The UP dimension of church: The Bridge

This story illustrates the principles of The UP dimension of church in the Guide.

The Bridge, a community church of 65 adults and children in Leicestershire, began as the initiative of a Methodist minister in 1995. In 2002, the care of The Bridge was handed over to lay leader, Tim Lea, who works part-time.

The presentation of the Christian gospel has always been a central part of The Bridge’s Sunday teatime gatherings, held in a school. Until recently, communion was held just once a year on Easter Day. Now it happens four times a year. On occasions it has been an extended communion, meaning that beforehand the bread and wine are blessed elsewhere by an authorised minister.

The communion services are conducted in a variety of ways, some along all-age lines which, says Tim Lea,

the kids love,

others with an all-adult congregation. Four stations are offered around the venue (The Bridge meets in a school hall), and worshippers have the option to serve themselves or to receive from another person.

At Easter 2006,

we created a picnic atmosphere and re-enacted the feeding of the 5,000, including communion as part of it,

Tim says.

We had fresh cooked bread, Ribena and Schloer. You should have seen the twelve baskets left over!

The practice of communion is an ongoing discussion. We are still working out how it happens, who does it and what it looks like, but that is the beauty of being part of a creative, dynamic community.

God works through communities: The Bridge

The Bridge - welcomeThis story illustrates the principles of God works through communities in the Guide.

People ask, when does The Bridge meet? Well, the answer is that it meets on Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays,

says lay leader of this Methodist fresh expression in Leicestershire, Tim Lea.

The Bridge, begun in 1995, maintains an active community life involving cell groups, a badminton club and Sunday evening meetings at which eating and drinking is as important as any other activity.

In fact, teatime takes up half of the two-hour meeting which begins at five o'clock with a gospel presentation.

It's not just a service, but sharing time together and building community around that,

explains Tim.

One of our biggest drivers is to have a sense of community that welcomes people.

For this reason, Sunday meetings are held in a local school, a place already familiar to many in this small town.

The Bridge - nativityThe presentations are always all-age, at least in part, relating the gospel in simple and jargon-free ways, often using highly visual, interactive illustrations, such as the children taking part in a high jump competition to teach how God has lowered the bar for all people. Once a month, the 15 children and 50 adults remain together for the whole hour.

Some Sundays in each year are devoted simply to being together. These happen on 'low Sundays' around Christmas, Easter and the summer. They may involve playing games, BBQ, going on a treasure hunt, or a day out with a picnic, but they always involve food.

The Bridge community  has discovered that sharing socially creates good opportunities for questions and discussion, and friendships grow. For Tim Lea, this is church as much as anything else.

The Bridge – update May12

It is has been over 6 years since The Bridge was featured on expressions the dvd – 1. Tim Lea, its leader for nine years, explains what's happening now.

We are still here! We have seen a number of people come to faith from a mixture of unchurched and de-churched backgrounds. Some of them have moved onto other churches, others have stayed with us; some have struggled to keep a faith at all. Ongoing discipleship is not easy, we live a cold climate for seed to grow and bear fruit. We have not been immune from disagreements and misunderstandings.

We got to the point where our growth led us to seek further funding to invest in additional staffing. 'People not buildings' became a common phrase in our vocabulary. As people came to faith we have had to adapt and change, desiring to see people grow and mature as well as to continue reaching unchurched people. It is not an easy path to tread. We are now three years into a five-year funding agreement with the Methodist Circuit, District and Connexion. We have recruited a part-time youth worker who is growing The Bridge organically. We have also just recruited a part-time assistant leader after the previous one left under difficult circumstances for all involved. As a community we have discovered we have a verbal, rather than written, culture based on trust, story and relationships. We only realised this when needing to formalise our values and culture in job descriptions, person specs, etc. It has been challenging.

We have joined a learning community with Lead Academy. Several of The Bridge leadership team have been on a couple of excellent 48-hour sessions led by the Academy and I have been on retreat with them as well. That has been really, really good in helping us focus on the role and functions of our core team and look at changing our leadership structure. But it has also provided us with a language to talk about some of the deeper issues we face.

Bridge - market stall

The Bridge has been going for 17 years in total so we are facing many questions along the lines of, What does maturity look like?, How do you carry on being fresh?, Do you ever get to the point where you stop? I'm its second generation leader so what happens to The Bridge when it comes to the second generation leader moving on? What does it look like when people begin to get comfortable? How do you carry on reaching out to people as well as mature those who have come to faith?

