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.
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.
Our outline structure for 11 Alive is:
- refreshments and activities;
- 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.