city:base – along with St Thomas' Philadelphia and King's Centre – form Network Church Sheffield. Matt Broughton tells how city:base became a Bishop's Mission Order.
Network Church Sheffield is one church in three different local bases across the city; reflecting its diverse Anglican, Baptist and House Church heritage. It was just over three years ago that city:base got off the ground when Toby Bassford of St Thomas' Philadelphia was given the go-ahead to experiment with new ways of doing mission.
He called a team together and put in place some vision and values for a community passionate about prayer and passionate about mission. In following those two callings, the community was to see where God was on the move, always with a view to be pioneering as possible in our mission – particularly to the urban poor, students and young adults.
For the next 18 months, when there were then about 20 members, city:base met in people's homes. As numbers grew, we then started renting function rooms. Without a permanent home, it was a real defining season for us – a sort of a nomadic time – which served to make clear what we were about. It made us realise that we had to go through the hard times to seek what God was really equipping and calling us for. We experienced quite a lot of growth, not in terms of people being saved, but through a lot of people growing together. We had reached about 60 by then.
In January 2012 we finally moved into our own building – a house in one of the streets immediately behind the cathedral. It is thought of as a mission base; a place for training, discipleship, prayer and mission. We also bring the whole community together once a month in a celebration gathering. These gatherings are important but we see the primary place of church in cluster, household-sized Simple Churches of 10 to 20 people.
For the gatherings we use the Tulip Lounge, a venue just two doors down from us where we have a really good relationship with the staff. It was there that we had a small celebration in June when Bishop Steven Croft signed the Bishop's Mission Order for city:base.
We had a real sense of unity because our gathering place is a stone's throw from Sheffield Cathedral, less than 100m away. We're not just in their parish; we're right on their patch! That's why it was so special to have members of the cathedral team there, just to affirm it. It felt really significant for us as a team to put a marker in the sand and get the institutional backing of a BMO.
We have quite a large team, mainly lay. The two church leaders are Toby who is doing his ordination training at the moment, and Diane who has just been priested. We also have a paid manager who makes sure everything runs smoothly in gatherings though the role has more to do with the life of the mission base rather than a purely administrative function.
There's another 10 to 12 people who devote varying amounts of time to different tasks. I lead our internship scheme and I devote a day a week to it. Others do coaching and mentoring, pastoral care, student work or helping to build a house of prayer.
city:base has a foundation of a volunteer culture, one in which quite a large team of people each has its own area of responsibility or oversight. In essence we want to be involved in one another's lives and the way the base functions is just part of this. We try to act more like an extended family than an institution with staff and volunteers.
We have about 100 people connected with city:base, my guess is that all of them are either young adults or young families between the ages of 18 and 40. We ask everyone to look at what they are doing to encourage the life of City Base and their own Simple Church.
We are aware that we don't want to do something that's insular and exclusive; instead we want to create something that's really reflective of our experience of Jesus and the authenticity of that experience.
I suppose we are quite hard to get to know and connect with because we are only meeting once a month. What is slightly different from the classic fresh expressions approach – namely that fresh expressions are for people who don't normally come to church – is that our gatherings are very churchy in style but we see the primary place of 'belonging' as Simple Church.
In terms of accountability, we are still very much part of our sending church and Paul Maconochie – as a leader of Network Church Sheffield – is still our overall leader here. Also, a good percentage of our leadership team is part of The Order of Mission (a global, dispersed community of pioneering leaders called to lead and influence within whatever context and culture they live and work) so that's another level of accountability.
I think this balance we are trying to strike between the 'centre' and the 'edge' is an interesting one; we have our gathering once a month and Simple Church throughout the week to encourage the life of these simple missional churches to grow the life of our prayer and mission base at the centre.
I'm keen that we don't just become another 'big church with flashing lights', it's the relationship between these two sides of the continuum that move us forward.