Failing forward in 2010 (Cid Latty)

Cid LattyCid Latty explains why he wants to fail forward in 2010.

'We have failed,' said the panic-stricken voice of a café church leader on the other end of the phone. 'Our church has withdrawn their support of our café church because the people who come are not going to church.'

This raised all sorts of questions for me. How could we help them survive? What was it that quantified failure for the church? Why did the café church leaders want to give up? It led me to think about failure – is it a bad thing?

Everyone must face failure because the reality is everyone fails. Although it can be embarrassing, debilitating and lead to misunderstanding, it can also hasten maturity and bring breakthrough. It all depends on the way you look at it and respond to it. Thomas Edison famously once said: 'I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that will not work.' It is not that he avoided failure, rather he never let it stop him.

Wisdom came as a result of failure, not because of success. Is this what the Apostle Paul meant when he said: 'when I am weak then I am strong'? (2 Corinthians 12.10). Setbacks may have acted like 'push backs' of an aeroplane, simply ushering him to greater levels of usefulness. Maybe we too should embrace failure like a friend.

This is not something we want to hear when we set sail in pioneering ministry. We want instant success with little or no risk. So we gravitate towards 'success stories' thinking that they will help us avoid failure. However, this 'quick fix' type of success is seductive and seldom lives up to our expectations. Maybe we fail to realise that the key to achievement is in our own hands. The question is will we learn from failure?

Cafechurch Network has been helping café churches set up in high street stores all over the UK. Most of these café churches are set up as a way for local churches to reach out to local communities. However, increasingly we have found people who share our values are asking for our help to form what I call 'café church congregations'. This is not just outreach, this is church.

So we have begun to respond. When one of the café church leaders called to say they had failed, we began to turn 'failure' towards forming a congregation. Their failure has become failure in the right direction.

If you want to be the kind of pioneer who rises after setbacks happen, here are a few pointers:

  • Be ready to learn on the job
  • Take a risk because you know it is right, not because you have all the answers.
  • Don't run after 'success'.
  • Don't leave prayer and personal Bible study behind.
  • Always ask: 'What can we learn from this?' or 'What is God teaching me?'

The Cross of Christ may look like failure to some but it was failing forward, for greater things came as a result of this event than could ever have been imagined. For the believer, it is this that gives us audacious pioneering hope that impacts history. At the end of a long presidential campaign full of setbacks, controversy, highs and lows, Oprah Winfrey stood in support of Barack Obama and said: 'I am standing on the right side of history.'

I wonder where failure will enable you to stand? Will it hinder your ability to pioneer or will it drive you onto greater things?

Stop closing my church (Cid Latty)

Cid LattyCid Latty asks whether there's an alternative to closing churches.

There has been a lot of research and debate on the decline in church attendance in the UK, with dire predictions and gloomy statistics painting a picture of a Church that will become extinct in a relatively short period of time.

We see and hear of small churches across the UK whose congregations have shrunk and a decision has been taken to either close or amalgamate them with other churches. Are these the only options? Do these churches have to be closed?

Instead I believe that many can be turned around, that we have an opportunity to see both churches and communities revitalised as we explore this more challenging but ultimately more rewarding option. How can this be done?

By imagining – thinking big, having a vision, pioneering

It is time to dream again. Reversing years of decline is not for every church; in Genesis 26.17-22 we see Isaac's servants re-digging the wells that had originally been dug by his father, Abraham. The servants re-dug the wells until they found one with fresh water flowing and eventually settled where God had made room for them, to prosper. It's about rediscovering what is already there, asking 'What vision do we have for what we could be?' and 'What does it take for us to become missional and embrace people around us in a fresh way?'

By investing – planning, motivating, praying

Doing the right thing at the right time. In Habakkuk 2, God tells Habakkuk to write the message down, to make it clear and to wait patiently because it will be fulfilled – even if it isn't straight away, it will be in time. We should take the vision and say, 'This is what I can see could happen here, this is what we could become and this is how I think we will get there'. Clear presentation of a vision and engendering ownership of the vision and ways it can be achieved give people a reason to come together and ways in which they can do it. People want to join in with something that carries the sense of purpose that this kind of activity brings.

By interfacing – joining with others

Finding commonality in the community. Community projects, such as starting a food bank, provide a great opportunity to link up with other churches and organisations in order to make things happen. It is best to find one thing and to do it well, avoiding the mistake that small churches often make which is to try and do many different things (as if it is a big church) and end up doing nothing well at all.

These principles of imagining, investing and interfacing have already begun to help a number of small churches in the UK to gain a new impetus through the Living Well project.

Some churches may choose to close or have it forced upon them. I hope that others will be encouraged to embrace a future in which the Church is very much alive.

Cafechurch Network

Ian Mobsby talks to Cid Latty, Network Leader for Cafechurch Network.

What is cafechurch?

That is a very good question. I think we sometimes forget how far away many people are from ever coming to church. Cafechurch is all about creating a context for people who do not go to 'church', but are interested in God. It is about providing a comfortable setting for people to consider issues from a faith perspective. It is also a way to develop a community that people are happy to be a part of. All this is based on good incarnational theology.

How did it begin for you?

Three years ago I was Senior Minister of a Baptist Church in Welwyn Garden City that asked the question 'how can we engage with our community more effectively?' We could see that there were many people who might never enter a traditional church building. So we looked at our community and could see how a thriving café culture was rapidly developing. Coffee shops were opening up everywhere and this was happening right across the UK too. In fact a staggering 50% of the UK adult population visits a coffee shop. We found that many members of the church already used a coffee shop as a 'third place' between home and work. So we asked our local Costa Coffee if we could meet there and were amazed when they said yes.

How did you run your café church?

What we designed was a themed event with quizzes, a short talk, discussion and live music – all with the added benefit of being served by friendly staff. Our purpose was to help people engage with issues like debt, parenting or the environment from a faith perspective. We called it 'coffee with a conscience'. People would not only be invited to enjoy a lively evening of chat, hope and humour but we would offer them resources and prayer support that would help them engage with the issue after the event.

So how did the national organization begin?

What we ran on that first night proved to be so popular that I began discussions with Costa Coffee senior management and a few cafechurches were piloted in other stores. Due to the success of these, Cafechurch Network was formed. This charity was later given the 'OK' to put a cafechurch in every suitable Costa Coffee store in the UK. Additionally Costa asked that all churches wanting to use their stores should come through the Cafechurch Network. Today other coffee shop chains have opened their doors to the Network too.

How does this benefit Costa and the church?

Stores benefit as cafechurch helps them to be part of the local community. There are great benefits for the church too, as people who would not go to a more traditional church setting interact with people who do. This may be one of the first steps for some towards 'going to church'. For others they may feel that cafechurch in a high street location is the kind of church they want to belong to. This challenges us then to re-imagine how we can help people develop their relationship with God in a café context.

If there was something you would say to the church what would it be?

This is a great opportunity for an adventure of faith. I currently have more store managers asking for a cafechurch than I have churches ready. So I would invite churches to attend a cafechurch training day and then join the Network after that. When they do, we will link them to their local store and provide resources to help them run a cafechurch.

cafechurch network banner