11 Alive

Julie Cotterill is fresh expression of church minister at New Cross Community Church in Sutton-in-Ashfield. She tells how 11 Alive has developed.

New Cross is a Methodist and Anglican LEP but, of course, local people don't see it as an LEP at all; they just see us as a church.

We have a more traditional service at 9.30am and the congregation there played a key role in helping 11 Alive to get off the ground four-and-a-half years ago. They agreed to move their service half an hour earlier, from 10am, to allow another gathering at 11. That wasn't an easy move and it was very risky but we at 11 Alive are very grateful for what they did.

What's also good is that those who attend the 9.30, and the 11 Alive regulars, get to meet each other as the services overlap, whilst the 9.30 are having refreshments the 11 Alive congregation are arriving and now tend to mingle with each other, it really helps to build those relationships and stops it from becoming a 'them' and 'us' type of situation. I, and a few others, make sure we go to both services – the 9.30 and 11 – and that's crucial to build up the relationships between the two.

We do aim to start at 11 but it's usually about 11.15 when everyone arrives; we give people the freedom to come in when they can and go when they please. It's a very informal and relaxed atmosphere with the layout of the church space being used very differently to the 9.30 service. Children and adults are given freedom of movement throughout 11 Alive and inclusivity is very important to us.

11 Alive - human tower

The inspiration for 11 Alive cam from Tim Mitchell, our previous priest-in-charge. He had read Christianity Rediscovered, Vincent Donovan's classic work on cross-cultural mission, and had analysed the culture of our community. He challenged us to consider what church would look like in our community if it was not done for them, but was created by them with our support. Our team then did the mission shaped intro course which really helped to give direction as to what we were looking at in terms of a fresh expression. It was open to anyone interested in setting up the 11 o'clock slot. We knew it needed to be relevant to the local culture and people committed to that idea came forward to be part of it. Tim moved on two years ago, so we do not currently have a resident Anglican minister at 11 Alive, but I am now on the mission shaped ministry course for Derby and Nottinghamshire, and it's great that Tim is one of the tutors so the learning continues!

The whole focus of 11 Alive, right from the beginning, has been for people to be able to come in and plan together as a team. Every 12 weeks or so we all sit down as a group and plan for the next three months, it's very collaborative – children, teens and adults all work together, Christians and not-yet Christians. A real mix.

We have an overall leadership team and five planning teams with about five people in each of them. The leadership group will discuss possible themes which we then put forward for consideration by the planning teams. We make sure that a member of the leadership group is on each of the planning teams so that people are not floundering when they start to work on a theme. We are always trying to make sure that people are being given the space and opportunity to come forward and offer their own ideas, gifts and skills.

It is wonderful to welcome a great cross section of people to 11 Alive; no-one needs to have 'attained' a certain level of understanding about Christianity, they can just come and take part in things at their own pace and level. What I find is that people grow as they are able to lead and participate; some have a more natural talent and gifting for it but – once a theme is decided – all will tend to go from planning meetings and put in a lot of work at home to prepare for their 'slot'.

It is risky but we try to affirm everyone in what they do. Lots of people in this community have low self-esteem and we also serve many with learning disabilities so it's very important to be generous in praise and, where necessary, address things in a loving way. I have heard people comment that 11 Alive gives them something they don’t receive in their own home environments, saying, 'This is my family'. We are very conscious of always welcoming in new people.

People usually want to offer their skills when they've been coming for a while and have seen others lead different elements of the service. We don't force anybody to do anything but, thank God, increasing numbers of people – both adults and children – want to participate and take on responsibility in some way.

11 Alive - singing

Our outline structure for 11 Alive is:

  • worship;
  • icebreaker;
  • refreshments and activities;
  • talk;
  • prayer and worship.

So, people bring different icebreaker ideas – we've had dodgeball for instance; men and young people tend to particularly like more active icebreakers. Others demonstrate their gifts, anything from beatboxing to yo-yo tricks! We've also had some brilliant talks from teenagers and I have learned a lot from them.

We don't have a worship band but we thank God for the internet; it's such a blessing to be able to use the big screen and a projector to access worship resources online. Someone also came to us who could play the piano by ear but had never been trained. Thanks to encouragement at 11 Alive, he learned to read music and continues to play worship songs for us also.

