Deeper Network Church

Andy Poultney is minister-in-charge of Deeper Network Church, based in what was a restaurant on Romford High Street.

Deeper Network Church originated as 'Deeper' six years ago at St James', Collier Row, with St John's, Havering-Atte-Bower. Deeper, a fresh expression of church, came together as I began serving as curate with a bunch of young adults; my plan was simply to see what God was doing and join in with it.

Following much discussion and prayer, we decided that we wanted to focus on other young adults in the pub and club culture of central Romford. Night-time economy is important here; about 10,000 to 12,000 people descend on the local pubs and clubs every weekend.

We had great support from the community of St James' and St John's and the result was that we launched The Deeper Lounge as a safe space, in Romford's market place, on Friday nights. It started in December 2009 and it has continued to run most weeks; we have served many hundreds of cups of tea and coffee since then and – more importantly – met some great people and had some great chats.

Deeper Network Church - caféWorking alongside Street Pastors, we set up under one of the market stalls and operated from there. After a while, the local authority recognised that we were providing a valuable service and wanted to help us a little more so they bought us a large, pop-up gazebo. It was about a year ago that we moved to a prime spot and now we regularly see about 100 people a night.

I'm part of The Order of Mission and, using missional community 'language', I was – by this stage – beginning to think about what was to happen next because the end of my curacy was on the horizon. The Friday nights were going well and there was also a youth project called DIY (Deeply Impacting Youth) which was engaging with about 60-70 young people.

There was a very strong sense that if we moved away, the work was not yet strong enough to be led by anybody else, and in 2012 we felt God was calling us to become a permanent presence in central Romford rather than just dipping in and out.

In April 2013, ten of us were released from St James' and St John's in order to establish a new worshipping community known as Deeper Network Church. Our office base, and home to lots of what we do now, is called The Deeper Lounge and it's on the high street in Romford.

Deeper Network Church - caféIt's owned by the London Borough of Havering and we rent it from them. It used to be an Afro-Caribbean restaurant but the building has been gutted at a cost of £50,000. It's always incredible to see what God can do, time and time again I've been in the building while work has been going on and as people walk past, one in five will stop and ask what is going on. It offers a natural opportunity to get into conversations with all sorts of people. We applied to the Mission Opportunities Fund to cover our salary costs but money is tight and we are living by faith beyond 2014.

The Diocese of Chelmsford granted us a Bishop's Mission Order and this has been important in how we, and others, view the work. When talking about The Deeper Lounge I like to say, 'this is not a youth centre, it's not a community centre, I want to start calling it home – to us that home is a church'. It's a venue and the idea is that we will continue to do a lot of outward focused work and to engage with mission with different community groups.

We have got a reception area, a coffee shop-sized space, a small kitchen, an office and a prayer room. The plan after Easter is to do a bit of everything in this space, including activities for young people, homeless people and parents. Deeper Network Church will develop for all these different people groups.

Part of my previous role was to act as youth adviser to the bishop but I am now stopping that work as my wife and I will be moving into a community house because I'm becoming Young Vocations Champion for the diocese. This will involve mentoring interns and four guys will live with us and take on placements.

Deeper Network Church - mealBasically, everything that we do begins with service. When we're out under the gazebo speaking to young people late at night at Friday, we'll say, 'would you like a free tea or coffee?' Generally the third or fourth question people ask is, 'why are you doing this?' You tell them and we get varying responses: from complete disbelief to 'oh, that's cute' or similar.

Everything we do is to move on conversations and relationships from 'Oh cute' to our vision of deepening life together as disciples of Jesus Christ. That can be a real challenge but there's nothing else I'd rather do.


A former warehouse in Wimborne is set to open as a community centre, café and skatepark in March 2014. Project director Andy Putt tells of the story so far and StreetLight's plans to host a fresh expression of church on site.

The vision for StreetLight as a Christian charity is to reach young people and adults who have not, and will not, engage with 'church'; and present the gospel message through relevant culture which engages them with God – and starts them on a journey with him as well as teaching others to do the same.

