Life Church

Susan Sadler, lead evangelist with Christians Against Poverty and leader of Life Church, Newton Aycliffe, tells how the community grew from 10 to 100 in just over a year.

I have to be totally honest, this is something none of us expected; but we know that God has given us something very special because nearly all of the people who come through our doors have not been church attenders before.

Amazingly, it's only about 18 months ago since a group of us from a small house church started to reach out into the community a little bit more. With very limited resources, we set up a charity called Lifeline Community Action in order to develop some work within a five mile radius of Newton Aycliffe in County Durham, where we're based.

Lifeline Community Action was the catalyst for a 'Helping Hands Project' for which people would be referred through various agencies and organisations. Some of the people we were coming into contact with wanted to know more about why we were doing these things and what this Christian faith was all about, so we started to meet together on Thursday evenings in someone's home to explore that in more depth.

Life Church - shoesWe are part of the Acts 435 initiative which helps people and churches to give money directly to those most in need. I noticed that, as I was going out and about delivering goods and care parcels, people kept talking more about the Thursday night gathering than the help they'd received! At that time, hardly anyone described what was happening on Thursdays as 'church' but it had definitely become an accepted gathering place.

Just over a year ago, our Bible study gatherings got too big for a living room. We realised that we'd have to find another venue because this is an area which suffers economically so we knew that the housing stock would be too small to accommodate the people wanting to come along.

In the end we decided to step out in faith and rent somewhere. I emailed three places and the room we found, in a local centre, could take 25 people. We thought that was fine but, a few weeks later, we had outgrown it with 32 people. Then the opportunity came up to go to Greenfield School where they had a room available in the week that had space for 50. Again, that sounded perfect but when we moved in, we took 49 people with us.

Soon after that we moved into the school hall because our membership now stands at about 100 and we'll generally have an average of 70 attending most weeks. I lead what is now known as Life Church and we have a couple of elders from the West Auckland Vineyard Church who come and help us.

Most of the people who come have never been part of a community like this or had any previous experience of church. Some, but not all, of them came to us through Christians Against Poverty (CAP). We had a CAP centre here for quite a few years so I've known many people in the area; it has been good to see some of them get involved in Life Church but I'd say that the majority of our regulars were not previously involved with CAP.

Life Church - drop-inWhen people want to know more of the Christian faith but have never previously been involved in church life, it can be difficult for CAP centres to know how to respond. Many churches do a great job of discipling people – and often in significant numbers – but not everyone feels at home in a more traditional church setting. That's when something different may come into being, something that is appropriate for people in their particular Christian journey.

Life Church attracts a wide range of people, including some who are quite challenging in their lifestyle and behaviour. It's great to reach gang leaders and children expelled from school, of course, but it brings its own problems and I have been criticised for that. I've been told, 'You encourage these people, Susan' and my critics are quite right, I do encourage these people and I will always encourage them!

I have worked for CAP for twelve years and have seen people become Christians, go to church for a few weeks and then give up on it because – for one reason or another – they struggle to thrive in that environment. The vast majority of churches are welcoming and caring but some people can still feel overwhelmed by it all; I'm so grateful to God that Life Church has become a place where many have settled down to explore their faith. Thankfully, we keep seeing the fruits of that; in summer 2013 we baptised ten people.

If you just look at the growth in numbers, you can miss the fact that this is massively challenging work to be involved in – you really do need the heart to do it. Our outreach into the wider area is because we are committed to God, to each other and to the community. That's the pecking order.

We are also very fortunate in that the local churches have been very supportive of us, including St Clare's Church of England parish church, Great Aycliffe, and West Auckland Vineyard Church.

Life Church - kidsAll churches want to disciple people in a way, and with resources, they can understand – and we're no different! Our attitude at Life Church is, 'you don't opt in, you opt out', so unless people definitely say that they don't want to be involved in something we assume that they will be. I say to everyone, 'we are all "in" unless you tell me otherwise'.

At CAP, our basic resources for discipleship are a Discovery Steps course and Discovery Breaks and I have been, and continue to be, involved in these resources as part of my work with Christians Against Poverty. The Lord very clearly gave me the vision for both of these and, basically, 'downloaded' the information to me some years ago!

