What's it like to run Jesus Shaped People?

“I’ve been in church all my life and I’ve done every course and sermon series going; this is by far the best one I have ever done”

—Eileen, 80

A group photo of JSP participants at Christ Church Eston

The parish of Eston Christ Church with Normanby St George, is a parish on the southern side of Middlesbrough, ranked 1347th most deprived parish in England.

After a two-and-a-half-year interregnum I joined to lead the parish in September 2021. The churches are evangelical and gently charismatic, with Christ Church being more formal in style than St George. We ran the main JSP series from Advent 2021 through to middle of March 2022.

Both churches had only reopened during the summer of 2021 for in person worship after the Covid pandemic restrictions and people were only slowly returning, home groups had not resumed.

Why JSP?

It occurred to me that with the pandemic people, generally, had forgotten what it means to be Jesus shaped. We hadn’t been allowed to mix, we were still looking at each other with suspicion, in case they were infected. How can we serve when we aren’t allowed to meet anyone?

Having run JSP in a previous parish I thought that this would be a good way to remind our selves of some basics of being followers of Jesus and something it would be worth returning to church for. As a bonus we might get people to meet in small groups.

What We Did

We talked about JSP for about a month before we started, everyone on our contact list received a letter inviting them to be part of JSP, we also invited people to join a mid-week group and offered the churches as venues, so people didn’t need to meet in small houses. We asked for leaders to run the groups, preferably as joint leaders. It was made clear that anyone from either church could join any of the groups. The preaching team all agreed to preach to the theme, something they had not done before. Before we started the course, we learnt a new song to use as a JSP theme. Jesus, you have called us (I will follow) by Resound Worship.

What Happened

We have seen so many benefits from running JSP within the parish:

  • We formed 5 small groups with people from across both churches mixing in these groups, this had never happened before.
  • Running JSP has grown several small group leaders. People who had not led a small group were happy to lead their groups, the small group material is so easy to use it has built confidence in people that they can lead a group.
  • We have found people who read the bible in their group are now reading during Sunday services.
  • The small groups have continued to meet and a further group of 20s–40s have just begun to meet and are beginning to work through the JSP material.
  • The whole parish has been energised and is excited about the future of our churches, with people again willing to invite friends and family to join us. There have been many quotes like Eileen’s, where people have really enjoyed the series.

Photo showing a JSP study group at Christ Church Eston

On a Personal Note

As a church leader new to the parish running JSP has given me a lot of mileage. It has shown people that I can make good judgements, that I can be trusted to teach them well. It has shortened the settling in period new vicars need, considerably. It has reenergised the churches after a difficult time during Covid. I think that we are up and running again after Covid.

Rev Graham Potter

March 2022