We have refreshments half way through; this is also a time for building on relationships and prayer for individuals when needed. During this time we also have craft or prayer activities or something which makes us think more about the theme.

I have held the title of fresh expressions lay minister since November 2013 and, as a part-time stipendiary minister, the role is ongoing. It has been really hard work but it's so rewarding because this is a team effort – and God has brought together that team.

We are also involved in a lot of 'background work' for our people here, with much pastoral care needed and a lot related to financial issues. There has been tension around our giving because others in the church community could feel that 11 Alive is not giving enough financially – but it's the case of the 'widow's mite' here. People might not have money to give but they give hugely of their time and always take part in all the fundraising events that we have; they are raising money in a different, more indirect, way. A team of women from 11 Alive also come into schools with me and are very active in that ministry. People are also taking up roles within the church such as church warden, being on the church council and other committees.

We continue to deepen people's spirituality, partly in response to individuals having done Alpha and then wanting to go on from there and do something a little bit deeper. There's no doubt that we have such a blessing in the people here. They tell things to you straight and, if someone has got a question they'd like to ask the speaker they will feel free to ask the question during the talk or in the discussion time. That really focuses the mind! But we are all learning together.

As 11 Alive grows we are starting to ask what happens next. The size of our building and the way we worship, play games and move around is at times at capacity but as we increase in size then the dynamics will change. Perhaps we need to do another one at another time or somewhere else? God will let us know.


Methodist VentureFX Pioneer Minister Simon Oliver, whose ministry comes under the banner of 'RevCoffee', explains how new things are happening in Cottenham through community, creativity, Christianity and cappuccinos.

I am employed by the Cambridge Methodist Circuit to work alongside the Cottenham Community Centre (CCC) and Coffee Shop.

The Centre and Coffee Shop came into existence when, after many years of faithful worship and service, Cottenham Methodist Church closed down in November 2007. The day after its final service a public meeting was held to explore the possibilities of how the building might be used as a community resource.

The CCC was formed, much hard work and fund raising was carried out, and in February 2011 the beautiful Coffee Shop was opened. It is no longer a church, but I am privileged to be a part of the Community Centre team. I was appointed as part of the VentureFX scheme to work alongside the CCC with young adults and families in Cottenham, a vibrant village of about 7,000 people just outside Cambridge.

RevCoffee - counterAt the heart of my role lies a conviction that being a welcome, accepting, incarnational Christian presence in the community is key to contemporary ministry. So I spend a great deal of time simply hanging out in the coffee shop, sometimes working behind the counter, sometimes tapping away on my laptop, and often just meeting friends old and new.

Out of these relationships, and my connections with other community groups and churches in the village, I try to find fresh ways of exploring issues of life, meaning and faith. People are interested in looking at such issues but often feel alienated, disconnected or simply uninterested in traditional Church, or are just too busy with the chaos and demands of life to find the time and space in their schedules.

We now have quite a few initiatives and projects going on in and around the Community Centre and Coffee Shop; my wife and toddler are very involved in many of these groups. My approach is to be as collaborative as possible, so everything has been set up as a result of prayerfully listening to what people might be interested in, and in partnership with others (sometimes Christians, sometimes those who don't usually have anything to do with traditional church). These initiatives include:

  • Arts Night: A small group of young-ish poets, musicians, storytellers, comedians, singers, photographers and artists get together on the second Sunday of the month. It is a mostly musical group and we have also had some great poetry from Larkin, Yeats and our own members, short stories and photography. Each month has a theme (eg war and peace, parenthood, love, death, resurrection) and we share original and borrowed material and attempt collaborate in creating new works, as well as putting on quality performances. And we always have some really interesting conversations exploring issues of life and faith from a variety of perspectives.
  • Film Club: A fun, new group where people of all beliefs and none come together to watch a movie, eat popcorn and then explore the existential and spiritual issues that come out of it.
  • Dad's Play: We have a large (70-plus on the books) group of dads and male carers/guardians of under-5s who meet informally in the back hall of the Cottenham Community Centre Coffee Shop. The kids get the chance to play together while the men get a chance to eat bacon sandwiches and drink good coffee. We also have regular curry nights – although the children aren't invited to this!
  • RevCoffee - logoMarriage and Parenting Courses. We have run a number of these courses in the Coffee Shop.
  • Daily Prayer: This takes place from 8:30 – 8:45 am, Sunday to Friday at the Coffee Shop. It is often just a couple of adults and my two-year-old, but others often pop in, have a natter and occasionally join us or ask for prayer.
  • Football Plus+: A group young and not-so-young men play football on the first and third Sundays of the month, and a small group of us are exploring the possibility of using of the fourth Sunday to talk football, life and faith over a couple of beers (or lemonades).
  • the Roost: this is new all-age event which we have been experimenting with over the last few months on Sunday afternoons and which officially 'launches' in September. It is a relaxed group which includes arts, craft, conversation, messy play, videos, the Sunday papers, music, poetry, coffee, flapjack and more to give people the opportunity to have fun together, create community and to explore different issues from a Christian perspective.

