Cre8 is a fresh expression for children, young people and their families, at Carlton Colville Methodist Church, Lowestoft. Deacon Ian Cartwright explains how the range of activities include a gardening club, health and fitness programme and special events.
Our purpose is to build lives and build community and to serve beyond our gatherings. Cre8 has been going for about three years around a flexible mix of activities in our church building based on a very large, private housing estate. Among the most popular is a cinema and film club where the children choose the movie to be screened and dish out the popcorn and everything else!
Before launching Cre8, we wanted to try and find out what the community wanted rather than what we thought they wanted. Our first piece of research, done in conjunction with the University of East Anglia, started with focus groups from which we developed questionnaires. We asked things like, 'Would you like to meet?', 'If so, what time would you like to meet?', 'What activities would you like to see in this area?' The questionnaires went out to 6,000 homes and nearly 1,000 of them were completed and returned.
The overwhelming response was for health and fitness opportunities and things for young people to do. The next step was to ask the children and young people themselves whether they wanted to have such activities. Questionnaires went out to the six schools which serve this area: two Lower, two Middle and two Upper. Thanks to the schools' support, we were able to classify the children and young people into postcode areas.
The research was carried out by groups from within the schools themselves while Christian Research did all the analysis. It mirrored our first research results and also told us that what they meant by 'activities' was really a good place just to chill out and relax, somewhere they could go to play with their PlayStations and Wii. As health and fitness was such a big theme, we got in touch with The Leisure Database Company which provides data, analysis and advice for the sports and leisure industries.
They draw up what's called a Mosaic map, a sort of jigsaw puzzle, of the people in your area. They can analyse the socio-demographic breakdown of a place and tell you things like how many 0-15s there are, the type of families they come from based on income, and eventually build a profile of the area and classification of those who live there. From that they can delve deeper to tell you how many people are members of gyms, what the competition is for health and fitness provision, and so on. They told us there was a latent demand of about 1,000 people in the area we serve.
A sport and leisure trust called Active Luton acted as our consultants in this and they said 1,000 was a good number to make things add up commercially. Cre8 came about as a result of that research and we built up a small team to get things off the ground, including someone who worked with the Schools Partnership Agency.
We started off with the kids taking part in shows. Adults would come along with them on Saturday mornings for rehearsals and have a bite of breakfast with us. At that time the Christian input was very small because we were at the stage of simply wanting to build up relationships with the children and their parents.
It was at that exploring sort of stage that we began to see the development of a holistic ministry, where people's Christian spirituality is very much seen as part of their physical, social, mental and emotional health and wellbeing.
The spiritual dimension is there in all we do because of our desire for God to be at the heart of it all, involved in every aspect of it – and for the glory to go to Him. It is also there because of who we are and the values we apply. They shape and form us into the community we are and what we hope to be. We see these as being Worship, Pray, Create, Learn, Enjoy Abundant Life, Transform, Influence, Give, Celebrate, and Be inclusive.
A family service once a month is done in a very informal way. This month it will be aimed at blokes as part of the Father's Day theme – there'll be bacon sandwiches to eat, a Yorkie bar challenge; a clip from a Rob Bell DVD, and a lot of bunting and a banner made by the kids!
In the past we've also had very low-key Communion with them. At one such Communion, we looked at the meaning of symbols; starting off by looking at McDonald's, Nike and KFC – what did their 'symbols', their logos, say about them? We then moved on to the symbolic meaning of the bread and wine. It was all consecrated properly but we served the wine in paper cups and gave half slices of sliced bread like the people would eat at home. It was all familiar to them.
Fridays@7 is another development – a café church environment in our building where men chill out to eat, drink coffee, watch films, enjoy music and explore what faith in Jesus is all about.
It's amazing what has happened there. One guy loves Shakespeare and he went out to buy himself a King James Bible because he sees parallels between the two; there were a lot of the programmes on radio and TV at the time about the King James' 400th anniversary and he was fascinated by it.
I went to register at the local gym and met a guy who couldn't get along with traditional church services at all but now he's working at a rehabilitation and recovery centre and brings some of his clients along to us on a Friday night.
Established for nearly four years, we are members of the Willow Creek Association and use materials from a variety if sources including Christian Vision for Men and Rob Bell. We are currently making whole life discipleship our priority. There is also crossover with CRE8 with two of the Fridays@7 guys running our gardening club.
The group wants to stay small, about 10 to 12 at the moment, and develop a new offshoot on Thursdays called Thursdays @ 7. From time to time we meet at a local pub. We call this evening 'Who Let the Dads Out?'. We also go karting, walking, and other fun things that men enjoy and encourage our non-church friends to join us on these occasions.
In all of this, there have – of course – been struggles along the way and it hasn't come together easily but the church and community wrestled with issues together to find a way forward and develop things. This has certainly been a painful process at times.
Now I think the mixed economy works very well here because we have mechanisms in place for communication between the inherited church and the fresh expressions. We meet once a quarter when representatives from the different areas of church life come together to plan and discuss. The fresh expressions group is very firm in saying that it is as much 'their' church as inherited church but they also know that it is all about working together for the good of the Kingdom. Sometimes there are difficult conversations because these are part and parcel of what it means to be church – we know that's what it means to work out the mixed economy in reality. Not always an easy journey.