Our Story

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Three years ago, a wonderful thing quietly happened in our lives. A community was formed, with Jesus at the centre, which taught us how powerful and beautiful church in a circle can be. It has impacted us deeply and is the reason for this blog. And it showed us there is a way forward for the church today, which doesn’t have to involve disbanding and starting over. It just requires a change to the seating. And that requires a change to our mindset.

We have been exploring ways to do church for a long time now. I grew up in the church; my husband, Kevin-Neil, grew up outside of it. He has the advantage of being able to see how strange our church services are to an outsider. His life radically changed direction over 20 years ago, when he came to know God, and he hasn’t looked back since. I’ve loved coming along for the ride as this passionate man seeks to know God and to share him with others. As we studied together at Bible College, and subsequently worked in church ministry, we became increasingly convinced that church is going to undergo a significant shift in our lifetime. It has only been in the past few years that some of the pieces of the jigsaw have come together, and we have seen a way forward for the church which excites and inspires us, and that we want to share with you.

We’ve been part of different types of church along the way. All of them wonderful in their own way. All of them used by God – in their own way. Big church, small church, home church, emerging church, para-church. Baptist, Anglican, Church of Christ, charismatic, anabaptist, non-denominational. We’ve sat in the front row, the back row, been outsiders, been part of the core group, run home church in our house, and spent six years in senior ministry. In the process, and through our reading and searching, we’ve learned a lot about church from a lot of perspectives. What we are sharing in these blog posts could apply to any and every denomination. It’s not about the theology of church – it’s about the format.

Three years ago, Kevin-Neil started a weekly church meeting called Fresh Start Community. They don’t meet on Sundays. They don’t meet in a church. They don’t sit in rows. They don’t listen to sermons. Heck, they don’t even sing. Many of them are at some stage in their recovery journey, and it’s a pretty rocky journey, let’s be honest. But something really beautiful is happening in this meeting. People are connected. People are engaged. People are real, and honest, and messy, and they feel loved and accepted by the community. People are learning, and teaching each other, and applying their learning in real life. People are empowered, and given a voice and a value. And God is working in people’s lives.

Kevin-Neil is a doer. I am a writer. Together, we are excited about what we are seeing and learning, and want to communicate it to God’s people, to inspire and encourage them. We are writing this blog because we’d like to open up a conversation about how church could be better. Church is not hitting the mark anymore, and we think we might know why. We want to share with you what we have learned from being a part of Fresh Start Community, that could have a profound impact on your church. And it starts with the seating arrangement.

 

Kathleen and Kevin-Neil Ward

 

30 thoughts on “Our Story

  1. Thanks for blogging about your journey and ideas on how the church can become active, instead of passive. My wife, Michelle and I as well as our 2 children, will be planting a church next year, and have been praying about and discussing many of the same ideas you have blogged about. It is hard to break away from some of the traditions, and religious baggage that can be carried into fresh environment and possibly stifle it from the start. Can you describe how the people you are meeting with are responding to the new way of approaching doing church? Are many of them “experienced” church goers looking for something new? Are they trying to find out who Jesus is or have they been believers for sometime? Do they take to the idea of Christianity as a way of life or is it a new idea for them? Sorry for all the questions, but it is hard to find like minded people for us right now. You seem to be on the same type of journey we are. Thanks. Feel free to email me personally if you would like.

    • Hi Brian, I’m excited for your vision and pray God blesses you and your family as you plant a church next year.

      We are involved in two very different church ministries right now. My husband leads a “church in a circle” on Tuesdays with recovering heroin addicts, homeless people, and active Jesus-followers from all walks of life. It’s awesome, and it’s the basis for our book and blog. These guys are so responsive to different ways of approaching church. Some of them come from a church background but love the feeling of being empowered and listened to for the first time. Some of them would never go anywhere near a church building.

      On Sundays, we take our four kids to our local church. It’s a lovely medium-sized, healthy church with a great pastor and a great mix of ages, full of highly intelligent and educated people. We’ve started discussing some of what we have learned with the pastor, and he’s excited, but very conscious of how difficult a major transition would be for some of the church people, especially the oldies. They’re pretty open to new ideas though, and I look forward to seeing some major shifts being slowly implemented over the next couple of years. It will be a learning experience for everyone, and I’m sure I will blog about it along the way. You can follow me on Twitter for updates, or subscribe to this blog. I’d love to hear about your experiences as you progress on this path as well.