All of our activities aim to be open and accessible to all, and to give people the opportunity to develop meaningful community and consider the possibility of faith. All beliefs and viewpoints are valued, and seen as equal conversation partners as we try to make sense of life together. Everything is done in very low key and simple ways and – as I have already said – relationships take precedence over activities.

My ultimate hope is that through one or more of our initiatives people are given the opportunity to have a meaningful encounter with Jesus Christ and to explore what that might mean for them.

I take the Methodist and Fresh Expressions commitment to ecumenism very seriously, and have found it very encouraging to work alongside the Baptist Church, The Salvation Army, All Saints Parish Church and Christians Together in Cottenham as we seek to develop our ministries in collaboration.

It is not always easy, but it is a wonderful role and a rewarding project, and I feel very grateful to God and to the Methodist Church for allowing me to be a part of it!


Melanie Prince, a team vicar in the Vale of Glamorgan, tells how a mission shaped ministry course inspired the launch of a monthly Messy Church called SPLAT.

SPLAT - smileI did msm South Wales in 2009-2010. It was timely for us to do it as Llantwit Major Benefice has nine churches, three clergy and three Readers! It gave us the kick start to do things, providing a reason to stop delaying and get on with it.

We started a Messy Church fairly early on in the course. This happened because the churchwardens came and said,

We used to have a thriving church with families. How do we get families back in again?

Their approach coincided with us having started msm and it meant we had some ideas to pull on.

SPLAT - boxIn a new atmosphere of optimism, I started the Messy Church at St James' Wick, which I ran for its first 18 months before handing it over.

SPLAT continues to prosper and monthly all-age worship in church now attracts a good number of people as well. The fresh expression has been successful in itself but it has also had an impact on the main church.

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.

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.

New Song Café

New Song Café has been running at Bold Street Methodist Church, Warrington, for three years. Jackie Bellfield traces its story as a fresh expression of church.

It's amazing to think back to how it all got started and what our intentions were with it. The whole point was for it to be a stepping stone to some sort of gathering in a local Costa.

We did not anticipate that people would come in the numbers they did and we still welcome new people every month to the Bold Street Mission's church hall but we're not in Costa… yet! We're currently up to 125 and we'd struggle to fit more people in at the moment. About 30% of regular attenders now see New Song Café as their church and that number is increasing all the time. It's because New Song Café is offering them vibrant Christianity while creating community, building relationship and providing opportunity to explore issues of faith in a friendly, non-threatening environment.

New Song Café meets on the 4th Sunday of the month from 7pm to 9pm. In saying that, it never starts on time… we have local preachers who come along and point at their watches because people are still chatting to each other and having coffee at 7pm. They say they're ready to start but we tell them that we have already started because the chatting and the coffee and the being together is all part and parcel of it. That's what community is.

In a way, we are a bit unusual as a fresh expression in that the whole thing for us is about focusing on worship as the heart of what we do. Many fresh expressions discern that introducing worship may be later down the line for them in their development because so many people have so little experience of what it means to worship. For us, in our context, it is different.

When people arrive they'll get a coffee or tea and select from what is normally a mountain of cake on offer! They'll have a chat, I'll welcome them in – particularly anyone new, we may have a short video clip or something but then a worship band will lead us in singing 12 songs during the evening. We'll have a giggle and I'll tell a few stories and have a joke with people as we go on because it's important to celebrate people's presence.

New Song Café - bannerWe recently welcomed a special guest – Wolfie, the mascot for the Warrington Wolves rugby league team. People queued up to get a photo taken with him. Everyone really enjoyed that – except for fans of the club's local rivals, the Widnes Vikings!

