Irve Davis-Griffiths, youth minister at Uplyme Church, near Lyme Regis, tells of the Mighty Shed youth and creative fresh expression project.
My own journey starts in music, I'm not from a Christian family background and I came to faith in my early 20s in the back of a guitar shop! I was a musician then, and have returned to it now, and it was always the case that 'normal church' never made sense to me because it was so far removed from everything I knew and understood and loved.
I often struggled to find the Jesus I'd met in the guitar shop when I was in a church; the worlds seemed so far apart. I've been involved youth work and youth ministry training for about 14 years but I've always been more interested in the people 'out there' rather than those on the 'inside'.
I'd been youth minister for Uplyme for about nine years and I'd achieved many goals for the ministry, but the real push came in early 2011 when the church was looking at what we wanted to do with youth ministry and longer-term sustainability. So, after a year of prayer and deliberation, various things led us to look at developing community youth church. The question that kept coming back to me was, 'How are we serving young people who aren't involved in regular church at all?'
Over half my life is spent as a musician and music teacher and I'm very much a networker. I have made the strongest links with people through creative activities and the setting-up of small group youth-work, community youth groups, schools' work and regional rockschool camps for budding musicians. I started to think what a local version of a rock camp would look like in our local context and Mighty Shed was born.
The name, Mighty Shed, comes from my home studio, which is housed… in a shed. The Bible says that 'people look at the outside of a person but God looks at the heart' and we know that significant things can come out of something that looks very small and understated, like a shed. In the same way, we believe people are full of potential – we are all mighty sheds!
When we talked to those in our existing youth groups, about 50% of them said they already thought of the respective groups as 'their' church. As a result, we decided to move away from the idea of young people growing up in groups and hoping they would then go on to 'real' church. Instead, we say they are going to grow up in the youth church together and own it as their 'church'. It doesn’t look much different on the surface to your average community youth group in action but the end goal is very different.
The project has two main strands:
1. A community church for young people, made up of two groups – Xplosion (for school years 6-9) and the Big Bang (for school years 10 and upwards). The Big Bang, as the older group, 'owns' and runs the Xplosion younger group; it also has an investment in maintaining itself and the younger group through participation and empowerment which helps to develop young leaders. At the moment, the total turnout is around 35-45 plus 'grown-ups'. Alongside this I have spent a lot of time in primary school work and found it invaluable in investing in local community and young people – particularly if you are looking to set up something for the long-term.
2. The music and creative 'arm' which is Mighty Shed. In turn, this has two main aims as part of its further development:
- short to medium term. To have events run by young people for young people;
- longer term. Building up a creative community, exploring faith and encouraging participation in creative activities that 'bless' others. We're trying to build a youth music 'scene'.
We've been meeting with a small bunch of young people in a local coffee house to plan, pray and lay the foundations for all of this. In March, we had an amazing launch gig with an internationally renowned musician performing and running workshops. Off the back of that we've set-up Facebook pages and a website and run workshops. We are now planning more gigs that look to raise money for local causes and give creative opportunities for other young people.
Each event so far has been a way of giving back to our wider community – and that's the point; we're not just there to take or be an inward looking group but to bring good things to others. We are looking for relationship building. Our strapline is 'blessing the community through creativity', so all events have to be outward looking in some way – either by serving others or raising money. Next up is a big fundraising gig on the seafront and some rockschool workshops.
The project has a strong ecumenical backing. We have a reference group made up of people from several churches in the area and I report back on activities to the local church leaders' meetings. I've also come up with five indicators of growth to help us track our progress, which is always difficult with new projects, but at least they give us some areas to focus on:
- language: are people beginning to develop and own a language of belief?
- activities: how are people showing signs of being outward-looking?
- community: are there signs of commitment to one another?
- spirituality: are there signs of spiritual growth and formation?
- empowerment: how are we empowering people to act for themselves?
In terms of context, Uplyme and Lyme Regis have a huge population in the summer and a comparatively small one in the winter. There is quite a lot of seasonal work so, if you are a young person, available employment is often through service industries. In general it's a very prosperous area but, like all places, there's more to it if you dig a little deeper.
There are quite a lot of younger families but also a large, older demographic in the area. People generally are quite socially mobile and there are excellent schools, which means many young people go on to university – but there are a significant number who don't. Some are happy enough to go to church-run things but I hope Mighty Shed activities will be a good experience for those who don't normally cross the threshold of a traditional church. That's why it's so important to be where people are. My hope and dream is that eventually some sort of community will grow from out of where young people gather, out of their passion for music, art, all things creative and from their faith journey – shaped and owned by themselves. It's all very open and not pinned-down at present! There are many challenges ahead, both in sustainability, finances and keeping the heart of the project central.
At the moment, there is a meeting at least once a week of youth church or Mighty Shed in some form or another. Over time I would like to draw together these two strands so that they can feed each other.
Do people understand fresh expressions? Many people understand it in terms of words but most don't appreciate what it means practically. Church is full of people who know how to do church as it is; I want to tap into a different layer of people who want to do church in a whole new way.