Discovery Steps is an introduction to Christianity course which not only looks at such questions as 'What's life all about?' and 'Why should I read the Bible?' but also covers things like, 'What about my worries, my anger?'. Discovery Breaks came about when I asked CAP's UK chief executive Matt Barlow, 'Could we take some people away to help them find out more about themselves and about God?' That was ten years ago and we took 70 people away. There are now 14 Discovery Breaks up and down the country every year and probably about 1,000 people each year will benefit by being on one.

These breaks take place at different places up and down the country but a venue tends to be no more than two hours maximum from where they live. Generally they are full board. The programme is a holistic one; for at least one of the sessions they will hear a main gospel message and have a prayer time, but we also see it as a time of relaxation and fun, things like games and trips to theme parks and pampering sessions. Discovery Breaks can be life-changing but it's also important to do the regular things well at grass roots level when we're back on home territory.

What we make available at Life Church is very much like some aspects of what's on offer through the Discovery Breaks. If anyone new comes to the church for instance, we always offer to take them out for a meal. We've also had a 'getting to know you' event at the Rockliffe Hall and Wynyard Hall Country House Hotels in County Durham. Most of our people will never have had the chance to go to a luxury hotel but we want them to know how special they are and how precious they are individually.

Life Church - helping handsEvery single one of church members will get weekly texts or phone calls from us. If they couldn't get to church for one reason or another we'll send them a message to say we've missed them. We also have Spot Prizes where people can nominate others for a gift every week; if it's anybody's birthday we'll sing to them and if there happens to be a few birthdays we'll sing happy birthday to each one of them personally. We want to make the point that we are all, individually, important to God and to each other. This year, many of us are going to France together for a week's camping holiday. We are also taking about 70 people to the Jonas Centre in Leyburn, Wensleydale, for a retreat in August and recently we took the ladies of Life Church to a Christian conference.

It's no surprise that Life Church celebrates whenever someone turns to faith but some might question, 'Is this a real salvation because it's in a different sort of church?' The answer's 'Yes it is. To have people turn to Christ in any setting is a wonderful thing and we thank God for it.'

We don't have a church building of course so our costs, for the rooms that we hire, amount to £30 a week. Life Church doesn't have any paid staff yet; we take an offering and standing orders – and every penny that comes in goes back into the community.

Our format is flexible. We don't have a worship band so we sing along to worship songs on YouTube and always get people involved in whatever's happening; we don't want them to feel like spectators while someone else, usually me, leads everything from the front. It's much more like a sharing group. We also have a youth group and a children's group.

I am the main church leader at the moment. I'm not ordained and my job with CAP is a national one so, if I go on tour, I try to make sure it's from Saturday to Wednesday so I can be back in time for church on Thursday. Thankfully I have support at Life Church from a core team and then we also have four trustees for the Lifeline Community Action charity. I do have a few people who help me, a former teacher who has now retired and the elders from West Auckland Vineyard Church. We do leadership training at Life Church and we are praying that people will come through from the community but I also know there are a lot of people who have a pastor's heart but couldn't lead Life Church with its challenges.

I think of it as having a lot of little fish in a holding pen. Some, in time, may decide to leave that pen and go and join another church, and that's fine, but there are an awful lot of people who won't. We continue to pray that our church community will help people on their journey towards Jesus and that they will be drawn into closer relationship with Him.

Car Boot Fair Church

Nick Warren, of St Helen's Church, Hastings, tells of a new initiative that he hopes will develop into a fresh expression of church.

Every Sunday, my wife and I travel in to church from a village just outside Hastings. On our way there, we'd see streams of people going the other way and discovered they were going to car boot fairs in the area. At first, we started praying about how we could get these people to come to church but then, all of a sudden, God put it on our hearts that we should be doing what Jesus would do and go to them – instead of trying to get them to come to us.

We spoke to some people at church about it, including our curate Annette Hawkins, and the idea for a Car Boot Fair Church was born. A group of us ran a pilot project last year to see if there was any interest in it; there certainly was! We provided a covered seating area where people could come and rest, whatever the weather, and we gave out free bottles of water. People were really keen to talk about faith issues with many asking for prayer and Bibles. The Boot Fair organisers even waived their pitch fee.