Our band comprises drums, trumpet, keyboard and guitar. They really get things going and it's fantastic to see all the ages taking part – our oldest regular is 89 and the youngest participant was six days old. We've now got every age in between. There's also a great denominational mix among those with current and previous church links – mind you, some of those links have been very fragile; some have mums or dads who go to church but they have been fringe members themselves. New Song Café has helped them to get engaged on their own terms because of its very open environment.

We'll sing six songs, including two new songs every month, and then we'll have a break of about 25 minutes before singing a further six. In the past three years we have learned over 300 songs. If people are not accustomed to singing in public with others around them, they can be a little puzzled at the start of it all – but that's OK, we'll just give people time and space to get used to what's happening. After just one song, I can guarantee that the feet will start tapping and there maybe tears or they will be singing. People are really responding to the worship and those not linked to traditional congregations or fellowships now see New Song Café as their church.

We need to consider what we do next with New Song Café because we are at the critical stage of thinking about how we move it forward. One thing that is going to happen is that we will grow the New Song network to include a New Song Breakfast to again offer a very different style of church – though still in the context of worship. There will also be New Song Pub Church.

Some of those who come along have been disenfranchised or hurt by traditional church but they are seeing New Song Café as their future. In feedback from them they say they know they can also bring their non-Christian friends along with them because they know it's going to be consistently good and it helps them to start having godly conversations along the way.

There's no doubt that New Song Café is becoming a very loving and caring church. A key decision as things unfold is whether to create New Song Church as a separate entity or continue to operate under the authority of Bold Street Methodist. At the moment we decided to continue with the latter. This has been great and has really enabled us to see mixed economy in action; the established church has been really fired up because they see New Song Café developing. As a result they see the future of Bold Street – now part of Sankey Valley Methodist Circuit – as being more secure because of what we are doing. It really is mixed economy in action.

New Song Café - hallI love the traditional, I love the inherited but that alone is not going to be sustainable in its present form for the next 50 years. What will carry Bold Street through is the network of church communities developing. New Song has grown beyond what we ever imagined. Thinking back to the original idea for it all, we might well end up going into Costa and we have an invitation to do so but the next thing is Pub Church in a local bar on a Sunday night.

There are still so many questions of course. How do we grow this? How do we nurture it bearing in mind that some of the people feel disenfranchised with institutional church? How can we adapt our denominational system so that we can be more flexible in structure when things are developing? Could worship leaders, for instance, be licensed to a circuit rather than to a church? At the moment there are quite a lot of challenges around these things and it can be quite frustrating at times.

Sankey Valley Circuit has brought together the former Warrington, Widnes, St Helens and Prescot, and Ashton and Makerfield circuits. Its purpose is to release us for mission and it's wonderful that New Song Café certainly does tell others about Jesus. However, we know that New Song Café is not for everybody and that will also be true when we start up the Pub Church but we're happy with that because we are simply looking to create opportunities for godly relationships.

We have also set up discipleship evenings and between 18 and 25 people now come to that. Thirty five people also came on an away day to explore more about faith. People are being transformed by singing worship to God and the tears of freedom and liberation are phenomenal.

New Song Breakfast is just about to start from 9am to 10.15am at Latchford Methodist Church followed by a traditional Communion service. There will be half hour of bacon butties and then there will be a couple of video clips to prompt a discussion time. The same theme will be used for the New Song Breakfast and the Communion that follows.

Looking ahead, we have been discussing our strategy for future development and 20 people have made a commitment to the New Song Network. We are now exploring the future and are developing a variety of roles in leadership. To be honest, I'm just trying to keep up with it all. We've just given out a New Song calendar detailing what we hope to achieve in 2012. It says, 'Keep calm and pray on!'

St Paul’s Café Church, Dorking

It all started when St Paul's Church, Dorking, opened up its doors to a new 'audience'. As vicar Paul Bryer explains, the result is 'Café Church – church with a twist'.

Our monthly Café Church has been running for two years and it has had an enormous impact as it reaches so many people who would not otherwise come into St Paul's.

Members of our weekly congregation make up about half of those who come along but the rest just come to Café Church. Children's attendance figures have doubled as a result; we normally have about 40 children on a Sunday but at a recent Café Church we welcomed in the region of 80 with 175 adults.