Much has happened over the past four years but the story actually began in 2002 when I was involved in my local church in Southampton. I was walking past an empty plot of land when I heard God's call to start a skate ministry to reach those who aren't involved in anything to do with church or Jesus. This was really strange because I had never skated in my life! I started doing youth work and pioneering-type projects but time moved on and, in 2007, I moved to Wimborne to be youth pastor at St John's Church.

StreetLight - communityIn February 2011, I really felt that God was preparing me to 'think outside the box' again and discover what was breaking his heart in our area. Soon after that was the birth of StreetLight and its mission to reach Wimborne for Christ. A group of us had been running street projects, and getting to know young people on the nearby Leigh Park Estate, for some while as we thought and prayed about what God wanted us to do.

In the back of my mind there was still this idea of a Café/Indoor Skatepark/Ministry Hub so – in summer 2012 – I went to the Momentum conference and 'put out a fleece about it', praying that God would make it very clear if that was what he wanted me to do. The answer came back loud and clear from that event and I knew I couldn't ignore it. In addition, while working full-time, I completed a degree in Community Evangelism and Theology and things really started to move from there.

A team just seemed to grow out of nowhere for this vision. As I started to speak to others, people were simply offering to help out. It was clearly time for something to happen.

StreetLight - buildingIn January 2013 I stepped down from my church youth ministry, took three months off and did some networking. In April, I started to move StreetLight on from something that simply involved handing out hot soup to people to finding a place as a mission hub. The hub would include a café, skatepark and ministry base with admin offices. I had identified a building almost two years previously and things progressed very quickly when, at a church, I 'happened' to bump into the financial director of those same premises.

After various discussions, we had our first trustees' meeting and decided to take on the building in June. The following month, we put in a change of use application and I started full-time on the project in August. I believe it's very important to keep all the other Wimborne churches in the loop about what we're doing so I have regularly shared the vision with them and we are also a mission partner of St John's.

Work is going ahead on the building and we've now got a committed group of people who want to invest in the vision. StreetLight was granted change of use by the local council and we should be fully open to the public on 29th March 2014.

StreetLight - worshipAs part of what will be available there; we are looking to establish The Gathering, a fresh expression of church meeting weekly on site. We also hope to run discipleship groups, cell groups and adult groups for those who want to explore more of the Christian faith.

As ever, there has been some church 'politics' behind the scenes but the fact is that StreetLight is about reaching new people for Christ – people who wouldn't normally be reached. It's not about bums on seats, it's about building kingdom. The reason that things have happened, and are happening, is because God's in it.

StreetLight will offer a very different expression of church in The Gathering. It will be a place for us to engage with individuals and church as community, not a Sunday service. We are not an 'alternative' to church, we are church.

I am very fortunate in the people now supporting StreetLight. We have a board of seven Trustees and two Young Trustees who very much like to help in practical, as well as strategic, ways. We also employ one person to work on grant applications for us.  We are also looking for a full time café manager.

StreetLight - teamBy Easter, we plan to have employment in place for probably two people – including me! At the moment I am living by faith and I have certainly learned something through that. Thankfully I have good personal support; I attend a local church, meet up with the pastor regularly, have prayer backing from a lot of people, and meet weekly with a couple to pray, and I see a mentor every month. Streetlight is also getting support from local churches; some through finance, some through resources, and some through airtime in allowing us to tell their fellowships of the StreetLight vision.

It has been fascinating to visit similar ministries as part of my research and it was very helpful to go to Legacy XS in Benfleet, Essex, and The Unit at Launceston in Cornwall. This has definitely confirmed my being a pioneer minister; I seem to have been pioneering things all my life in one way or another and this is another step in that journey!

I have had a lot of great support from people right across the church spectrum but the important message to get across always is that this isn't just a skatepark for young people. At StreetLight we aim to introduce people to Jesus through something they can relate to and it's very exciting.

The Studio

As a fresh expression of church in The Congregational Federation, The Studio is still finding its feet. Its Missioner, David Richards, explains how it came about.

