships. We’ve encouraged the church to connect outside of those Sunday building walls.”
“Covid has given us a wake up call of what church is, why we meet, how we do that when we can’t come to a physical building…and a reminder that the ‘church’ is the people, not the building”
Pre-Covid, coming to church was difficult for some. But with an opportunity to slow down, that has now changed. Josh says, “There are relationships now that may never have been formed on a normal Sunday morning. This season has enabled that to happen.” With less busyness, people have also been able to tap into their gifts, which they previously may have just allowed others to do. “Covid has shown that they don’t have any more excuses, and they have to step up,” Josh says. “People who don’t normally lead have been stepping up, and even equipping others in their group to also have a go.”
Of course, the danger now is that these groups are just recreating little ‘Sunday Clubs’. But, Josh and the leadership team have a plan to help people think missionally. “The first small group series we did was called ‘One Another’, looking at how we do life with one another,” Josh says. “Now that we’ve understood the heart of doing fellowship together, the next step is to consider how we can engage missionally. So this week, we’ll be starting the ‘Jesus the Game Changer 2’ series. We’re not called to just sit around drinking coffee together…we have been given a mission. A mission that Covid will never ever restrict or stop. So now we need to think about how we can do that!”
PRAY // Thank God for using faithful prayer and patience to bring a season of fruitfulness to Blacktown Baptist Church. Pray that these small groups wouldn’t just be a ‘Covid phase’, but would go on beyond Covid – for the life and health of the church. Pray that in these groups over time we would see multiplication, with more and more people stepping up to use their spiritual gifts to serve the church.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit” – John 15:5