Boot fair churchWe were so encouraged that a bigger team has now got together to provide Boot Fair Church during the summer. In 2013, the group from St Helen's has been joined by others from Rye Baptist Church and we have the blessing of Icklesham Church; we really hope more fellowships will take on the idea for other car boot fairs in the area.

Boot Fair Church is open from 9am to 12noon fortnightly on Sundays at the very busy Elm Tree Boot Fair in Icklesham and will keep running until the end of the season in September. There's no doubt that we felt we were being called to do it but much of my thinking about how things might develop has come through the Fresh Expressions mission shaped ministry course. 

Watch Nick's msm video diary.

I wanted to be part of msm in Sussex and Surrey and was encouraged to do so by my Rector so that I could look at how we take forward the idea of Boot Fair Church, develop it and use it in order to introduce people to Jesus Christ. Very helpfully, four fifths of the course was paid for by a grant from the Diocese of Chichester and they've been very supportive.

The msm course has given me the chance to stop, think and pray about a wide range of issues. It's all very well going along to the Boot Fairs and showing love to people but what we really want to do is help them get to know the living God. In saying that, you need to understand why you're doing it and how it's being done in order to ensure that what you're offering has integrity and is attractional to those people you're looking to serve. We may think we know what's best for other people but, more often than not, we haven't looked deeply enough into it.

Boot fair church - bannerPart of creating community is being somewhere regularly, building up trust so that people will see you as part of the whole event and expect you to be there. We pray that more and more people will see it as somewhere where they will then feel comfortable to come along and spend time, opening up their hearts and finding out more about God.

I don't know where we're going with Boot Fair Church and it's a mystery as to what type of small group church it will go into; it may go into a traditional church home group, a cell group type structure or a fresh expression of church which reflects the fact that we've gone out into a community and stayed out in that community to see church grow there – rather than trying to haul people back into a more traditional church setting.  I think the most important thing is that we remain open to where God's leading the group and that we serve the needs of those in the group in terms of learning about Jesus Christ and becoming Christians.

We may not know what shape this church will become but to help us find out more about the people we're serving, we're looking to do some sort of survey that we can use to identify what their needs are, why they're there and where they are in their own faith life. It will help us understand the people that we're dealing with and, through that, respond to their needs in a better and more holistic way. It also gives us a further opportunity to have one-to-one conversations with the Boot Fair regulars.

Obviously there are all sorts of challenges associated with this. Boot Fair Church happens on a Sunday morning so that pulls team members away from their own church commitments. We need to understand the concerns within the existing church about that and to keep those involved firmly rooted in the church structure and fed by that structure. Getting that balance right is a potential conflict that can be dealt with but we just need to be honest and aware of it.

We also need to be true to God's call and not be put off when these challenges arise but it's becoming increasingly clear that it's vital to have a good network of people around you, a support team of people you know very well and can trust. 

It's really important to have that support when the going gets tough and there's no doubt that it will get tough, we will get challenged. To be honest I think if we're not being challenged we're probably not doing God's work.

Another point from the msm course that really came over loud and clear to me surrounded the issue of worship in a fresh expression. Initially I had been thinking, 'Yes, we very much must build worship into Boot Fair Church'. Now there has been a real turnaround; I now think, 'Should we be doing that at all to begin with?' We need to be moving people forward gently. If you're dealing with people who have a very basic knowledge of God, the idea of having a time of worship may not be one they have come across before.

Boot Fair Church is a means of discipleship for all of us involved in it, both those on the team and those we're meeting at the Boot Fair. For those we encounter, we need to see it as a 'whole life' matter and the start of a journey of discipleship for them if Boot Fair Church is going to do what God wants to do for them through this ministry.

New Horizons Christian Fellowship

New Horizons in Hemel Hempstead was featured on the first Fresh Expressions DVD (expressions: the dvd – 1). They provided much in the way of social action. Have things changed since then? Pastor Arno Steen Andreasen tells of the current state of play.

