It’s not just cricket
Ten years of building church at an International Cricket Stadium
May 2017 marks the end of ten years of building Oasis church at Edgbaston Stadium. This is an adventure that I am incredibly grateful for and have been profoundly changed by.
Before moving to our next venue, I want to reflect on ten ways I believe we have been changed by being at the stadium. I am full of gratitude to God — the great orchestrator of it all — and to the wonderful people who make up our church community.
The move to Edgbaston was in response to a provocation from God to be in a place of visibility, a place that would cause us to seem bigger than we truly are. This has been our story.
We have become more visible both physically (more people have seen us) and in terms of our reputation (more people have heard of us now!) Being visible in a venue where other larger events are occurring, allowed many people who were simply walking past our Sunday gathering to have a quick look in. We learnt how to be welcoming to all, understanding that such a moment of connection might be someone’s first or only encounter with church.
I was humbled by the enthusiasm with which our regular outdoor baptisms of believers were greeted by the staff at Edgbaston. These were the first Oasis events to be featured on Edgbaston’s homepage, as their management team proudly announced: “Baptisms at the stadium!” God was showing us that we didn’t have to do something extraordinary as He was drawing people to His Kingdom.
The venue we meet in as a church community does not define us; we define it. We have increasingly defined Edgbaston Stadium, seeing it not simply as a meeting place but as our HOME. A home is a place to feel safe, welcomed, accepted, a place that’s fun, messy, real and where there is always room for everyone. We have learnt to create this sense of home, whether in the permanent rooms we use, or in temporary locations. We have expressed our sense of home through conferences and through events such as the Edgbaston Family Fun Days and Great Birmingham Runs. Edgbaston Stadium also picked up on this phrase, talking of being onsite as ‘home’.
3. Stories not numbers
Somewhere along the journey, God did something in us and made us a church that cares more about stories of life change that numbers of people. It wasn’t about justifying not growing numerically, or not wanting this growth. Rather, what we celebrate isn’t the numbers of bodies in the room but the heartfelt stories that are shared: stories of reality, of pain, of joy, of finding God in the storms and the stillness of life.
4. Sending is a sign of fruitfulness
This one has taken me time to get use to as it can be painful and seem at odds with what would seem logical. However it is rooted in John 15: 2 where Jesus explains “…every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” I/we have learnt that God often prunes what is fruitful to make us more fruitful. We have found that this has been specifically in respect to people. Therefore over the ten years at the stadium we have been involved in sending over 400 people to other areas of Birmingham, the nation and the nations. We have discovered that though it is painful to say goodbye it causes us to bear fruit in places we would never have dreamed of.
5. Gathered and scattered
Being in a venue that is internationally known causes us to be reminded that who we are as a church isn’t disconnected from the rest of the world but intricately involved. We are here to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’…to cause others to taste and see that God is good. This has shaped how we see ourselves as church both when we are gathered together as the church community and scattered into the world around us. Both are key parts of what it means to be the church: who we are together and who we are in the unique environments in which we have been placed.
Edgbaston has taught us two significant lessons about influence within the world around us. First, as Jesus taught, influence starts small, like a mustard seed or yeast, but it will always grow exponentially. Small actions we have taken have over time brought favour and change within the Stadium. Second, how we see ourselves matters, that as believers we are giants not grasshoppers. We have authority and a voice to be listened to.
7. Joy in the journey
Paul writes in Romans 8:39 that nothing “can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This is an amazing promise, set against a pretty dark backdrop of suffering and troubles that can happen in this life. Over the last ten years we have discovered that true joy really is found in Jesus and His love for us. We have seen that this joy can not be taken away. We have found renewed depths of joy as we have journeyed together through life: from celebrations and ceilidhs, through life’s ordinary rhythms to the acute suffering of cancer, mental illness, redundancies, miscarriage, infertility, chronic pain, broken relationships and crises of faith.
We are a community of hope. Our hope is based in the past because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection…this affords us hope for the future, vividly described in Revelation 21 and 22 as God renews everything. This in turn causes us to live as hope-bringers in the present. We have the immense privilege of being those who bring the hope of what is to come into the now of our everyday existence. This transforms everything we are involved with, giving it dignity and value.
Philippians 4: 5 says “ Let your gentleness be evident to all.” We have sought to live up to this encouragement through our time at Edgbaston. Staff on site often comment that Oasis people are the nicest and most caring they have ever met. Somewhere along the journey God has shown us that the way he has treated us is how we are to treat others: with gentleness. Gentleness is a display of strength, as we seek to care for others well-being above our own.
10. How you leave matters
Leaving Edgbaston Stadium was instigated by the Stadium due to redevelopment works, not by us. However, from the moment we heard that it was time to move on at the end of 2016 through to our last day on Friday 12th May, we have sought to leave well.
First, we responded positively to the request that we leave. Next, we have continued to partner with the Ground, hosting city events like the Great Birmingham 10k. We have also ensured that we returned the rooms and offices in the same or better condition than we had originally found them. We made sure we publicly thanked individual staff at Edgbaston and gave small gifts to them on our last day. We have promised to continue to partner with the ground in city events. We also introduced the ‘Oasis Church Award for Excellence’ for staff at the ground who go beyond what is asked of them. The way we leave reveals as much about who we are as the way we built home over the past ten years did.
Though the move out of Edgbaston wasn’t our idea, I see God’s handprints all over it. I am left deeply grateful for how God has shaped us through our stadium years and excited about the next adventure he has in store for us.