Heaton Park Congregational Church in Prestwich, Manchester, was built in 1881 but it closed down five years ago because the Grade II listed building had fallen into a serious state of disrepair.

The elderly congregation found it increasingly difficult to use the site and there was a big question mark over the future of this particular church. They decided to sell it to a developer and the church was converted into 23 apartments and penthouses. A new, modern worship area was also built next to the old church as part of the scheme and this is now used as The Studio community space.

When The Studio first came into the ownership of The Congregational Federation, General Secretary Michael Heaney explored how best it could be used. At that time I had just finished a pastorate in Rhiwderin, South Wales, and Michael told me about this space in Manchester. We met and the whole thing just snowballed!

The Studio - cathedralI was a photographer's assistant at a studio in Cardiff and we were very much part of what was going on in our area so this was a big move for us because we didn't know much about Manchester at all. We did quite a lot of preparation before we came, researching the area and the feel of the community. We also came up to see the building a few times and thought in detail about how it might best be used – though we could see the concept of it being an art space straight away.

We drew up a comprehensive report along those lines and presented it to the Council of the Federation. They were very supportive and the Federation paid for a nearby manse as rented accommodation for me and my family. The three years of initial funding take us to end of next year and we've now been given a further three years after that.

In our first year here, we had a general concept of it being a studio space so we did lots of things just to see what happened. It was a frustrating time because it was a very slow start.

At the start of the second year we connected with a woman who was very much a person of peace to us. She had an artist friend called Micah Purnell who had an exhibition at The Studio which attracted a bit of media attention and it kick-started a lot of other activity. Since then, there have been several exhibitions and we have got at least five in the diary for next year. It did take us a while to find that niche but once we started to get the contacts, it snowballed.

The Studio - smilesThat all continues to go really well, both with Christian and secular artists, and – in other developments – we have also made some strong connections with local community groups. We are starting to break ground locally and in the wider North West area where we are making some key faith connections with various projects. For the next stage, we need a few others to partner with us in prayer and resources. We need to build a group that can take it on, strengthening each part of it because there's a lot of potential here.

Our Sunday Gathering meets every week at 3.30pm as there are quite a lot of other churches in the area and we didn't want to set up yet another 10am service! It's very informal, café-style and we generally end up with a group discussion based on a biblical theme and look at how it applies to our day-to-day lives.

At the moment it's still a relatively small group. We have had our ups and downs with it but we are holding it very lightly because we would very much like a new church community to generate itself through what happens at The Studio. The Sunday Gathering is more a place of support for us as a team coming from various church backgrounds than a place where new people would ultimately end up. We are trying to see it as a bit of an experimental ground for ourselves but it would be marvellous to eventually have two emerging faith communities running simultaneously.

The Studio - wordsThe Sunday Gathering group includes people from The Congregational Federation's national youth and children's office, based in our building. They have three main employees and an intern and they were all 'transplanted' into the area when the office moved to Manchester. Their presence not only makes the building much more sustainable in its usage but they have also been a great support to us.

What we wanted to do is to have another church community that could quite easily emerge from people who express an interest in it. The Sunday Gathering is an opportunity but it isn't 'be all and end all'. As we start to put our heads above the parapet and say to people, 'We would like to explore with you,' then that would give us the beginnings of an emerging congregation. As a pastor that's what you want, that's the position you want to come to and it's very easy to become impatient but I need to keep on reminding myself that God is on the case.

One of the things we are trying to look at is how best to have spiritual interaction when the exhibitions are on. At the moment we give people a postcard to write down their own opinions and thoughts but we are currently trying to figure out how to do that in a more effective way than at present.

The Studio - Day 1In terms of accountability, we have a management group in Nottingham and I go over and meet with them. I also have a direct line manager and I see her quite regularly in order to pray and talk through where to go next. Until now, lots of the strategic thinking has been coming from me. This has involved bringing forward an idea, working through it, getting a feeling for it and looking at partners who will join and the relationships that will bring. What has become clear in recent times is that we need to have more people involved in local planning because the management group are not in the city. They can take it so far and then we really need to get people on the ground to act as another group to take it forward from there.