We are very much moving ahead even in these difficult times. Our Sunday worship service takes place at Woodhall Farm Community Centre and New Horizons is now offering CAP debt counselling, two Sure Start Children's Centres covering over 1,500 families, the Ignite special needs school, an international degree programme, management of a community centre and support for an orphanage in India where we have also started two churches. We have another church in Sri Lanka and we will be starting a human rights project there in April.

The last few years have also seen us providing:

  • adult learning to 500 people a year, including offenders and people with learning difficulties/disabilities;
  • accelerate youth leadership training;
  • DreamKeepers mentoring programme for primary children with behaviour problems.

New Horizons - BBQThe development of emerging church, fluid church or fresh expressions of church language means that Christians sometimes lose sight of what church is all about. For me it's crucial that we constantly look to Acts 2:42-47. Some people describe what they're doing in a community as being radical but I see many of those things – such as having a meal together – as an expression of mission, not church.

The other concern I have is that the poor and vulnerable need structure to make sure that they have access to discipleship, training, etc. If things are too fluid, they easily lose out. I might have the inner strength to take the initiative in order to learn, develop and train but not everybody is proactive like that. We need to make sure we cater for the people who do not so easily take the initiative or have the drive to move forward in faith and life.

If churches get involved in social action, as we do, people need to make a decision as to whether they want to be able to evangelise directly or not. If they receive public funding, then they are restricted in what they can do and how they do it. If they want full freedom, then they need to self-fund it or have individual donors. If they receive grants, even from Christian grant makers, they typically will have to do some monitoring or have some objectives that fit the funder.

I want to be part of a fresh expression of church in some respects but we are also quite old-fashioned in the way we approach things because we base our understanding of church on Acts 2. One chap wanted to come here on a placement because he had seen it as a fresh expression, but when we explained that a lot of what we did could be seen as traditional he didn't want the placement at all. We are a fresh expression with an old gospel.

New Horizons - waterI think it is important to have a clear picture of what church is all about. New expressions of church could easily be used by people who do not like accountability and just want to do their own thing. There are a lot of powerful initiatives around, but do they carry the Spirit of Christ? We try with our staff team to discern how we should work with people and which methods to use. We will then discard even powerful methods if we do not think they fit the Spirit of Jesus.

I think it is easy to copy structures when we learn about each other's projects but it is the values behind the structures that are important. We had this discussion when we started the churches in India and Sri Lanka. They asked us if they also had to sit around tables and have breakfast at their Sunday services as we do. My response was that it is not the structure/style that is important but the value behind the structure. The value is fellowship and they need to find ways to implement that in their services.

Our work has been recognised by the local authority and we were asked to extend that work into a different borough but we said no because we didn't have a church in that area. Our community work flows from church and not the other way round; an incarnational ministry must mean we are right here, on the spot. I don't have a local connection there. It would be all too easy for us to become a high quality social provider rather than an expression of church.

I was also asked if New Horizons could start things in nine districts across Hertfordshire, as well as our own. They would have covered the whole of the county. The projects had funding put aside for them and it was all very tempting because the tendency is to think, 'I could reach an extra 500 or 1,000 people by doing one such project or another' but the fact is that you're not reaching them because you are not reaching them for church.

New Horizons - football playersWe need people to fall in love with the local church, for it to be the most exciting and supportive of places. As part of that, I have been really impressed by Christians Against Poverty and its debt counselling service because they don't start something unless it's part and parcel of the local church. They become an empowering ministry within it.

If you have the backing of a traditional church or denomination and are looking to develop new ways of being church in a community, the most important thing to slot into place is the funding and the awareness of how that funding stream will affect what you do.

I will always be 'grilled' as a church leader when I apply for funding. I do not think that is right but it is what I have had to get used to and learn to accept. There are always some outside funders who don't want anything to do with church but I can point to the quality reports from independent assessors and relevant bodies which prove that we are good at what we do. I have evidence to show that we are more diverse, that we have the biggest reach and so on. I would not get involved in setting up new projects if I did not keep on fighting for them – even if I am rejected by funders.

