East – West Café Church – Nov14

John Beales explains how East Worthing Café Church became East – West Café Church after setting up another Sussex 'home'.

East Worthing Café Church started five years ago and lots of people would turn up to our fun days, and really enjoy them, but we didn't manage to 'convert' that interest into anything longer-term for those in the immediate area.

We reviewed what was happening. The café church was attracting people, including interested Christians, from all sorts of places but the locals – the ones we wanted to reach – just didn't come. Most of those at our church were coming in from central and west Worthing.

As a result, we had been thinking for some while how the work in East Worthing was going to be sustained when my wife, Chris, and I moved from the area to nearby Ferring.

East West Café Church - leadersGatherings continue in East Worthing Community Centre because we felt it was important to keep something going there but it was also important to move on and begin to ask God what he might want of us in our new context.

We decided not to ditch East Worthing Cafe Church completely but instead to change the 'umbrella' name to East – West Café Church so that we could have gatherings in both East Worthing and Ferring (to the west).

For many years we have had the intention of coming west of Worthing and now that has become a reality in our new Café Church which meets on the second Sunday of the month from 3.30pm to 5.30pm at Glebelands Centre, Ferring.

First of all, I met with the vicar at Ferring's parish church, St Andrew's, to tell him what we were thinking of and praying about and he was very supportive of something starting in a café style, saying that he would like to work with us on it. He immediately offered us the chance to put an article in their parish magazine; this has 700 subscribers which meant we had a promotional outlet right from the start. I also talked to the local Baptist minister because it was very important to me to be a person of peace and be seen to be open about what we were doing.

East West Café Church - centre

The Glebelands Centre is right next door to the Baptist Church so I wanted to make it clear that this isn't about poaching from any one congregation; it's about adding to what those churches are already providing in the village and working alongside them to reach the people we can find it difficult to reach. I tell the churches that I just want people to find Jesus and it's up to him where those people go on to worship; they may decide to stay with us, they may not. And that's fine.

We launched the Café Church in October with the format we used at East Worthing: it's a time of teaching, worship and prayer – all presented in a very informal, interactive way with videos and talks and songs and illusions. We also always have a light tea afterwards with lots of cake. It's very relational and we are trying to encourage people to be relational with each other and with Jesus. Hopefully, as things move on, we are going to be a more 'liquid' church and start different groups during the week. We have already got an established Tuesday evening group at East Worthing with about 18 people coming to that. Many of them are established Christians and three people who have become Christians at East Worthing but don't necessarily live there. That's where we do in-depth discipleship and Bible study.

Now we're hoping to have a Wednesday group (also in the evening), a daytime group and an art group. There are many community links in Ferring so I'm hopeful there will be greater opportunity to reach people who don't yet know Christ or those who do know him but have ditched church.

East West Café Church - cake and sconesLooking ahead as to how these Café Churches could be further resourced and sustained, we are in the process of discussing how we might be made an associate of the Elim Church. I had been Elim trained and was previously an elder at Elim Christian Fellowship in Worthing.

At the Café Churches, I want to encourage anybody and everybody on in their journey with Christ because I believe in the priesthood of all believers. When we look at how we can complement the ministries of those already at work in Ferring, we're only going to try and slot in where we have the giftings. We don't want to reinvent the wheel; we just want us all to go on the journey together.

East Worthing Café Church – update Jul13

John Beales tells how the Café Church has developed since its launch in 2009.

We have a core group of about 30 who come along week in, week out but that number can go up to 50. We had a couple more people come in as a result of our most recent fun day but, of course, the challenge is to allow the freedom for people to come and go and yet maintain contact with those who 'dip in'.

That's where Facebook has been a marvellous tool for us, social media means that we can drop them a line to let them know what we're up to or ask them how they are but it's not as intrusive as ringing them. People can feel that you're 'chasing' if you call on the phone.

I really work hard to make sure that people don't feel they have to apologise for not having been to Café Church for a while. Something that has really helped us in developing a culture of 'we're all in this together' is something called DIY Sunday which takes place once every quarter.

On a DIY Sunday I invite people to contribute something to our time together; it may be a musician who wants to play a particular worship song, it may be a poem that someone's written for the occasion, it could be a Scripture or a short talk about how the Bible has spoken to someone and changed their view on something in their life. I never set a theme, I never check what people are going to do, I just put my trust in the Lord and – every single time – it has fitted together, I just co-ordinate it. People come up to me right at the beginning of Café Church and I collate it then and there.

East Worthing Café Church - cakes

Recently we did have two people who wanted to sing the same worship song for us but that didn't matter, it was fine. It made us listen to it all the more closely! There will always be a gem in the midst of a DIY Sunday, there will always be something that speaks to all of us at Café Church and I have also seen individuals really grow in their faith as a result.

One mum and her daughter used to write poems about cats and read them to us; it would have been all too easy in another setting to say it wasn't appropriate but – in their own way – they were telling us of what was important to them. They have been with us for quite a while and those poems are now about God. 

I have seen others come through as lay leaders and it's so important to give people a chance to do these things. Jesus gives us all a chance so why are we so scared of giving others the opportunity to have a go? I think it's all about us wanting to keep control of things – even in a fresh expression of church.

The team has changed quite a bit in recent times but that's to be expected because I see it as part of my job to make disciples of people and then release them to do whatever it is they feel God is calling them to do. Other people are now coming in who may be able to help us in leadership but the underlying question is definitely one of sustainability. I'm still thinking very much about how to sustain the church as myself and my wife, Christine, are moving to Ferring, another area a bit further down the coast. It's not far at all and I'd very much like to develop a fresh expression there, there's certainly potential for that, but it's far enough to mean that we're no longer on the doorstep. Will it keep going if I'm not there? I just don't know.

