That was the gist of the advice offered to the Christ Church Southampton elders from more than one source when they floated the idea of getting something going on a Sunday evening!
Despite that, as the ‘storm of the century’ gathered pace outside in October, with a local hotel in Portswood Southampton as its home, ‘The Six O’Clock’ was born.
A lot of work was needed to make it happen. There were all the logistical concerns of making a resource-hungry event happen in a rented venue every week. There was the operation of getting the word out and exciting the church and calling them to pray about the new meeting. There was the programming to address – there were already three church ministries going on during Sunday evenings. There was equipment to buy and store. The leaders also had to think through how to maintain the sense of a single church community when some of the church family would rarely see others. Also, another experienced minister needed to be recruited and supported.
The reason why
So why did Christ Church do it? Their Pastor, Orlando Saer, gave four reasons.
First, for gospel opportunity. More than anything else, the church was excited at the prospect of seeing another context where the Bible would be opened and the gospel would be preached in Southampton. ‘We felt it was a worthy prize to pursue’, said Orlando. ‘There are close to a quarter of a million people to reach here in Southampton. We realised we weren’t going to get very far if we weren’t prepared to get new congregations going.’
Second, for practical necessity. The morning service had grown from a couple of dozen to a couple of hundred or more since 2011. The school hall where the Sunday morning congregation meets had started to run out of space. ‘One option would be just to plant a new independent church’, said Orlando. ‘That’s certainly on the cards during the next few years, but we’re not there yet. For now, we just needed a bit of space to keep growing the core membership of the church. We felt a second service would give us that.’
Third, for evangelistic purposes. With a median age of around 21, the church is remarkably young. Regulars were certainly keen enough to get out of bed for a morning service. But many of their non-Christian friends have proved more resistant! ‘The Sunday service plays a key part in our church evangelism’, said Steve Wicks, the church’s student pastor. ‘So we try and remove any unnecessary barriers for unbelievers to hear the gospel in that context. And obviously it can be pretty hard to encourage your friends along when they’d not exactly got to bed early the evening before!’
Fourth, for spiritual nutrition. A number of the church are distracted during the morning meeting (eg tech team, musicians, etc.). Others, like the children’s workers, are absent from the room. Others still are away altogether (working shifts, taking a weekend away and so on). The leadership were keen to provide an alternative context to nourish and encourage those who miss out on it in the morning. ‘Yes, those of us running Treasure Seekers and Rooted could listen to the sermon we’ve missed online’, said children’s worker Amanda Lansdowne. ‘But it’s not the same as actually meeting together with your brothers and sisters and being part of all the prayer and praise and encouraging each other that goes on when you do’.
It’s early days: at the time of going to print, ‘The Six O’Clock’ had only met six times. But each week, between 70 and 110 people have come out and had the opportunity to hear the Bible and respond to God in prayer and praise. Reports are that there are new people every week. Also, the numbers in the morning have barely reduced.
The strong start has posed a challenge in itself. The venue is insured for only 120, so the church leadership are already having to think and pray through what’s next. ‘It’s a nice problem to have’, said Orlando. ‘We’re just very grateful to God: there’s a real sense around the church that God is doing something quite extraordinary all around us.’
‘The Six O’Clock’ is the Sunday evening congregation of Christ Church Southampton and is held at Highfield House Hotel, Southampton.