Jon and Jo Soper tell us the story of Exeter Network Church, in the Church of England Diocese of Exeter. This network church is soon to make history as one of the first fresh expressions of church to become a Church of England Bishop's Mission Order. Jon and Jo explain all.
In August 2004 my wife Jo and I moved to Exeter from London to pursue a clear call from God to start a mission shaped charismatic church. We knew one couple there who knew others who were eager to do something. Our first gathering was a party in a garden and then we found a place to meet in the old dry house on the quay opposite a nightclub. We launched ourselves properly as the Exeter Network Church, (ENC) in January 2005.
Our approach has been to develop an outward focused culture and wean people off dependency on traditional pastoral leadership. We are doing this by encouraging everyone to be in a network. A network is a group of people with a name and a God-purpose and which is radically open to the people they are aiming to connect with. These can be very diverse; one of the first networks to get going is called 'Women Who Work For Themselves' (it does what it says on the tin) who meet once a month in a hotel and who support one another in the businesses in which they are involved. Most in the network are not part of church.
Many networks are social networks where you bring friends – salsa, surfing, poker; some are social action networks, such as the team which visits Dartmoor prison once a month; some are age related (children, teenagers, young adults); some are orientated towards discipling Christians, and a few are geographic, such as 'God and Chips', who showed Alpha DVDs in a chip shop during opening hours.
In addition to these, a few times a year we have 'Edge Sunday'. As a church we say we are aiming to be 'strong at the core, blurred at the edge'. On an 'Edge Sunday' we have no worship gatherings, but instead we go out into Exeter and around, looking to express the love of Jesus in creative ways.
At our last event we held a 'big giveaway' (instead of selling) at the car boot sale, which gave rise to interesting conversations, as well as having a team of people praying for people in the high street, cafes, and another team going to the prison. Some in ENC use 'Edge Sunday' to do their own personal blurred edge activity, like inviting their neighbour round for lunch which they have been meaning to do for months.
Networks and 'Edge Sunday' focus us on being intentional about seeing what the Spirit is doing around us and confidently joining in.
Since November 2007 we have been incorporated into the Diocese of Exeter and are about to be made a Bishop's Mission Order, (BMO). One of the most helpful aspects of the BMO is having a Visitor (ours is the Bishop of Crediton). He supports us, visits us at least twice a year and asks us pertinent questions which help us think through what we are doing.
Our prayer is always that God will raise up a confident, creative, passionate and determined church which will be good news to everyone who encounters it.