The Studio has already attracted attention from people wanting to start similar projects elsewhere. A Manchester-based charity, called The Mustard Tree, has launched an art course for homeless people and they are going to be doing an exhibition with us as well.

This is all really good news but we have got quite a few things that are on hold because of the challenges of resourcing them. I'm 'officially' part-time and involved for about 18.75 hours a week but, of course, it tends to be longer than that though I try to be as disciplined as I can. I know I'm very fortunate in pioneering terms as a far as funding is concerned, I'm very privileged. However, I still rely a lot on my part-time wage; I'm doing additional bits and pieces but it's not sustainable particularly when know that, for many organisations, the fifth year of a project is seen as the 'make or break' crunch year.

The Studio - secretOur programme is quite varied and all of our projects look for new ways to engage with people about our connections with God. They include:

  • Doodle: an art and craft group for toddlers and their carers every Wednesday from 10.30am to 1pm during term-time;
  • PAUSE: encourages busy people to take a few moments to stop and reflect on life. The technique used is loosely based on an Ignation meditation exercise;
  • varied exhibitions;
  • Gotosofa: A community that meets once a month at a cinema as an opportunity to discuss life and meaning through the medium of film.

Our Sundays currently look like this:

  • Gathering Around A Screen (1st Sunday of the month). Short video, small group discussions and a video;
  • Messy Gathering (2nd Sunday of the month) Fun family time with art and craft activities leading into a time of short reflection;
  • Prayers and Praise Gathering (3rd Sunday of the month). An inspiring time of music, art and creative prayer;
  • Gathering at the Table (4th Sunday of the month) Share a meal together, including Communion;
  • Gathering with a Guest (5th Sunday of the month).

The Studio - greyIt would be great to hear people say, 'We see the value in what you have established and we would love to come on board and help'. That might come from other Christians in a local fresh expression of church or a totally different source. Time will tell.

Messy Church at St Pancras

Ruth Burrows tells how Messy Church continues to transform the ministry of St Pancras, Chichester.

It is amazing to see what God has done at St Pancras since we first launched Messy Church in November 2011. Before then we were really struggling to connect with young families in the area, in fact we would have no children at all in our congregation. Our Messy Church now attracts about 50 adults and 40 children and it has gone up beyond this on occasions!

I lead a team which is involved in prayer, planning and preparation for each of the Messy Church sessions at St Pancras. Students from the University of Chichester also lend a helping hand at our Messy Church, which runs on the first Sunday of the month from 4pm to 5.30pm.

Messy Church St Pancras - handsIt's partly bridge-building, some parents have started to bring their children along to St Pancras services, but I'd say a lot of people think of Messy Church as their church because there is worship, there is biblical input and there is relationship with God and each other.

The story really started in summer 2011, a few months after our Rector, Mark Payne, came to St Pancras. There was a Messy Church presentation going on at another church and Mark suggested that it would be good for someone to go along, find out about it and report back. Of course, he already knew about Messy Church… but he sent me along anyway as I have a nursery school and teaching background. He knew that I would be very enthused and encouraged about the whole thing! He also knew that I'd come back and say it was something we should do.

His response was, 'Great! So, when can we get started then?'

From there, our launch team came together and it was initially made up of people at the core of our church, those in leadership roles and with experience of children. It was quite a small team but, even at that time, it included a couple of students from the University of Chichester. When we got Messy Church off the ground in November 2011, we attracted maybe 10-15 adults and about 10 children.

Messy Church St Pancras - craftSince then, the team has changed and we have had increasing support from students – many of whom have become integrated in the wider life of the church as a result. This has been fantastic to see but right from the start it was emphasised that we didn't want to have a very forthright evangelical approach to outreach through Messy Church. I think some people felt that if you don't 'hit' people hard with the gospel message, then Messy Church is not worth doing. Well, we don't hit people hard with the message; I feel quite passionately about that. However, we do feel that Messy Church is offering an opportunity for many people to discover God's love – maybe for the first time. Messy Church is right for us in our context because it is non-pressurising and really gentle, with much being conveyed through conversations and relationships.