St Paul's Café Church - pointingThe church building itself is on the way to a school so many parents walk past St Paul's during the week. Many mums and dads also drop their children off at our church nursery and, for quite a long time, we had seen people standing outside the church in the cold and the rain while on the school and nursery 'run'.

The thought came to us. Maybe we could give them coffee in the church instead of them having to wait outside? So we opened up the church doors, served coffee in one of our aisles and called it the Earlybird Café. People very quickly started to come in every morning.

The result was that we thought about how we could involve them a little more and invite them to our services. We also knew that if they came into church on a Sunday morning, it was possibly something they had never experienced before – we knew we needed to make it much more user-friendly. That's when we thought about making it a café based service, launched the Café Church on the first Sunday of the month and things have grown from there.

St Paul's Café Church - drinksWhen people walk in they can go and get a tea or coffee, pick up something to eat from bacon rolls and croissants to waffles and homemade cake and take a look at the Sunday papers. Everything is set up around small tables, there's music in the background and it's all very informal. For the first 15 minutes, we just let them come in and 'be' and I then welcome them from the front – but it takes a while for people to settle down!

I explain the theme and tell them that everyone is free to come and go when they want and join in with everything or nothing. Our worship group then lead us in one or two songs which we try to ensure are familiar to those visiting us maybe for the first time.

Each Café Church is themed to run in parallel with the general teaching in the church that week but we make it accessible for this particular congregation. We have found that the only way to gather people together to focus on one thing is to use something highly visual so we usually make the most of a really powerful video clip to illustrate the teaching points.

St Paul's Café Church - craftsI then explain that people can explore the theme in more detail in various ways. We have various 'stations' set up around the church to help people to do this. A small team got the whole idea of the different stations up and running but they have now grown their own teams to develop the work.

There are:

  • creation stations – to make or create something as an act of worship in response to the main key point for that particular session;
  • painting station – contributors paint an entire work of art during Café Church to have it ready by the end of the service;
  • exploration station – to engage with people in greater depth. That may involve looking at some questions around the theme of the day or getting together in buzz groups;
  • prayer station – to encourage various creative ways of praying such as a prayer graffiti wall and 'postcard' prayers as well as having a person available to pray with;
  • giving station – highlighting different ways in which people can give, whether time, money, talents, resources or whatever.

St Paul's Café Church - singersThat all happens for about a quarter of an hour and at the end of that time we then gather everyone together again. Children who have made something show it on our big video screen and we have a final song and then a prayer. It runs from 10.30am for an hour though lots of people do hang around to chat. The response has been huge and it's teaching us a lot about church and being church because it really does attract people who wouldn't come along to the other services.

A big issue now for us is what do we do the week after a Café Church Sunday? Is it enough for these people to double our congregation on the first Sunday of the month and then disappear? If they come to one of our traditional services, they can feel like fish out of water. What about ongoing discipleship? We are dealing with all ages from little ones to teenagers as part of this and it's the kids who are bringing their parents in.

St Paul's Café Church - flagsFor some people in our main congregation it has been a bit of a challenge but they can see the difference it is making. Thinking about the popularity of this form of service with families made me wonder about our context. We are in a commuter belt and many parents work really hard during the week and don't get to see their children very much because they're travelling. If they came to a standard service they would be split up again after 40 minutes when the children go off to their own activities but to have church where the family can all be together within a loving worshipful environment is a different model that seems to fit more comfortably with them.

The introduction of Café Church was a bit of a shock to some in the church but from day one it had an impact on everyone. It's incredibly rewarding how people have been touched with some finding their first expression of faith as a family together. We are always aware of trying to reach those who wouldn't be reached through traditional ways of doing things but it's not something you would undertake lightly. For instance, it was very different for all of us when Café Church fell on Easter Day but we thought, 'Well this is great because it means we can tell more people than usual about Jesus rising from the dead!' We offered an opportunity for people to receive Communion at the prayer station and there was a very warm response to that. Interestingly, they didn't wait in a 'churchy' sort of line for Communion; they just drifted up to the prayer station at different times.

St Paul's Café Church - tableNone of what we have done is rocket science; most churches have run holiday clubs where they have creative activities and we have done that sort of thing too. It's just putting some of these things together and creating an environment where you are willing to take risks. It's also about being prepared to have 'holy disorder' while keeping that dignity of worship somewhere in the midst of it because there is an element of control that is right and godly.

