08/08/2019

The church next door 
Hamilton Road Baptist Church

Have you ever thought about partnering with neighbouring churches to reach your community for Christ?

Hamilton Road Baptist church, in Bangor, Northern Ireland, did just that, with encouraging results. As you start to plan series for the new term, why not consider trying something similar?  


644 6goRJwiH lgMy name is Keith McIlwaine. I'm married to Ruth and have a son called George. I’m associate pastor at Hamilton Road Baptist where I've been on staff for 11 years now. Our church has 291 members, spread throughout the generations.

North Down is an interesting area to live. There are around 70 churches in Bangor, and yet we have the highest percentage of atheists in all of Ireland according to recent census.

I think everyone finds evangelism hard, I certainly do, but it’s particularly hard in an area that is so comfortable, for Christians and non-Christians.

We’ve been using Christianity Explored as part of our outreach for about 10 years, but this year we decided to do things a bit differently.
 

Joining forces


We made a few small changes, for example we moved the location from a local café to our church building, and decided to provide desserts rather than a full meal. But the biggest change for us this year was to run the course in collaboration with another local church.

In recent years we have built a healthy partnership with Hamilton Road Presbyterian Church (HRPC), particularly with evangelistic endeavours. We get on well with the ministers there who have a similar heart to reach the lost. We’ve run some training together over the years and last year we ran a joint week of events. 

We had planned a Christianity Explored course from January to March this year, and HRPC asked if they could join us. It seemed an obvious choice to pool our resources of people and finance together to proclaim Christ. Our church ran the course, and HRPC hosted their own tables with their own contacts, although there was some mixing.

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"The most encouraging course I've ever been involved in"


It was the most encouraging course I’ve ever been involved in. It seemed as though more people were inviting friends and family, which was great to hear about, even if they didn't come. It was also good to be able to advertise the course at a total of five carol services leading up to Christmas. 

We had more guests than ever, averaging 15 each night. From one couple who arranged a babysitter for seven Monday nights in a row, to another man who literally wandered in off the streets, there were so many ‘backstories’ which confirmed our convictions this was the right way to spend our time and energy.

This year more than ever, our great need for salvation struck me. Christianity Explored is so good at presenting this need in an honest and caring way, from week one to week seven.
 

Following up 


This year we followed up CE by inviting everyone to church on the Sunday following the course, with a lunch afterwards. Throughout the course our Pastor popped in to explain what happens at a church service and to share his testimony, and we also invited our Children’s Ministry Coordinator along to talk about our children's work to those who were thinking of bringing children along. It was great to see six children come to our service with parents who had been on the course, as well as three 'adult children' who had attended the course bringing their parents to the service.

We have a reunion and some men’s and women’s events scheduled to get people back together in the upcoming months.

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Some takeaways


We still have much to learn, but we have definitely benefited from seeing the course as part of our yearly programme, and for teaching series on evangelism to precede invitation time. We found having a smaller team quite helpful, so that the room was not dominated by Christians.

If we were doing it again, I think we would have one table for Christians who want to come and see the course for themselves before inviting someone, or for new Christians to aid their discipleship.

We found the concept of interviewing someone really helpful, and we might increase this from three people across the course to one person each night. There is real power in a testimony that points to Christ.

And, of course, partnering with our 'church next door' was certainly something we would do again. 

Christianity Explored at Hamilton Road Baptist Church will run again in January 2020.

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