Right from the start we looked on Messy Church as 'church' and, soon after we started, quite a number of those involved took part in a training session with Lucy Moore. This helped to reinforce the ideas that we had been expressing as a team about Messy Church's purpose.

I now lead a team of about 15, eight of whom are students. We also have a couple of people from other churches from various denominations in the mix and that helps to bring different people in; it also saves it from being a St Pancras, Church of England, 'thing'. Also involved is a woman who runs the toddler group in the parish, a couple of like- minded teachers, the university students, and Mark (the Rector) and curate, Chris Styles.

Messy Church St Pancras - Christingle orangeWe meet once a month, a week after we have had a Messy Church so that we can review what happened and learn from things that have gone well or not so well. I normally brainstorm ideas and discuss these with the group but, as time has gone on, what has grown is a confidence from others in coming up with ideas. At first I was doing it all but now it is shared out a lot more. We plan what the next few themes are going to be and talk about particular families that have come to the fore in the last Messy Church session (perhaps through a personal conversation one of us has had) and how we can take these people forward in their next step of faith and discipleship. Our conversations revolve around building on the Bible stories that people have heard and highlight themes such as forgiveness and the person of Jesus.

So we might look at, 'What kind of things are we going to be talking about in the next Messy Church? What can come from this? What sort of conversations might this theme produce?' It's all about thinking ahead and trying to discern how God wants this to develop and what we need to do to join in with Him on it.

It is wonderful for those of us who have been on the team since day one to witness what God has done. Then we had no children, now we average about 40 children and 50 adults. Our 'problem' is now a very good one to have because we are reaching capacity so our question is, 'How are we to arrange things in future?'

Messy Church St Pancras - starsWe've found it an advantage for Messy Church to take place in our church building because it helps to take away any preconceived ideas about what Christians, and particularly clergy, may be like – but space is now at a premium. However, St Pancras also owns the building next door and our long-term plan is to use that so Messy Church can 'float' between the two sites. At this stage, the people who I have been more personally involved with at Messy Church are de-churched rather than unchurched but we are still at an early stage in the development of this fresh expression.

The good thing is that we don’t have any pressure to get the people who come along into 'normal' church. It's true that, before Messy Church, the average number of children in a service had been zero and now we might have between 5 and 10; that's not the intention of Messy Church but it's certainly been a bi-product! We’ve also had a couple of baptisms come from it, a mother and her children.

Another woman and her two children came for a while, started to come to services at St Pancras, did an Alpha course and then disappeared. She came back for a Messy Church barbecue to tell us she'd done Christianity Explored at a local Baptist Church and had stayed there. She was a bit embarrassed about going somewhere else but we said, 'That's fantastic. It's not about making you come to our church, it's just exciting that you have found this relationship with God'.

Messy Church St Pancras - houseA big challenge is to ensure that we don't get so bogged down in Messy Church's activities that we miss out on the opportunities to create meaningful relationships with those who come along. However, one of our strengths is that Mark or Chris is always free for a chat at Messy Church and that's really important. Normally both of them are there and it's great to have someone who isn't tied in to all that's going on with the art and crafts. It means that the mums and dads and carers don't have to be 'doing' something all the time; instead they'll have someone to have conversations with – and not in a pressurised way. It's also useful for many people to talk to clergy very informally!

I think the next step for us as a team is to explore further how people might start, or continue, their journey with Christ. This is so, so important because it's possible to be very heavily involved in something like Messy Church and yet not feel challenged by it.

As part of this review of the next phase of Messy Church @ St Pancras, I believe we also have to think about everything we do in our 'normal' church services. It's not just a case of asking the difficult questions of our Messy Church, we have to be prepared to do the same thing across the board. To me, that means when we pray, have 'a time of worship' and listen to a sermon or talk, we have to ask, 'What language are we using and what concepts are we drawing on?' We may go on and on about 'blessings' and 'outpouring' but for someone unfamiliar to church life, do they understand what we mean?

