How might a call to fresh expressions come: Riverforce

This story illustrates the principles of How might a call to fresh expressions come? in the Guide.

Riverforce - meetingEarly in 2006, Peter Owens, Chief Inspector of the Occupational Health Unit at Merseyside police and a leading member of the Merseyside Christian Police Association, planted a church at work, known as Riverforce.

From the initial suggestion made by his vicar, it took a year to set up the first cell, which consists of four high ranking police officers.

All of a sudden, God started putting people in strategic places,

Peter says. Christians were filling key roles in the force.

Peter and his colleagues meet once a week, late on Friday afternoons in an office. Their meeting covers three stages:

    • presence, in which God’s presence is recognised through worship;
    • pressures, in which members share and pray through concerns, whether domestic or work related;
    • purpose, during which they reflect on their roles as Christians in the force, both individually and collectively.
‘God started putting people in strategic places’

Since Riverforce started, four other cells have sprung up across the Merseyside police force. Most of the cells take place at lunchtimes or after work. Peter attends one of these as well, a cell formed by middle managers.

It is important that these small groups are separate, given the different kinds of pressures faced at work by each group and the confidential nature of some of the matters discussed.

The sudden growth in the number of cells is partly down to Peter’s one-to-one invitations to members.

Everyone seemed to appreciate the need for it,

he says.

Members are all Christians, but, for family or work-related reasons, are not necessarily in a church. Those who do attend church are not usually in a small group and find the cell at work adds an extra dimension to their faith.

It is hoped that an Alpha course due to be run by the Merseyside Association of Christian Police, which Peter also oversees, will encourage newcomers to the Christian faith to join the emerging cell network.

Peter is also talking to the National Association of Christian Police about spreading cell church among the police nationwide.


In just a few years, Riverforce has become an official staff support network in Merseyside Police. The workplace church is involved in the formulation of any policy before its implementation in the force.

It also receives funding from Merseyside Police and its leadership team has grown to six, covering virtually the whole of the force which provides policing services for the five local authority areas that make up Merseyside – Knowsley, Liverpool, Sefton, St Helens and the Wirral.

Recent developments at Riverforce have also seen the setting up of a counselling service. Weekly or fortnightly cells now operate in most areas of the force while joint celebrations at police headquarters in Liverpool city centre regularly bring together up to 90 officers.

Merseyside has a population of 1.4m, with the police workforce – as of December 2009 – standing at 7899 (including officers, staff and specials). A city-wide Christian prayer event at the waterfront Liverpool Echo Arena in 2009 saw 250 officers from Neighbourhood Policing Teams join the 4,500 audience. So successful was the Redeeming Our Communities launch that Merseyside Police requested a follow-up celebration in 2011.

Riverforce members have recently been going out to local churches to help them work more closely with the police. The first event attracted 150 people.

Chief Inspector Peter Owens, who launched Riverforce in 2006, has now retired but continues as a manager with the Occupational Health Team – and as chairman of the missional cell network. He is very encouraged by the developments:

We have had a lot of interest from other parts of the country and other organisations. On an individual level too there are some amazing testimonies. We will be running a force-wide Alpha course in the autumn. It's hard work but worth it.