Saint John First Wesleyan Church (SJ1) in Saint John, New Brunswick, has recently launched 18:20, a house church model intended to allow congregants to worship safely together as restrictions still limit large public gatherings.

Grounded in Matthew 18:20, which states, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them,” this model serves not as a temporary reaction to COVID-19 restrictions but as a permanent fixture for SJ1 small-group fellowship.

Rev. Graham Perry, SJ1 lead pastor, knew the church had to make some changes in order to continue to minister effectively and reach as many people as possible in the midst of restrictions.

Perry said, “With the uncertainty of today’s culture, we wanted to set something up that has lasting ability. We hope to be meeting in the church soon, and if we do, we will still keep some of these groups going. Ultimately, we see this as an excellent springboard into small groups.”

18:20 was designed to encourage community and engagement opportunities for fellow believers, allowing time for discussion and reflection following the service with “sermon-specific discussion prompts available to help the site dive deeper into God’s Word and discover what he is speaking to us personally,” as well as enabling time for sacramental communion, fellowship, discipleship and evangelism.

“We want this to be for more than just our church people,” Perry said. “We have been encouraging our 18:20 groups to invite neighbors, coworkers or friends who don’t know the Lord to come. This creates a missional component to it.”

According to Perry, seven 18:20 groups have already met, and the church is looking to add more.

“Some are meeting in backyards, in homes and even at a campground,” Perry said. “I personally have attended the one at the campground. They have set their TV up outside their trailer and around 20-30 people show up and bring their lawn chairs and enjoy the service together.”

Perry noted that a new energy has been ignited in the church since the launch of 18:20.

“Community is valuable and without it, it’s hard. So, any way we can help create community, I believe it is helpful for us,” Perry said. “Being together is truly helpful. We have also received reports of many people who do not attend church anywhere who have been reaching out to us and connecting with us through our online services and then joining an 18:20 group.

“There is so much potential packed into 18:20, and our new landscape has put us in the perfect spot to take this leap of faith.”

SJ1 says these 18:20 sites will be a long-term response set up by the “new landscape” in the wake of COVID-19, as SJ1 leaders anticipate the small groups continuing into the future.

“The pastoral team of SJ1 have provided a clear and compelling vision for on-ramping in-person gathering for worship. It leverages the existing relational strengths of those who are comfortable interacting at this point in the pandemic, while maximizing the unique strengths for both discipleship and outreach that a space of this context and size does best.”