Café Lite

A fresh expression of church meets in Droxford village hall, Hampshire on the third Sunday of the month. Launched in September 2011, it now attracts up to 100 people to its informal sessions. Rev Stuart Holt explains how it has developed.

As Rector here I was very fortunate that my parish released me from services in Droxford, Exton, Meonstoke and Corhampton twice a month so that I could be involved with mission events on the ground. I felt that it was time to stop talking about mission and actually do some!

Retired priests Canon Anthony Hulbert, Canon Marion Mort and the Ven Barrie Hammett are helping to lead services and offer pastoral support to regular worshippers in our four churches while I'm fronting Café Lite and a puppet ministry in schools.

We decided to set these things up for a year and see how we got on. It all started in September; it's really encouraging to see that new people are coming in and they're bringing their friends with them. We've never seen these people before. Things are developing too because some of them are now wanting to be baptised and have their babies baptised.

Café Lite - mother and babyMy other project is a Sunday morning puppet show at Meonstoke Infant School on the last Sunday of the month, called Puppets and Praise. This means that I now have two fresh expressions of church in these ancient, rural benefices.

Café Lite runs on the third Sunday of the month in Droxford Village Hall and we have most of the Sunday newspapers, bacon rolls, worship and chat. No money came from church funds to support the café church or the puppet shows. Instead we have made them self-supporting with private individuals funding different components so – for instance – someone has sponsored the bread for a year, somebody else has paid for the bacon and another person buys all the papers.

I thought it important to offer excellence which is why we've also got a professional Gaggia coffee machine for all those 'flat whites' we have to prepare! The numbers at Café Lite have reached 96 which is quite something for a tiny little parish of 1600 people in the middle of Hampshire.

When deciding what resources to use, I finally went for what was around when I came to faith in 1967, Norman Warren's Journey into Life – mainly because it's very clear and simple. I ended up buying 100 copies from the States. Again, for worship, I had previously used Youth Praise and I use it again now because it really deals with key issues of faith; I found that it was as powerful now as it had been all those years ago.

We started from the beginning with the music because it's for the dechurched as well as the unchurched. I know it can seem strange to many people involved in fresh expressions that we would focus on worship and singing at such an early stage in the life of this community but the people really wanted the music to express some strong messages about God and Christianity. It doesn't seem to be offputting because we're drawing in a huge cross section of people, including those from a local social housing estate, an equine horse healer and an international tea taster from Twinings teas.

Café Lite - guitarsWe also have those recovering from drug and alcohol addictions at a nearby rehab centre. They are accompanied by a staff member and it's great to see them there. We are now also actively involved in Christians Against Poverty and have CAP money coaches there.

Almost as soon as we started in the hall, I was asked, 'What is your strategy for these people?' My answer was, and is, 'Preach the gospel and be open to the Holy Spirit. That's it.'

Our immediate challenge is that the hall is licensed for 120 people and we have already got up to 96 coming along; if everybody in the Café Lite community turned up we would be over the 120. It's a wonderful challenge to have because we had no idea how it was going to go or if anybody would turn up at all. We're also having fantastic conversations. People have asked if I could do a wedding blessing for them because they got married in a register office but would love a blessing; others have asked about preparing for baptism for themselves or their children.

Again, when it became clear that people had taken up the idea of Café Lite, I was asked what my strategy was going to be for discipleship. I said the answer was definitely not to make them go on some sort of organized course; people wouldn't want that – especially as they had never been to church anywhere before and had actually turned up because we offered them a bacon sandwich! We are now developing a nurture course to help them tackle some key issues in a way that's relevant to them.

Puppets in Praise runs from 9.30am to 10.30am in the hall at Meonstoke School. It is something that's definitely encouraging people to take that step into Café Lite. Families are invited to watch and participate in the event with parents then being able to do follow-up work in the classrooms with the children. We have had 75 coming along to that. When I did a pilot for the show last year, I asked four of the young people to download new worship songs to their iPods and learn them over the summer so they could help with the singing.

Café Lite - singing

We also have lots of children at Café Lite, usually around 29. It was suggested that we should 'do' something for the children as a separate entity but I said we needed to ban the words 'ought', 'must' or 'should' in our Christian lives and that I didn't want Café Lite to be turned into a Sunday school in the village hall. It's a church in its own right.

