Back to Church Sunday at Emmanuel, Chesham, a classic Evangelical church which has grown so much they now need two shifts on Sunday mornings. Emmanuel started out as a Victorian daughter church, which built a new contemporary worship area (with expansion pods on the sides) in the early 90’s. They went on to convert the old building into working space for groups and activities. John Shepherd, Vicar, is a quiet leader; biblically centred, high on reflective obedience rather than extravert high jinks... and the place is just heaving with people. It’s got one of the easiest worship groups to sing with — supportive rather than domineering. This church grows ordinands, and is amazingly engaged all around the community it serves.
With sustained organic growth in numbers over recent years Emmanuel has had to double up morning services. It was strange to lead exactly the same service with John times two, but with a different music group etc. It also surprised me how distinctive each service was, given the basic script was the same. I’m told that it is almost impossible for a congregation to grow in our culture, once the accommodation is 80% full; something has to be done, and doubling up is a relatively economical solution, in buildings terms.
Dividing into shifts is something one or two Bucks churches have had to do in recent years — It’s gone really well in Wendover. Earlier this year, working with another congregation in Bucks that was considering doubling up, not Emmanuel, I came to realise how complex this transition can be — it puts a big loading on the human and ministry resources of a congregation at one fell swoop.
A lot of prayer and discernment has gone into doubling up at Emmanuel. Everything flowed, and I would have had no idea they had only doubled shifts for the first time two weeks ago. It felt as though this had been the pattern for ages.
The challenging news, and I hate to say it, is that the 9·00 was about 75% full, and at 11·00 there wasn’t a spare seat in the house! therefore, if the 80% rule is true, now is the time to consider future needs! Emmanuel is growing a new ministry on one of the estates, which has just outgrown a house and may become a church plant...