      I’m finding that most people are really open to thinking about turning church into an active experience, if you communicate the reasons for it simply enough. Everyone “gets it” when I talk to them about it. It just makes sense, especially in this day and age, when we are all becoming more active and involved online, to be active and involved in our church meetings. It’s going to take a while for the established church to make the shift, which is why it’s easier to break out and start something new – but I look forward to seeing some significant changes over the next 5-10 years in the way all churches approach their meetings.

      Hope that answers some of your questions. I look forward to staying in touch,

      Kathleen

      • Dear Kathleen,
        Great coming across your article on FACILITATION RATHER THAN PREACHING – awesome. my wife and I pioneer an evangelical church desiring to be more effective. Can you prayerfully consider sending your FACILITATING Course material and the book by Neal on the “Future Church” and any other useful material on this awesome concept you shared.

        Look forward to receive from you. Thanks for investing in our lives. God’s favour be with you.

        in His grip,
        David
        60D Kallang Pudding Road
        #04-02 Inglostadt Centre
        SINGAPORE 349321

  2. Great blog guys, thanks so much for sharing your experience and your ideas. Its all very encouraging. Our church is going through major change with the departure of our founding pastor and I think it could be a great opportunity to really rethink church culture.

    An Aboriginal community here in Australia was asked to suggest more culturally relevant ways for them to do church and one of the elders asked “why do you all sit like you’re on a bus?”

    The circle is fundamental to community life and so this what what they adopted for their new church.

    I always loved that story and would love to get back to a more interactive church model.

    Keep it up!

  3. Thanks so much for your encouraging words, Chris. I love the story of the Aboriginal elder – “Why do you all sit like you’re on a bus?” Classic. Nice to chat to a fellow Aussie too!

    Let us know how the journey goes at your church. Change isn’t easy – but it can be exciting!

    – Kathleen & Kevin-Neil

  4. Hi,
    I’m from Brazil. Me and some friends were disappointed with traditional church. So, we created a kind of “Church in a Circle”, called “Church in Garage”.

    I found your blog e and liked very much.

    If you permit, can i translate and adapt your texts to portuguese with goal to help my friends and other brazilian people?

    Sorry my english. I can read and listen a lot of english words, but i have difficult to write and speak.

    Thank you! May God bless!

    • Hi Elton, we would be honoured if you translate these posts into Portugese. I love the sound of your “Church in a Garage”!

      Blessings in your ministry,

      – Kathleen

  5. Hi Kathleen:
    I’ve read your article; “Quit Preaching – Start Facilitating!” and I cannot agree with you more! I don’t agree with ridding of preaching altogether but I do feel it is necessary for the church as an organization to realize the changes that are taking place…from the membership and who they are, to the realities of the types of issues that people are faced with, today. t has been on my heart for some time now that the leaders of the churches need to understand that we do not need to be preached ‘at’. We have reached a point where many members are educated professionals…we study the Word…reading throughout the week…we feed on the word and know the truths therein. We love our pastors and our congregations…AND we want to know how to deal with ‘real’ issues that are day-to-day and to feel empowered to ‘live out’ our lives as Christians. Problem-solving, working through work-related issues as a Christian, marriage and relational issues, and so many more areas – like effective leadership within the church and volunteerism and how to manage these areas and grow them. We have resources within the church that are being underutilized and it really is to the detriment of the congregation. We could be working together…instead of everything falling on one or two pairs of shoulders. The approach to this is key – but, I believe, can be quite effective.
    Thank you for honestly approaching this.

    • Hi Denise, thank you for connecting with us. I don’t actually want to advocate the end of preaching, but I’m longing to see more creative teaching approaches used in churches, which engage intelligent adults and empower them. I love what you’ve said; “the leaders of the churches need to understand that we do not need to be preached ‘at’. We have reached a point where many members are educated professionals…we study the Word…reading throughout the week…we feed on the word and know the truths therein” – we’re adults, and ready to be treated as grown-ups, not passive children. We’re ready to contribute, and be stretched, and work together. It’s not going to be an easy process and I don’t even know what it will look like in the long-term, but I’m certain many churches and many of God’s people are ready to try something new – and I’d like to be part of opening up that conversation.

      Blessings,

      – Kathleen

  6. I have had many of your messages and been blessed by them. In fact I am requesting you for a more deeper friendship so that you can also be sharing with me your ministry experiences. Kathembo Enos – Uganda. E. Africa

    • Kathembo, thanks for connecting. Do you have a Facebook or Twitter account? You could follow us online, and send us messages whenever you like.