Interestingly some people got very indignant about seeing kids with i-Phones at Café Lite. It doesn't bother me because that's what kids do, they text each other. What was wonderful was the fact that they were actually texting, 'I'm at Café Lite, it's brilliant.' Another girl filmed it on her phone and sent it to a friend to say how good it was.

Some people also come along to regular gig nights at The White Horse pub in Droxford when I and the Rev Andy Bridgen play music from the 60s and 70s as The Rockin' Revs. We always invite people to Café Lite from there!

The churches here have been serving this stretch of the Meon Valley for hundreds of years and we are glad that Café Lite and Puppets in Praise are also helping to meet the spiritual needs of those around us. I've no idea what will happen or who will come week by week but I want us to take some risks in spreading the gospel.

Exeter Network Church

Exeter Network ChurchJon and Jo Soper tell us the story of Exeter Network Church, in the Church of England Diocese of Exeter. This network church is soon to make history as one of the first fresh expressions of church to become a Church of England Bishop's Mission Order. Jon and Jo explain all.

In August 2004 my wife Jo and I moved to Exeter from London to pursue a clear call from God to start a mission shaped charismatic church. We knew one couple there who knew others who were eager to do something. Our first gathering was a party in a garden and then we found a place to meet in the old dry house on the quay opposite a nightclub. We launched ourselves properly as the Exeter Network Church, (ENC) in January 2005.

Our approach has been to develop an outward focused culture and wean people off dependency on traditional pastoral leadership. We are doing this by encouraging everyone to be in a network. A network is a group of people with a name and a God-purpose and which is radically open to the people they are aiming to connect with. These can be very diverse; one of the first networks to get going is called 'Women Who Work For Themselves' (it does what it says on the tin) who meet once a month in a hotel and who support one another in the businesses in which they are involved. Most in the network are not part of church.

Exeter Network Church - painterMany networks are social networks where you bring friends – salsa, surfing, poker; some are social action networks, such as the team which visits Dartmoor prison once a month; some are age related (children, teenagers, young adults); some are orientated towards discipling Christians, and a few are geographic, such as 'God and Chips', who showed Alpha DVDs in a chip shop during opening hours.

In addition to these, a few times a year we have 'Edge Sunday'. As a church we say we are aiming to be 'strong at the core, blurred at the edge'.  On an 'Edge Sunday' we have no worship gatherings, but instead we go out into Exeter and around, looking to express the love of Jesus in creative ways.

Exeter Network Church - ChristmasAt our last event we held a 'big giveaway' (instead of selling) at the car boot sale, which gave rise to interesting conversations, as well as having a team of people praying for people in the high street, cafes, and another team going to the prison. Some in ENC use 'Edge Sunday' to do their own personal blurred edge activity, like inviting their neighbour round for lunch which they have been meaning to do for months.

Networks and 'Edge Sunday' focus us on being intentional about seeing what the Spirit is doing around us and confidently joining in.

Since November 2007 we have been incorporated into the Diocese of Exeter and are about to be made a Bishop's Mission Order, (BMO). One of the most helpful aspects of the BMO is having a Visitor (ours is the Bishop of Crediton). He supports us, visits us at least twice a year and asks us pertinent questions which help us think through what we are doing.

Our prayer is always that God will raise up a confident, creative, passionate and determined church which will be good news to everyone who encounters it.

Wolverhampton Pioneer Ministries

Faith and fries - Richard MoyRichard Moy, ordained pioneer minister explains how church is forming amongst those who have never been involved before, through Wolverhampton Pioneer Ministries.

When the Methodist and Anglican churches in Wolverhampton realised there were 23,000 people involved in the 'night-time' economy of the city, most of whom had no Christian commitment, they decided to do something about it. Richard Moy was appointed to start to form church with those who often only came into the city to bars and clubs after 10pm. The first thing he did was go to a monastery – to pray hard! Then he visited St Thomas' Crookes Church in Sheffield to find out about their 'Life Shapes' program and that visit was followed by 40 days of prayer and fasting.

