28 April 2016
Adam Dyer leads Yeovil Community Church and is passionate about community transformation and the Church working in partnership to see the UK transformed
How did the church come to be how it is?
I came to the church 11 years ago to take on the role of youth worker, and the church at that time was active in the community. The foodbank has run for over 25 years now, and the parent and toddler group for more than 30. So there's always been a community focus that's been at the root of the church.
I brought a desire that Church needs to impact the whole community, that this needs to be good news for everybody, not just the few. So I went out engaging with the schools and then developed a gap year programme quite quickly and took people with me, going out to skate parks and football courts and into schools and communities. Then seven or eight years ago they asked if I'd take on leading the church.
We wanted to see more of that [community engagement] and we've constantly sought to be good news for everyone: everyone can join in, everyone can be involved. I like to think that if we were to say one day that we're packing up and leaving, that our entire community would see that as a loss, from the council, the police, the schools, and all the agencies. We got ourselves involved in community safety panels, we sat around tables and brought a voice.
And at the same time we talked about what our values were and why we were here in this community. We were seeking holistic restoration for our entire community, We are part of a bigger story and so it wasn't just about individual transformation, but about whole community transformation, tackling not just personal sin but systemic sin, and trying to bring about real tangible change in our community. And so we invite people to be transformed with us.
So my role as church leader isn't to fill the church, but to empty the church – we run these projects not to get people in to the church but to get the church into the community. That idea that our neighbour is right there, that there's brokenness right there, that we can share this journey with people. Jesus came bringing the kingdom one act of love at a time, and we as a Church are invited into this movement.
Was there any process that you as a church family needed to go on to arrive where you are now as a church?
We had a very good starting base because there was already excitement around community transformation and impacting our community and being this voice. There are things that can become obstacles and we can get hung up on asking if impacting someone's life only really counts if they end up saying a prayer at the end of it or coming to church at the end of it. We had to remove some of those barriers.
We believe we are inviting people into a bigger story, a story where God is in the business of restoring all things. Bringing all things into line with him, and we are invited to join in with God in this story and so it's not enough to just show up on a Sunday and I think we challenged that as a key value. Showing up on a Sunday is great, but Sunday isn't the point. We get to join in.
How do you respond to the question around salvation, that it's more than just working in the community?
This is something we're continually working through and working out, and it's very difficult to give a whole answer to it. I would say salvation is about so much more than whether I go to heaven or hell when I die; we begin a journey of identity, a journey of discovery of who God really is and that comes out not just through theology, but through relationship.
The more I know God, the more I know who He is and that changes me, it reveals to me increasingly who God created me to be, and aligns me with the identity that God put in me from creation. It aligns me with who God intended me to be which in turn enables me to see the world differently, to see you differently, because I now see them not as the other, or someone who I'm in competition with, who's a threat, I see them as someone who is also an image-bearer of God.
Do you have anything that you do as a church that explicitly seeks to bring the people that you're connecting with in the community towards faith?
We do run Alpha courses and we also recognize the need to create more access points for people to explore spirituality and God. But we also try to find new and creative ways to tell our story. But mostly it is about inviting people to join in, to be changed with us. which isn't necessarily about getting them into the church on a Sunday, because for some people that just doesn't work, but inviting them into a relationship with God and also into relationship with us. We invite them into this journey of transformation and each of us has opportunities to forgive and be forgiven every day. To be generous, to love, serve, to let go of stuff and to allow God more room, because when we talk about aligning ourselves with God, it reveals a fuller understanding of who we were created to be.
The one thing we don't do is say: "Now you're in our foodbank, you need to hear our theology." We don't do that for a very specific reason: when we do that, it puts conditions on our act of love. We don't feed people so we can give them the gospel, we feed them because they're hungry and it's an unconditional act of love. When we make our unconditional act of love conditional, we disempower it. Our act of love must always be unconditional.
The Alliance looks to promote unity between churches – can you shed light on the things that you do with other churches in the community?
Unity is so important. We do work very collaboratively with all the other churches, pretty much every project, whether we run it or another church runs it. We set up the families project with eight or nine different churches, street pastors is across the churches, another church set up CAP and we support that financially, but also people from our church volunteer in that. The person there who's just been appointed to take on and develop that programme is from our church – he was employed by us and we've released him to be employed by them to run that project.
So there's great collaboration when it comes to project and people across the churches – if people are doing something it's promoted across the other churches. There's good relationship between the church leaders, we do a lot of, breakfasts together, talking, listening, supporting, praying for one another, worship teams practice together, and youth leaders collaborate.
Around Yeovil there are three or four new estates and developments being built and the churches very early on took a very collaborative approach. A church leader from one of the Anglican churches became the voice on the meetings with the developer, planners and council. We tried to encourage people across the churches to buy houses on the different estates so they can become their own community and their own church. We've been talking more recently about how we can develop this better – there are at least three estates currently being built, so we were asked as a church if we would take the lead on one of those estates, which we said we were happy to explore.
So what impact are you having on the community?
More than 80 per cent of people in the church are actively involved in volunteering – there's family mentors and youth mentors, there's helping out in the foodbank, the job club, the coffee shop, the elder visiting schemes and the over-50s groups, and creative arts groups.
There's a real profound engagement in the church of serving, of volunteering – "what do I bring? Where am I involved?" and most of our projects engage people not just from our own church, but from across the churches.
If we look at a narrative of scripture, it says God is restoring and redeeming all things, moving towards a time when heaven and earth are reunited. This means wherever I can bring restoration, wherever I can align something more in line with who Christ is and the ultimate Kingdom that God is bringing, then I'm nudging my community towards Kingdom, and I'm nudging that life towards Kingdom.
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