We are just at the point as a church of envisioning what we could look like in a couple of years time and the feeling is that we need to become a lot more like Café Church in our outlook if we are to continue to be missional.


Two worship services now run in parallel at Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral on Sunday mornings. Alongside the traditional choral service, a new, informal worship zone takes place in the building’s Concert Room. Canon Richard White explains more about Zone2.

The 10.30am Sunday Eucharist takes place in two 'zones' simultaneously. People can choose whether to attend the choral service in the main cathedral space, or Zone2.

This development comes out of considerable prayer, discussion and reflection by the Chapter over the past eight months and is enthusiastically supported by them as central to our cathedral's commitment to mission and evangelism.

Zone2 - kidsWe are committed to creating ways to worship that are culturally accessible for a wide range of people. Many find our existing worship immediately attractive, beautiful and moving. It is 'mission-shaped' worship for those people. It is growing in numbers and we aim to attract many more to it. Others though, especially those without a church background who aren't used to classical music and formality, can find it somewhat intimidating and uncomfortable. For many people today, finding their way into our worship is as foreign and threatening as going into a betting shop to place a bet would be for some traditional churchgoers.

Visitors to the new 'zone' make their way down to the Concert Room where we set out large, round tables in café style. Good filter coffee, soft drinks, croissants, and fresh fruit are served so that everyone feels welcome as soon as they arrive. Many of the components of a more traditional Sunday morning service are found in the new 'zone' with Bible reading, teaching, confession and prayer being expressed in an informal and interactive style with all ages worshipping together.

People at Zone2 have the opportunity to go up to the main cathedral service to celebrate Communion for the last part of our time together but others prefer to stay with us and continue to be part of what's happening in the Concert Room. People can chop and change between the two, as suits them. All are welcome to either.The new format, which has been running for about the last six weeks, takes place every Sunday during school term times.

Zone2 - keyboardParents attending the choral service can leave their children at the new 'zone' where recognised adult hosts supervise and care for them. Others come to Zone2 as a family unit.

I've been impressed that our cathedral statement, 'A safe place to do risky things in Christ's service' is referred to frequently in discussions and decisions. Sometimes our tendency to shorten phrases leads to the last three words being dropped but, of course, they are the reason the cathedral exists. In Christ's service we meet, give, work, plan, spend and make decisions about risky opportunities. By definition, risk sometimes go wrong. If we never fail then we're just pretending – which is why the risks are only worth taking if they are genuinely in Christ's service.

Zone2 is a new and exciting venture and will need a period of experimentation. No doubt there will be teething issues and practicalities we hadn't anticipated as we enter this risky thing in Christ's service but, although it's early days as yet, it has been very encouraging to see an average of 60 people coming along. Some people have already said they see it as their church; others have spoken about being able to relax in this environment rather than feeling quite stressed about how their children are reacting to what's going on around them in a more traditional setting.

We are not trying to abolish traditional choral formal worship because the cathedral does that superbly well but in a cathedral building you have got the space to make a choice. It's wonderful that people here now have that choice.

Side Door

Side Door - minibusThe Side Door Youth and Community Church, featured on expressions: the dvd – 2 and once threatened with closure, now attracts more than 150 people – aged between 4 and 95 – every week. Circuit youth co-ordinator Elaine Watkinson explains the turnaround in fortunes.

Side Door is based in the Laceby Road Methodist Church building. Laceby Road ceased to meet in May last year but the community church is open seven days a week, running a variety of different groups on the Nunsthorpe estate.

The changing status of Laceby Road prompted fears that Side Door would also have to call it a day but Grimsby and Cleethorpes Methodist Circuit decided to allow a year's trial from March 2010 to prove that we could become self-sufficient and secure its future. Our members are now responsible for maintaining the building, setting budgets and keeping accounts.

Side Door - RIP

The Circuit has supported us very well and provided oversight of all we have done. The first months of being sole trustees were extremely successful and it has been marvellous to make the most of any opportunities that came our way. Of course we didn't have to wait to get permissions to try something; it was up to us to get on with it! Having the freedom is excellent but we still need an income from the building for it to be worthwhile.

