This story illustrates the principles of From 'exploring' to 'church' in the Guide.
Residents on a new Northamptonshire housing estate, Grange Park, have to go off the estate for medical care. In 2003, the health visitor from the nearest general practice noticed that a number of young mothers on the estate were being diagnosed with post-natal depression. So she approached the estate's vicar and his wife, Charlie and Charlotte Nobbs.
The Nobbs offered to open their home on Thursday mornings for two hours to any young mum who would value the chance to meet others and consult the health visitor. The aim was to build community so that the women could grow in confidence, discover friendship and find support.
'Talking Point' now offers an informal, welcoming setting. Good quality coffee and cake is available in the sitting room covered with cushions, blankets and inviting toys, while any older siblings are provided with easy activities in the kitchen. Around 12-18 women at a time take advantage of this purely social service.
As a result of this contact with the church, a few mothers asked to have their babies baptised. Two of them attended an Alpha course and have been instrumental in developing the church's work on the estate.
With Talking Point established, Charlotte began to pray about how to build on it. After much prayer, she sensed God was asking her to do two things: set up pizza-social nights for the Talking Point women and talk to one of the Alpha course graduates about how to share Jesus more overtly. Following these discussions, an informal monthly session for children and their mums, called Stepping Stones, was set up.
Stepping Stones is held on Tuesday mornings in the Community Centre Hall. An interactive telling of a Bible story ends with a time of reflection. Around 25 adults bring children each month. Attendance jumps to around 100 adults at festivals. Occasional breakfasts attract a further 25 adults.
Charlotte and the team asked the women who attended Stepping Stones to see it as a pilot and after three months offered them the chance to fill in a questionnaire and comment on how to take it further.
In the questionnaire we asked if any of the adults would be interested in a social night/themed evening or discussion evening,
Around a third of regular Stepping Stones members responded that they would like something for adults as well. Praying about each step was key, asking God what to do next, and waiting upon him to give the team promptings.
The result of the questionnaire was the arrival of 16 women at the vicarage for a 'pizza and pud' evening to be followed by a discussion. Many had been to the vicarage through Talking Point, which made it a familiar venue.
Always tell people what you are going to do. Don't have any hidden motives,
Charlotte advises. She offered the women a choice of purely social events, a course on family, an Alpha course or a course called Journeys (a five-part course of Christian testimonies from the Willow Creek stable). The women decided between themselves to do the Journeys course fortnightly.
It is vital that the group owns how they want the group to run, rather have an unwanted choice imposed,
Charlotte believes. Between each meeting she was keeping in touch with the women, having coffee with them and praying and fasting in her own time.
By the end of the Journeys course,
all the women had owned a move towards Jesus,
Charlotte says. They took up another Willow Creek course, Life Stories, after which their group grew into a cell in the Grange Park cell church.
A core number of these new cell members are on the team for either Stepping Stones or what is now known as Stepping Stones Plus, a revision of the Journeys course, in which a further 24 women took part in 2006.
Five or six husbands meet separately with Charlie, either for socials in the pub or for an express version of Alpha over beer and pretzels in each others' homes.
Jesus is already at work, and all we have to do is see where Jesus is already,
If it is steeped in prayer, however inadequate what you do is, it will work. Whether you meet fortnightly, weekly, with new Christians or old, in small teams or large teams, it will work.