Risky, messy, and a lot of ups and downs along the way. That sums up what has been happening at re:generation in Romford since its launch six years ago. So says Ruth Poch, who oversees the ministry of the fast-growing, fresh expression of church with her husband Jamie.
I believe the interesting journey we've all had to make has led to deeper discipleship, mainly because we've had to take calculated risks in using young people's talents in a way we might not have done in a more traditional church setting.
It's amazing now to think that the seeds of re:generation were sown as a Bible study around our dining room table. Our average Sunday evening attendance is now in the 80s, though 98 recently came through the door which was quite phenomenal.
In early 2010 we organised a survey to find out where people were coming from and we were surprised, in a good way, to discover that many were coming from a non-churched background. It's encouraging to see. We also did a census on the age and the gender breakdown in the church: the average age is 25, and most of those on the 10-strong leadership team are in their early 20s.
Jamie and I are both deacons and our first appointment in 2000 was to the Romford Circuit. We job shared and our role was to co-ordinate youth work amongst the 13 Methodist churches which, in some senses, sounded quite a grand scheme but actually when we got there we discovered that there were very few teenagers involved in the worshipping life of any of the churches.
The work began by listening to the young people and serving their needs. A drama group was set up, social events were organised and monthly youth services began. After a while, the young people were saying, 'look we don't go to any other church, this is our church. We want to have something that we can actually own and have other kinds of activities throughout the week.'
Therefore in September 2004 we moved to Gidea Park Methodist Church premises to 'officially' plant a fresh expression of church among young people. Gidea Park had closed its Sunday evening services, giving us a wonderful opportunity to have that space and time every week.
A core value of the work of re:generation has been discipleship. Now weekly Bible studies are increasingly led by the young people, and they also have rotas to lead the prayer ministry time and input from Scripture. Our discipleship groups for guys and girls are peer led so that's very much about going deeper and being able to share things in a safe environment. To have that more intimate setting and the prayer support that comes from that have been key factors in establishing those groups.
At the beginning we prayed for more adult volunteers but it never seemed that God really answered that prayer. In hindsight it has been a blessing because we had to use the young people in the work of the church, or take risks with them serving in ways that we wouldn't have done had we had more mature people coming along at that stage.
Having to take those risks in leadership meant that the young people themselves knew that if they didn't work and do jobs and have vision for the church, it wouldn't work. It all makes for a very exciting journey because it's constantly evolving. When we started, some people thought regeneration might just meet the needs of a particular group of young people that we had at the beginning but actually, year upon year, we have seen growth – despite key people on the leadership team leaving for university etc.
Interestingly, a few parents began to turn up. I think they were fascinated as to why this church was playing such a big part in the lives of their son or daughter. We had our youth Alpha course when a group of adults started coming and having their own discussion group. Some came on the residential weekend and it was fascinating – and amazing – to see how the young people responded as they ministered in prayer and give support to these adults.
Since then we have had other people coming to re:generation, some of whom are quite vulnerable with mental health issues and so on. The church has become quite diverse, culturally, and in terms of age range – even though it is still predominantly young people. It keeps us on our toes all the time because we are constantly having to cater for an increasing number and a wider age range of people from very different backgrounds.
As pioneers, the early years were hard and very lonely at times but if you feel that God has given you a vision to carry on and really persevere, I'd say keep on going when it is difficult and try to create an authentic community.
Back in the dining room Bible study days, we used to ask, 'How is everyone doing?' 'Are you having any difficulties?' No-one seemed to have any, and certainly no-one shared what those difficulties were. Now almost the opposite is true. Ask the same questions and you’ll begin to wonder if there is anyone who doesn't have some sort of problem going on.
I think that's all because there's now a sense of being safe there, a place where people feel they don't have to wear masks or pretend to be something that they're not.
Emma Garrow reports exciting developments at re:generation youth church (2009).
I don't come from a Christian background, I never knew about God… Going to re:generation was a new experience for me. For the first time in a long time I felt accepted… I've recently joined the worship band which has helped me grow in my faith.
I immediately saw that re:generation was different to my previous church. The people here actually wanted to worship God and I was welcomed as if I was a long lost friend.
These are the voices of two teenagers, members of re:generation youth church in Romford, Essex, a church that provides a spiritual home to around 50 young people aged 13 to 21, both churched and unchurched, and with a wide range of cultural styles. At re:generation, young people from diverse backgrounds get along very well.
Ordinarily, this wouldn't happen, but because of their love for Christ these boundaries are crossed over,
says leader, Jamie Poch.
re:generation has grown since its beginnings in 2004 out of a core of 20 young people drawn from a Methodist Circuit of 13 churches. A programme of fun events led to a drama group, a confirmation course, residentials, Bible studies and youth services. Spontaneously, members began to invite their friends and now about a quarter of its members were previously unchurched.
They were excited, because it was meeting their need,
So now young people come along and become Christians who've never been to church before. It's quite exciting how it's growing in that way.
Another reason for this growth is the church's key value of friendliness and welcome, and a desire to encourage a sense of belonging to all comers, 'whether Christian or not'.
A welcome team rota, 'Be a Blessing', involves all the members in this ministry. A shortage of adult helpers when Jamie and his wife, Ruth, were setting up the youth church bred a necessity which has proved a blessing in itself. The young people had to get involved in practical ways such as administration, setting up and clearing away, leading small groups.
It made sense,
Because they're doing it, they're owning it, which is a wonderful thing. They're the ones on the door.
The church meets in a dedicated space in one of the Circuit churches and has several meetings through the week, including a main Sunday evening service. Members are in 'PODS', which encourage friendship and discipleship.
Within the last year, a few adults have started attending, including some parents, something which Jamie views as an opportunity.
It could be rather exciting to see how to deal with the interested parents,
We could have a youth congregation planting an adult congregation.
We're always looking to the future and saying, "Okay, God, now what?" It evolves and we don't necessarily know what it's going to be and that's an adventure.