Messy Church St Pancras - cakeMessy Church has made me think so much about the people we wouldn't normally reach through traditional church, and those who have been hurt by church in the past. If our language and ways of doing things are a stumbling block to those people, we really need to think again.


The Ark - logoThe ARK is a place where children and their families can learn about Jesus and explore their faith. Established in 2007 in Newmains, The ARK has since grown significantly and is aiming to make a real difference to the people of the area. Shona Stirling explains more.

We currently have 80 kids on our register and also run something called Oasis for adults, and a youth cell group for those in the first three years of secondary school. Plans are also in the pipeline for a new community project focussed on out of school support.

Oasis runs alongside The ARK in a cafe church style to give everyone the opportunity to learn about God's love, have fellowship and meet new friends over a cuppa.

Our support churches are Coltness Memorial Church and Bonkle Church; they are linked churches in that they have one minister but two of everything else. There has always been a real history of kids' work here but, over the last 10 years or so that work had started to decline. There were all sorts of reasons – changes in family life, different pressures on families, regulars getting older and a decline in the number of young families attending.

I was trying to make things more family friendly but was banging my head against a brick wall. Why did the numbers drop? Basically because we didn't have any influence at all with the kids in the village. As a result we decided to run a holiday club and see what happened, on the back of that we ran a kids' Alpha in the church at the same time as the adult course.

From that we established a core congregation of kids who were really interested, or who had come to faith from Alpha. We launched The ARK as a Tuesday night congregation, but from the beginning we made it clear that this was not an outreach from those meeting on a Sunday morning.

Sundays were definitely not the best time for something new as we've got a lot of single parent families in the area, and kids are either with the other parent at the weekend or the parent wanted to take them somewhere else. As everywhere now, there are also a lot of football clubs and sports clubs so there were lots of tired parents about. They were running around six days a week and, quite understandably, didn’t want to get up early on a Sunday.

It wasn't long before the Tuesday night sessions at Coltness Memorial Hall also had some of the parents coming along as well. They were using The ARK to dip their toe in the water, with the result that we had increasing numbers of adults there.

After another tranche of Alpha on a Tuesday, several parents formed a group to meet on a Tuesday night. For the children, we started off as being for five to 12-year-olds; then it became five to 13, and now it’s five to 14. We have grown up with them!

A particular challenge is trying to bridge the gap for kids between singing and worship. Traditionally we are very strong on sung worship in church but not everyone likes to sing. I do teach sung worship to kids and I do expect that we should sing but I also recognise that there are lots of people who express themselves differently.

The Ark - rainbow ribbonWe went on to introduce flags because some of our boys who hate singing really love flags. We are not getting it 100% right all the time by any means but we do talk about worship as a response to Jesus, and emphasise that worship can be done in a variety of ways. We say that if we want to respond by singing quietly, that’s fine, but there are all sorts of other expressions too. Some of our boys breakdance and some choose to just sit quietly or to use sign language instead of singing.

At least once a term we also have an all age get-together when we ask the children to invite anyone who lives in their house. The format there is a bit like Messy Church where there is some kind of teaching as well as craft activity.

We use the whole building at Coltness Memorial Church. For a while we did meet in a local café and developed great links with the Muslim owner and his family. Sadly his business faced real difficulties and we couldn’t use the café any more but our friendship with him goes on.

In the next stage we aim to have premises of our own. The church is currently on the periphery of the parish, which has about 3,500 people. Our vision is to move The ARK lock, stock and barrel into the middle of the village from where we could run a community venture, and provide other groups for children’s activities – both spiritual and otherwise. ARK is also working closely with Newmains Primary School and Morningside Primary School to offer a number of clubs for children and their parents.

We have a building in mind so we've been working on a feasibility study and business plan. Both churches are very closely involved in the future plans, and it’s exciting to see!

Fresh expressions of church have always been there but in our traditional congregations we have often become so comfortable with what we're doing that we forget there is any other valid way to 'do' church. As far as we're concerned, the whole fresh expressions thing is about blessing the community, not trying to do the hard sell and convince them that we know what’s best but simply to demonstrate the love of Jesus to those currently outside traditional church circles.