At the moment I don't think we have answers to those questions. The past six to eight months have involved quite a lot of soul searching and a re-analysis of, Are we doing what it says on the tin?

Part of the reason for The Bridge being set up originally was because a lot of people identify with liking Jesus but not the Church. That's why we try to do things differently, including what it means to be church. We see ourselves as a bridge between the community and the church and also between people and God.

It's interesting with The Bridge because we've not been at this stage of the journey before so we don't know what’s going to happen! The danger is that, because traditional forms of church support fresh expressions, there is pressure from these supporting organizations to put us in a 'box' of one kind or another. That pressure can be so overwhelming and, as a result, it can be quite draining.

I wonder whether there is a 'revolution within the revolution' that's happening. That secondary revolution will come about when the unchurched people who become Christians within a fresh expression then reach out to others and form fresh expressions themselves. Unchurched or dechurched people who become committed and missional will develop fresh expressions of church that will break the mould of what's gone before. It raises some massive issues, but is very exciting.

My question would be, How do we help the unchurched people that we see being converted now become missional and set them free to set up fresh expressions? What would that look like? We are still in the place of trying to work that out.

We ran 40 days of prayers and fasting before Christmas to ask, Are we doing anything wrong because we are not being fruitful in terms of reaching unchurched people? Is there anything we need to change?' Our experience has been that it's very important to keep on asking those questions. To keep on being open to what God has to say about it. Never easy, but maybe that is what maturity is.

The Bridge

When Christians in Hinckley decided they needed a viable alternative to traditional church, they decided to try something completely different. Now a school and a local pub are the places where people come to worship and to learn. Tim Lea explains more.

The sort of people who come to The Bridge and are attracted by what we do and the way we do The Bridge, are folks who perhaps don't have any contact with church at all. There's a growing percentage of the population which fit that category.

The Bridge - groupThe Bridge's worship time does take place on a Sunday, between the hours of 5 and 7. People will often come and they are surprised by how traditional it can be. We do make use of worship songs and we make use of what we call performance or presentation songs – it will involve the children right at the very beginning which often can be pretty wacky and pretty lively, they then leave for their own activities and we go into a time where we begin to look at a particular issue and focus on what the bible might be saying about something.

That is only the tip of the iceberg and what goes on underneath, the remaining 90% of the iceberg, is really important.

The Bridge started off by doing some research, some door to door work right at the very beginning, to actually find out what people thought, what they expected. So one of the reasons we meet on a Sunday, in a school, at 5pm, is that people in the local community thought that that would be a better time to meet.

The Bridge - speakingWe have been blessed beyond our wildest dreams by the Hinckley Methodist Circuit and its commitment to The Bridge, not only in terms of finances but also in terms of staffing.

We've been involved in running an Alpha course at the local pub and I've always dreamed of standing at the start of an Alpha course with a pint in my hand and saying it's good to see you here, I hope that over the next few weeks we will begin to explore some of the things that we believe about Christianity and what it has to say about the world we live in. So for me it was perfectly natural!

It's not possible for everybody to get to know what they need to know in 40-50 minutes on a Sunday, I think that's just unrealistic and an unhelpful model of what church is. I think it's far more realistic to begin to form a small group and to begin to thrash out some of the ideas, some of the teachings which Christ gave to us.

The danger is that we live with a model of church that means it runs parallel to society and the way society runs, whereas actually I would rather encourage people to be involved in society and be part of society and to live out their Christian faith in society.

Bridge - pintPeople sometimes ask, where does your church meet? When people now ask me that question I will think about the social worker who perhaps will be dealing with a very difficult child on a Wednesday afternoon, the person who is a gardener… there is no divide between what we claim to practice on a Sunday and what we live out during the rest of the week.

For anyone who wanted to set up something like The Bridge in their town, I would say just keep it simple and laid back and eat together, talk together, pray together… I would encourage people to dream because I think that God is a God of adventure and he loves to see people who are Christians, who are followers of him, taking a risk and daring to do something different – because I'm sure that in many ways he's got a smile on his face when he sees us. OK we've made mistakes, we've got dirty, muddy, disillusioned and fed up, but I know that I'd rather stand before God when the final day comes and say 'I tried', than to have sat and been comfortable and to have never tried in the first place.