The local YMCA now uses our building once a week and so we have been able to engage with all their young people, we even did a panto with them. Here is a church that is 'being' church, 'being' outreach, affecting the lives of ordinary people on the street. That's why I can find it so difficult when we seem to be continually questioned as to whether we're really 'church' or not. It seems particularly odd when there so many churches which cannot lay claim at all to 'being' outreach or affecting the lives of ordinary people and yet their status is never queried.

Side Door - crossThe situation will be reviewed at the end of March but, at the moment, we continue planning on being here for the foreseeable future because this is a live and going concern.

It's an awesome responsibility, an albatross of a responsibility at times, because the Laceby Road building is a huge, rambling place but is also so right for what we are doing here. I wouldn't say we 'wanted' the building but we do need a base and it's perfect for that. There was a time when we would have fitted in a tent on the lawn outside Laceby Road but there's no chance of that now!

We are very forward looking and intentionally missional because we know this building has got to earn its keep. We are not going to meet that by relying on a membership of 25, many of whom are at university, or short of money, or older in years. We are very reliant on God's grace.

We have a church council and everybody who comes along to The Side Door is, more or less, on the church council and our leadership team. They can't all vote of course but they do all have a say. There are about 35 people who come regularly to worship with us and that's great.

Side Door - floorSide Door started as a project but developed into a church. We had our outreach before we were a church, which is the opposite way round to the way it usually works. It officially remains a Circuit-based outreach more or less owned by the church. Some churches can exist without outreach. We can't. Now the outreach needs the church, they are inseparable.

We are open every day of the week at some point in the day and the breadth of people we are in contact with is staggering because of all sorts of activities. It may be something for children aged five and over, lunch clubs currently attracting people up to the age of 95, and the YMCA crowd which include that missing generation of 30-somethings.

We are still very much focused on reaching young people but others are now being drawn in. There is a community event on a Wednesday lunchtime where those in their 40s, 50s and 60s come along from the local estate to sell items of their personal clothing or belongings in an auction. We were unsure of letting it go ahead at first and we were quite uncomfortable with it but this is something that is very much needed in this area and now we are so glad we said yes because we have been very blessed as a result. All sorts of conversations are now underway that we would never have had without it.

Side Door - poolThose on the estate will, in all probability, not be moving on from there because many will not have that freedom of choice. Those people are now saying to us, 'We want to spend time with you.' The mindset has changed completely. In turn we have to be prepared to cope with ways of thinking or doing things that we may personally find difficult or strange.

There are pressures involved in all of this, of course there are but we all feel called to be there. No-one is here out of duty, we are here out of love. We are as vulnerable as any other church but I'd say the difference is that we are very aware of the need to avoid complacency. There's too much to do and too many people to reach.

Mind the Gap

Mind the Gap - baby

It has been a time of great change for Mind the Gap. What started as a project in the Gateshead and Jarrow Methodist Circuit in 2001 became a church in its own right seven years later. Stephen Murray took over the reins as leader in September 2009; he tells us what happened next.

Mind the Gap had been set up to offer support, discipleship and alternative worship for those who were feeling isolated in established church. It also had a missional aim as a cell church initiative to reach people with the Gospel.

We were based in cells and also got together every month to worship, as well as offering regular faith finding courses and seeker events. The idea wasn't to plant a fresh expression of church as such, we just tried to follow what God was doing at the time and respond to that.

It was fantastic to see people being renewed in their faith, discover it for the first time, or grow in maturity and we were so grateful for the backing from people across the Circuit and others in authority who built us up with their support. So much was going on in those early days and it would have been very easy to lose sight of what it was all about, so you have to keep it at the forefront of your mind and your prayers.

Mind the gap - bannerGrowing leaders and helping people to achieve their potential was something that underpinned everything. Elaine Lindridge was our leader at that time and she helped us through a major transition in 2008 when many members of the Mind the Gap – who were also involved in their own local churches and doing too much as a result – were released to go back to those fellowships.

A relatively few number of people remained but they saw Mind the Gap as their spiritual home and so Mind the Gap became more formally recognised as a church in 2009. I was Elaine's assistant leader three years ago before going on to co-lead it with her; then I took the lead one year ago and Elaine became my coach. Last September I took on full responsibility for overall leadership, planning strategy, and pastoral care, but I am so grateful for that model of encouraging lay and indigenous people and preparing the ground for a leadership change.

