In a time of ongoing change, we know it can be hard to discern the best way to continue your ministries and maximise the gifts of your church members. Lots of people who previously served on teams are no longer able to do so, and it’s important that we make sure they know they are still valued even when there aren’t obvious ways for them to serve.

That said, this season could also be a great time to reshape some of your projects and get creative with how you could use the talents of people in your church to reach out to your community. With this in mind, we spoke to Rachel Bourner who has been finding new ways to use her skills and to maintain the vital relationships built through outreach projects before lockdown.

Could you tell us a bit about who you are and how you’re finding lockdown?

I’m Rachel, I’m 24, and I live in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, with my wonderful husband of (nearly) 6 months, Jack. After delaying our wedding in spring last year, we squeezed in a tiny but perfect wedding in the summer, and since then, we’ve filled our time with walks in our local park, plenty of crime and action movies, and even succumbed to baking many a banana bread…! This last lockdown has been hard, but we’re so grateful for the technology to catch up with family and friends, and connect with our church family through virtual small groups and Sunday gatherings.


What’s your history with music and how have you grown a passion for musical worship?

Music has been a pillar in my life since primary school and what continued as a hobby throughout my teens became the subject of my undergraduate degree at Durham University. I realised early on that what excited me more than the technical aspect of music was how it made people feel, helping people reach a depth of expression which words alone can’t. I was really grateful to be mentored by a wonderful worship pastor at our church who encouraged me to grow as a worship leader, learning as I go, and I’ve been blessed to use my gifts to lead worship in a variety of settings over the years. 

Honestly, my passion simply comes from my own experience of singing to God, and meeting Him in that space. I would describe spending time with God in musical worship as one of the experiences that makes me feel most at peace in myself. That space, that connection, is what I imagine Augustine was getting at when he said that our heart is restless until it rests in [God].” And it’s what’s motivated me to use music as a way to help other people connect with God too.

How did you see God use your musical talent to reach your community before lockdown?

Before the pandemic, I’d set up a community choir based out of the café I work in part-time. Both the café and choir are part of a charity called Fresh Hope’, bringing Christian values to social enterprises and community projects. Our evening group included adults from many different walks of life and it was a joy to see them unite around their love of singing. Our afternoon group was designed to be inclusive for parents with young children, so it was really relaxed and the little ones could play and move around the room freely while we rehearsed. Whatever was needed — nappy-changing, snack breaks or breastfeeding — was welcome alongside whichever Beatles or ABBA tune we were learning!

The key emphasis of the choir is that singing is more than just the activity. Making beautiful music is a great target, but singing in a group is just as much about the community you create. Through lifting our voices together, we became more than a random collection of people from the local area; we became friends. And our rehearsals were the highlight of my week.

What have you done to adapt your outreach during lockdown?

Unfortunately, corporate singing has remained an off-limit activity due to the risk of transmission, but I’ve been determined to do whatever we can to stay in touch. In the first lockdown, we started Zoom rehearsals and while it’s by no means the same as being together in person, space in the week to catch up, giggle over bad wifi, and have a sing-along should not be underestimated. For those who couldn’t attend, I recorded rehearsal clips and put them on our social media to help people stay connected however they could.

By the second lockdown, it became clear that many mums from our child-friendly sessions struggled to join rehearsals with their kids around. So, during this most recent lockdown, I’ve been doing sing-along sessions specially for toddlers and babies, and some simple Zoom music lessons for primary-aged children. In both cases, it’s been a privilege to offer parents a breather during the day. And again, while singing nursery rhymes might be fun in itself, the real joy comes from the moments of connection: toddlers showing off their actions, parents dancing around the room with their babies, and a mum enjoying a cup of tea while their children learn about music with me.

Crucially, all of this has provided a much-needed way to maintain relationships with the community. While we’d love if people plugged into church in due course, we cannot undervalue these wonderful moments of friendship and belonging.

What advice would you give to church and ministry leaders who want to find new ways for people to use their gifts in this season?

1. Help the people in your congregation to adapt to the changing needs of your community. As people’s circumstances change, so will what they want to engage with, and we need to be prepared for that. We should be ready to use whatever we have in our hands to meet new needs and keep people engaged; in my case this meant changing the format for parents and meeting a new need amongst children no longer at school. 

2. Put the emphasis on connection and a sense of belonging. Whichever gifts your members have — music, art, gardening, cooking, etc — find a way to use them that connects people. That’s what we’re all craving, what speaks to people’s hearts, and it doesn’t have to be limited to technological capacity. It’s great if you can help people use Facebook or Zoom, but there are so many simple ways to build relationships. If you cook, how about dropping off a meal? If you’re an artist, how about a hand-drawn card through the door? Encourage your church members to get creative with how they connect with others!

3. Remind them that no act goes to waste, however small. You might host a virtual worship event or offer to drop meals off, and have only a couple of people take you up on it. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth it. Right now, the smallest things can speak volumes, and kindness and consistency won’t go unappreciated. People may never take you up on the offer, but the fact that you made it sends an important message that they’ll remember: they are not forgotten.

Rachel’s story is just one brilliant example of how so many Christians have stepped up to serve their community in new ways over the last few months. We hope it encourages you and your church to use whatever is in your hands to show God’s love to your community in this season.