      I hope to hear from you again. Blessings in your ministry,

      – Kathleen

  7. Hi ! Greetings in HIS Mighty Name….I am from Sikkim State (North East to INDIA) close to China and Tibet. I read your article Preacher to Facilitator…it was awesome and I am encouraged to see this article….can you help me by sending your more teaching materials regarding how to become Facilitator from Preacher ? I am a lay leader in Youth Ministry and I am leading a Worship in my local church….I have a burden to take a role of Facilitator in my Young Catalytic Leaders in Youth Ministry. Thank you so much for being there. Eagerly looking forward.

  8. Just wanted to say “thank you” for the info you put out on “Simply the Story.” I read some of their stuff and decided I wanted to see if I could get to one of their conferences in the continental U.S. Then I realized that they cover their own transportation costs if the group hosting covers their meals and lodging so I decided to see if I could get them to come to Anchorage. Simply the Story is now scheduled to do an evangelism/storytelling workshop where I live in the Anchorage, Alaska, USA area. Although the fellowship I am a part of is a very small house church, I asked an Alaska Native fellowship if they’d like to host the workshop, and they said “yes.” So I’m excited to learn storytelling from STS and happy to be a part of bringing STS to Alaska Natives. Thanks again.

    • That’s so exciting Erin! I pray God blesses you all in this step in the journey. I feel really encouraged to hear this news.

      Blessings,

      – Kathleen 🙂

    • My husband uses STS each week at “Fresh Start Community”, a fellowship of people from all walks of life. He starts each session with an open time for people to share stories of what God is doing in their life; followed by a fun group learning activity; followed by Simply the Story; and finished off by sharing lunch together as a “love feast”.

      He has found STS to be amazingly effective for people with no church background or Bible knowledge to have as deep insights as those with theology degrees. People remember the stories many months later.

      We also attend a regular church on Sunday mornings, and the pastor has experimented with using STS in our church services.

  9. Hi Kathleen and Kevin, I stumbled upon your blog a couple of months ago and have browsed your posts. They are very thought provoking. I was wondering if you have ever read Watchman Nee’s Normal Christian Church Life?

    • Funny you should say that – Kevin-Neil was just thinking about reading some Watchman Nee. Would you recommend it? Apparently it had a huge impact on Chinese and Asian churches when it was released in 1938, but little to no impact on the Western church (according to Google Books).

      Thanks for connecting Sam,

      Blessings,

      – Kathleen & Kevin-Neil Ward

      • Sorry for not getting back sooner, Ive been swamped but also considering how to adress your response. I would very much recommend the book. Regarding the impact I would say yes many Christians in China were helped to see what the church was and how to practice living a church life. I would also add that while Christianity as a whole in the West was not greatly impacted there are some who meet and practice according to the fellowship that Nee gave long ago. He actually had a coworker who came to the US and continued the ministry that Nee was given. I would like to share more with you or even put you in contact with some who practice meeting in the way the book describes. Could we continue our conversation over email? I think you have mine from this blog post.

    • Hi Justin, if you would like to receive email updates of new posts, please put your details into the “Subscribe” button at the side of the home page.

      Blessings,

      – Kathleen

  10. So inspiring!
    I’m an over 50 woman; gone to church all my life; can relate to the variety of “church” written about. Currently involved with a traditional church AND a home church. Love the people at “traditional”, love the “circle church” dynamic at home church, which includes communion every time we’re together, building relationships, spurring each other on…sharing a meal…
    Really appreciated this article…thank you!

  11. Hi Kathleen,
    Thank you for sharing your experiences of empowering the congregation. In an early post you mentioned that you were active in a traditional church as well, and hoped to introduce the idea of church in a circle into this “established pew-sitting” group. Facing a similar situation I would ge highly interested on your experience on this side.
    Yours sincerely
    Matti Verkasalo
    Helsinki, Finland

    • Hi Matti,

      Our “Sunday church” continues to meet in rows, but the leadership have been gracious enough to read lots of our writings, and to allow us to try out various interactive elements from time to time in the main meeting. We have had the chance to run “church in a circle” on retreats, study groups and in kids’ ministry, and once every three months have a “Love Feast” (eating together) instead of a sermon. We also increasingly prioritise meeting in large groups for lunch after the Sunday service, as a way of circling up. Our sermons have become much shorter, and we spend more time in interactive sacraments such as communion.

      I can’t take responsibility for these shifts, but im glad to be part of this community. They wrestle with big theology and with social justice issues, and put their faith into action. It’s a pretty unique and unconventional bunch, and I’m glad we get to contribute to it.

      Blessings in your journey with your church!

      – Kathleen

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