19 June, 2014 Paul Levy
One of the joys of ministering in London in the last 10 years has been to see the growth of lunchtime services. By that, I mean a Bible reading and a 25-minute exposition in the middle of the week. In 1961 a group of businessmen in the city of London asked Dick Lucas to come and give some talks in their lunchtime. It’s fair to say that that group of praying men have had an extraordinary effect on the church in London as a result. At its peak around 500 men used to gather on a Tuesday lunchtime at St Helen’s Bishopsgate and Dick would preach to them. Men would travel from all over the city to get there, some sharing a cab from the office.
When William Taylor took over as Rector in 1998 it quickly became apparent that times had changed. The lunch hour was now normally non-existent and people certainly couldn’t travel across London to come to St Helen’s. They then began to plant smaller gatherings of workers across the city, thus feeding Christians midweek and allowing opportunities for people to bring colleagues. Most of these groups are small but they do a remarkable work. There is no glitz and no glamour in lunchtime work. Lots of the city talks exclusively reach workers; we’re out in the suburbs so our clientele is slightly different. St Helen’s don’t hold the franchise rights to lunchtime services and so other groups,like us, have copied their template.
We’ve been running the Ealing Lunchtime Talks at our Town Hall for the past 4 years and it is still small – and may always be – but let me tell you why I think it’s one of the most encouraging ministries that I’ve been involved with.
- You can speak for a maximum of 22/23 minutes. That means there can’t be a lot of faffing about and stories; get into the text, get to the point, apply and then shut up. There needs to be an edge to the preaching; one big point and hammer it home.
- You’re helping people in the workplace. For those of us who think Christian ministry is terribly difficult, you should try seeking to live as a Christian in some of our people’s offices. It focusses your application.
- Hungry Christians: you’re often giving the Bible to folk who go to dodgy churches.
- Reaching Roman Catholics who, surprisingly, are often willing to come to a lunchtime service.
- Reaching black charismatic Christians who are not immediately put off by our music and the vibe of our churches.
- Question and Answer afterwards has provoked some fantastic exchanges.
- Seeing people bring their colleagues.
- Being an oasis in the middle of the week for Christians.
- Preaching to an unknown audience. People often come in from the street for the first time. The language needs to be accessible.
There are disappointments too.
- People often can’t come regularly.
- You don’t get enough time with people.
- Key people who are ‘bringers’ get another job in a different part of the city and so can’t keep coming.
- The more enthusiastic the newcomer, the less likely they are to come back.
- Financially, these ministries never break even and so either a church or an individual has to support them.
- People often live far from their work and so you don’t often see the people coming along on a Sunday; you are building someone else’s church! This is a good lesson to learn anyway.
- It’s not as simple as you might think. Reheated Sunday sermons don’t work at lunchtimes; what has often worked well on a Sunday falls terribly flat on a Tuesday. Don’t think you can just add this on to your week; it needs time for personal work and follow-up behind the scenes.
Lots of the groups across the city may be small but I am more and more convinced of the need for these lunchtime groups. When thinking of starting a lunchtime work someone gave me the advice that, if there are a lot of sandwich shops, there’s probably enough people for a lunchtime service. The other thing I would suggest is perseverance: a willingness to keep on keeping on with simple Word ministry. Be in it for the long haul.