We meet at Sheriff Hill Methodist Church's building at 5pm on Sundays, and have midweek cells in various homes. Our Sunday sessions always start with food because we see that as an integral part of our worship. We now have a rota of people who come along and do a buffet tea, or something like that, for us.

Focusing on the importance of building community with food has made a big impact on the life of the church – in fact it became so much part and parcel of who we are that people have said they feel very strange not to be fed if they go to a service anywhere else!

Mind the gap - micA worship leader will start up at about 5.30pm and we'll go through to 6.30-7. There are no set rules as to what happens but generally there is a speaker or people sharing what has been happening for about 10minutes. At other times we'll use the NOOMA DVDs by Rob Bell to prompt discussion; on other occasions we use songs and projected words.

When we first started, we ran Alpha in that timeslot and that seemed to work very well for us. Now we're starting to think about how we can engage effectively in all-age worship. We are also looking at employing a youth worker just for a Sunday evening as we are a very small church and it’s a very small group of people who do the work.

Mind the Gap became a variation of what church is on a Sunday, and it's what we do in the week during the cell that makes us different. Discipleship in a cell group has stimulated a kind of shifting mindset about what the Church is and what we do in it.

There have been quite a few who have gone through Mind the Gap but others have made roots here. It's interesting to see that people today tend to be committed to God but not so committed to an individual church.

Our numbers can range between 10 and 25 but we will get a core of people here every week. Up to eight kids from the ages of 9-13 also turn up on a Sunday. In all I'd say we probably have regular contact on a Sunday, at least once a month, with about 40 people.

At the moment we have got two cells rather than three. In what is an interesting experiment one cell has divided during its weekly meeting with one half going into a room to do cell material and the other half (about four people) watching an Alpha Express DVD to see how Alpha works in a cell.

Mind the gap - worship leadersThose who have committed to cell have grown a great deal in confidence and are prepared to do more and more things. One example is when a homeless lady came into Mind the Gap having been to the main church in the morning where she had been given a crisis number to ring if she wanted to find a bed for the night. Instead she came to us, shared our food, and sat through a service after which one of our members said she would help to find this lady a bed. People are doing things like that through the growth in fellowship. It's key because it's about not trying to do things on an inappropriate scale, doing things that are right for our normal figures of 18-22 people rather than something more suitable for a church of 80-100.

It's all about being flexible in responding to change and opportunities. When we were a Circuit-wide one-off monthly event, we'd have a worship band and a lot of people would come along. Now we meet every week and usually have one worship leader but that's much more appropriate to the surroundings.

Some of the new opportunities include a family film morning with refreshments on the last Saturday of the month. What we have found is that we don't get as many church people come along to that but we have made contact with about six or seven people we had never met before. The possibility is always there for them to come along on a Sunday as well but we don't force anything, we just want to provide a service in what is a socially deprived area.

It's all relatively small numbers but it feels like it's the right thing to be doing. In 2010 we are also trying to do two to three prayer labyrinths – though in the place of the Good Friday labyrinth this year we decided to do things differently and screen The Miracle Maker animated film. Future plans include hiring the children's pool at the local swimming baths so that the little ones can have fun there. All of these community events are free, we want to be seen to be giving and not taking.

Mind the gap - discussionWe are also looking forward to our first Mens' Breakfast in July when our speaker will be a man was a local gangster before becoming a Christian and a church leader. The idea is very much to try and engage with men in their 20s and 30s.

In future, I would just like to see the church increase in its vision for the community and get to know more and more people around us. I also pray that those who are already involved in Mind the Gap will be not so much committed to the work of the church for itself but instead be committed to mission and evangelism focusing on friendship.

I'd also like us to grow and take on the cell values, build ourselves up and help others on their journey. The Church has to be missional so we need to set up worship that's different but engaging. Deliberate choices have to be made in what you want to do and that should be to reach people who are not yet Christians. Putting on events for people just like us is not what we're about. One of our values at Mind the Gap is that we don't want to take people from another church fellowship, I sometimes feel a bit sad when I see some congregations growing simply because people are coming from other churches.

In the Church in general, it can seem that your main aim in life is to get money and raise money. What does that mean for us? We lose focus as to what we are all about. At Mind the Gap, we just try to cover costs and trust that God will provide. Yes it's important to be wise with the resources that God has given us but it can't be right if the finances push out all thoughts of reaching people for Christ.