Families are flocking to the church centre in Dorset, for a breakfast with a difference but there's more than bacon butties and sizzling sausages on the menu – says Chris Tebbutt, Rector of Canford Magna Church.
I'd been at Canford for about a year when I thought, 'How can we attract young families into our excellent but rather "mature" 1030am service?'
Years ago this was a sleepy little place but in 1971, at a time of charismatic revival, John Collins became our Vicar. He was prepared to take a few risks and before long this church became a huge magnet for people. At that time many hi-tech industries were coming into Poole and two very large housing estates were built close by. As a result the parish grew from 500 to 12,000 and we planted two daughter churches, The Lantern at Merley and St Barnabas, Bearwood.
So when I came here as team rector, I knew that Canford Magna was a special place but I really did wonder how we could rebalance the age profile of the church. What could we do?
I went to a Deanery Chapter meeting where someone from the outlying villages talked about their monthly Breakfast Church. What a great idea I thought – I can nick that! So I discussed it with my wife Sandra and Children's Worker, Sharon, and we worked with a design agency on a logo. It was then that Sandra came up with the name Breakfast@9, deliberately not mentioning 'church' because we didn't want to put people off. We also decided that rather than re-instituting the 8am Book of Common Prayer service every week – which had become monthly during the interregnum – we should instead hold a new service at 9am in our Church Centre and call it Breakfast@9.
We started off by inviting mums attending the church's playgroup with their children and it's just grown from there. Unlike Messy Church, which tends to run monthly, we wanted Breakfast@9 to take place every Sunday because if you miss a Messy Church session it means you don't see the Messy Church community for eight weeks. We wanted to avoid that and instead build a community of people who regularly met together.
So far, it's going a storm with whole families coming regularly, about 40 to 50 parents and children each week. In the first week of August, traditionally such a quiet time, we peaked at 67 mums, dads and their children.
We set everything up the night before and have three cooking teams. The helpers and worship team get together after setting up to pray. Then the team on duty arrive at about 8am on the Sunday and they then start preparing those all important bacon butties and sausages. We also bought an espresso machine to make sure the coffee was as good as it could be – and we have croissants, fruit, toast and cereals available. By about 8.50am the first people begin to drift in and the great thing is that we are consistently getting Dads along as well – I'm not sure whether the bacon butties have got something to do with that!
We have tables in café style though we now put tables together because we noticed that people weren't talking to each other. By putting two tables side by side, the families began to chat a lot more. We also have members of our congregation who are simply there to sit and chat and lend a helping hand, particularly with those mums who are maybe struggling to cope with kids on their own.
Breakfast is from 9am to 9.20, then I'll welcome everybody. We generally have one or two new people there every week. I'll also mention what the theme of the service is; we're using E100 by Scripture Union, 100 essential readings from the Bible.
We cover the Old Testament in the autumn term beginning with our creator God and on to the coming of Christ when we encourage people to come along to a Christmas Eve crib service. In the New Year we move to the story of Jesus and then after Easter the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church – yes, eventually we do use the 'church' word!
After hearing the theme for the day, we then have three worship songs. All the info is on a big 50" plasma screen with a young person operating the laptop. Music is quite important to us and we tend to do a selection of lively songs that are a mixture of popular contemporary worship songs with one 'kids-friendly' song. The main thing is that all – both young and old – can clap or use our selection of percussion instruments to shake along to the music.
After a reading, the service leader will then do a five minute thought for the day – it may be me or it may be one of the people running Breakfast@9. We try to make it interactive but, whatever we do, we don't pull any punches and we don't try to apologise. So the breakdown of each session is 10 minutes of music, five minute reading, five minute talk, 10 minute craft topic, followed by a short 'show and tell' if applicable, short prayer – about thought for the day and prayer for other people – then a final worship song and a blessing. It's all over by 10am on the dot. We never overrun. That's important. We will encourage people to stay and pray or chat but there's no pressure to do so.
In what was an exciting development, we put on an Exploring Baptism event and showed a DVD about baptism to a number of interested families. We chatted individually to people to ask if that was what they wanted or whether they would prefer to have a thanksgiving service. One mum said she wanted to get baptised (and confirmed) herself so that was arranged – in Salisbury Cathedral no less – and the day afterwards her son was one of two children baptised in the parish church. She and her family were thrilled by that event and a number of Breakfast@9 families came to the service. That mum is now one of those who does readings at Breakfast@9.
There is no magic formula as to what's happening. We're just taking it one step at a time and are looking to form a Breakfast@9 housegroup led by a young Christian couple who have become very much part of the team.
I am so blessed because members of the parish church have been so supportive. The people are amazing; they are serving, helping, putting money in and not necessarily seeing a return. This sort of thing is a big investment.
Others looking to start something like this might ask themselves, 'Have you got people with a real heart to reach out to the unchurched?' I'm impressed by the way the Canford folk both serve in teams and are prepared to bankroll the costs of running Breakfast@9 in the Church Centre even though they don't see these new people in the pews in the 1,000 year old Parish Church.
Many would love to see all those families in the pews but I think they now realise that Breakfast@9 really is church to those families. However we do try and encourage our Breakfast@9 families to come together with the main church and the daughter churches for the bigger festivals because it reminds them that they are part of something much bigger.
Our primary objective is to form a completely new community as most of our attendees are unchurched or people who have had a church experience before but drifted away. On the few occasions where we've mixed the services – Breakfast@9 and 10.30 – it hasn't really worked. So we feel the Holy Spirit is saying that we should press on with something completely new.