Perhaps we should link in with someone else, another church in the area? We do already have close links with the local CofE church, St Stephen's and on every third week we go to their Sunday alternative worship night called REWIRE. That helps us to recharge our batteries and deepen the relationships with others in the area.

The fraternal for this part of Worthing is very good and I regularly meet with the leaders of the Anglican, Baptist and URC churches; it's good to be connected in that way. I don't hold with any comments about 'sheep-stealing' in the Christian church, it's all to do with freedom as far as I'm concerned – people don't 'belong' to me or to Café Church, they belong to God.

East Worthing Café Church - pair

Worship as part of a fresh expression can be something that develops later in the life of the community but we have always incorporated sung worship into our regular programme. However we always use background visuals to the songs so that I can ask people to look out for something on the screen that relates to the theme that day, children may be asked to try and spot an animal, for instance, but I will also try and pose a question for all ages to think about.

In one of our Café sessions we would only have maybe three songs and I don't use religious language at all. We do have people who have been involved in church life before but we also have those who wouldn't have a clue what I'm talking about so I'm very careful about that.

Our Tuesday night house group has at least 12 regular members but that can go up to 16. The age range at the moment is 16 to 92. We would like to have two groups but we are looking for others to be hosts.

People do give to Café Church, our average collection is about £63 for 30-40 people though we have also had a grant from the Greenhills Trust which helps to pay for our community fun days. These are hosted by us but we don't do anything overtly evangelistic as part of them.

We will be starting our fifth year at Café Church in October and my prayer is that we can sustain our café-style church so that it can continue at East Worthing Community Centre. This would then give me the freedom to start something else.

We offer Holy Communion once a month at Café Church and in House Group; that's very important to us because we very much concentrate on teaching about the Body of Christ and having a relationship with each other in Christ. The thing we have to be vigilant about is falling back into a traditionally 'churchy' mode. For four years I think we have managed to do that and keep the whole thing fresh in its outlook but it's something we have to keep on our guard about.

East Worthing Café Church

John BealesIn 2009 a group of Christians hired East Worthing Community Centre for 'a couple of weeks' to trial a café church. Now, over two years on, and an average of 50 people attend East Worthing Café Church every week. Leader John Beales explains more.

It all started when I was on the leadership team at a Christian Fellowship in nearby Sompting. Driving past East Worthing Community Centre one day, I felt that God gave me a 'nudge' about using the venue. The hall at the Centre had previously been used by another church in the town but they had moved to different premises and the space had not been used by a church for some while.

East Worthing Café Church - signI had been Elim trained and was previously an elder at Elim Christian Fellowship in Worthing for three years so I knew the area and people. My wife and I had no plans to start up a church at all but every time I went by the Centre it was as if God was saying, 'go on'. Right from the start, when we were beginning to pray about it, I spoke to all the church leaders in that part of Worthing and involved them in our thinking and plans. They were very supportive of us starting something there.

As we are not a denominational church we are very much entrenched in the fraternal team for the south of the town. It's not like I'm a lone ranger in this because some of these people have known me for a very long time! We may join up with something in Assemblies of God but we are open to what God wants us to do and there is no intention of treading on other people's toes.

The result of our prayers was that I got together a few friends I knew and we hired the hall for a couple of weeks to see how things went. Today East Worthing Café Church is running every Sunday – apart from five Sundays in the year when the karate club gets the first shout on the hall!

East Worthing Café Church - cake

People come in for their coffee and cake and then we do what many would see as our 'religious thing' at the start of the service by lighting a candle. It's a bit of a statement from us and the statement involves us loving Jesus and loving them; we certainly won't make people feel condemned at all. We don't read out long passages of the Bible to them but they are really interested in it. The proof of that is them asking us all sorts of questions! All of us will go through the Book of Mark in different ways, according to age.

The café church runs from 2pm to 4pm and we have a break in the middle for about 25 minutes. They can stay or go, come in for five minutes or stay for a long time. People don't like long blocks of worship – instead we use DVDs that get their attention as part of our aim to give God the chance to get their attention too! I'm an illusionist so I may also do a trick. It's trying to use Scripture in a way that appeals to people today. A lot of people don't know these stories and they don't know who the Saviour is.

East Worthing Café Church - childrenChildren are welcome but they have to come with either a parent or an adult and they are then responsible for them. We get about 50 people on average and roughly a dozen kids between the ages of three and 17. It's well mixed and about quarter of the people are unchurched. We also do fun activities in the half term, As an illusionist it's great to be able to use those skills in God's service by highlighting biblical truths in a way that people can understand. Our intention is not to force 'church' down their throats. That's why I also hope to develop my IllusionandTruth ministry and use it as a tool to reach out to people with the Gospel through mime, drama, illusions and escapology in a fresh, fun and creative way.

I heard Bishop Graham Cray speaking at Christian Resources Exhibition about fresh expressions of church and that particularly made me think about the way we do discipleship. We now have a Bible study night on Tuesdays but we believe that discipleship is not about signing on a dotted line and 'joining' something. Discipleship, to us, is not about coming along on a particular course – it's more relational than that. 'Less of religious, more relational' is one of our straplines.

East Worthing Café Church - bongos

For some of the mature Christians it has taken a little while before they understand what we are doing but we stand together as a group of ordinary people who have been transformed by a relationship with Jesus Christ, and we believe the purpose in life is to make Jesus Christ known to all who want to meet him.

We are not religious, and for us church is not boring but a place to meet like-minded people on the same journey. East Worthing Café Church is very much a real church because the church is us and the people who come together. Of course, there is always a question of what to do next. My prayer is that we won't slip back into being church as people may have experienced in the past – and been hurt by in the past.