Faith and fries - foodA small team of three gathered to pray every week in a local church and then gradually others joined in. After a year they began to gather in a café location in the centre of town and now a pool of about 50 people meets regularly for Sunday evening worship. On any one occasion 30 or so will gather together. Church 18-30 has been born.

Richard is particularly pleased at the mixed nature of this new missional community. The age range is about 16-32 but members come from all sorts of backgrounds. Some are graduates, others come from 'very difficult backgrounds in terms of education'. Some are unemployed and others are destitute.

Faith and fries - flierEarly on Richard decided that one size would not fit all. Based on differing learning styles, this fresh expression of church offers deliberately varied learning and worship opportunities. There's a gathering for 'reflectors' which has a real sense of the 'spiritual'. Another event is aimed at 'theorists' and encourages those who attend to think why they believe what they believe. A third gathering has a contemporary worship style and a fourth is based on food and sharing communion together.

But Richard's eyes light up when he mentions 'Man Night'. Every Monday a group of men meet to share a simple form of communion, watch a DVD or get to work on a Playstation! This is church literally out of the box! 10-15 attend regularly and Richard is seeing real discipleship growth amongst the group.

Richard believes the venue is vital. There's a weekly midday meeting in McDonalds – an opportunity to share Bible, burgers and fries! Yates' Wine Lodge provides another meeting place, along with a city centre church café. Recently Wolverhampton Pioneer Ministries has acquired a flat and that is slowly becoming a centre of ministry for the church.

Faith and fries - mealAnd Richard believes what he is doing really is church. They operate as church – with regular worship, gathering around word and sacrament. People have been baptised as a result of joining Church 18-30 and mission is very much at the heart of things. If you see a couple of people sitting on a sofa in the middle of Wolverhampton, it is likely to be members of the church sharing their faith or offering to pray for passers by. And in a network church, 'some bits of the church will only last for a season and some bits will last forever', says Richard and that's OK.

Wolverhampton Pioneer Ministries grew out of local Christians' concern for those who had no connection with church. It's still growing and Richard Moy is very open to what surprising things God might have in store for the future.

I love going to Church 18-30's Vitalise service because it does what it says on the tin. It really revitalised my relationship with God through John's Gospel and smoothies.

Katie, 18

I went to Church 18-30 because my faith was at a really low point and needed strengthening. Church 18-30 helped me to rediscover my faith and strengthen my relationship with God having fun along the way with the most amazing people!!!

Helen, 22


Beer and a singalong helped to launch Leicester-based Presence as a Bishop's Mission Order. City Centre Pioneer Minister and Presence leader, Revd David Cundill, looks back at a whirlwind year and outlines his hopes and plans for the future.

Presence - Beer and CarolsIt all happened very quickly. I started in post at the end of May 2009, discussions took place over the summer to sort out the BMO, and it was signed in December at a Beer&Carols event. We certainly reaped the benefits of the hard work that other BMOs had done before us in Exeter and Thanet.

Bishop Tim Stevens started the ball rolling when he gave me a brief to 'just go and plant a new church in the city centre. I give you permission to fail; you have got to take risks.'

That church was to be in an area of new apartments, waterside redevelopment, and the DeMontfort University campus. The result is Presence… a fresh approach to church. We describe it as a church for people who don't do church or go there, never did, don't anymore, don't think they fit in, doubters, sceptics, seekers and the spiritually curious.

Presence - Men's weekendIn the middle of the BMO area is The Quay, a canal side pub which was itself part of a regeneration project a few years ago. It is now the base for Presence's midweek meetings, and some of those at Presence have become regulars at the pub’s open mic session on Thursday nights.

My first task is to develop a 24-strong planting team to reach out to the area's diverse communities; including those based around a series of tower blocks in gated developments at Freemens Meadow, Westbridge Wharf and Leicester Square.

These new blocks are in stark contrast to the area's traditional terraced streets. Each tower block looks in on a quadrangle, and you have to get through two gates to get into the heart of it all. There are no community facilities. When you look at the ads for these apartments you'd think that we had so many stockbrokers just about to nip on their bikes to Canary Wharf – and yet the development stands at the edge of the country's biggest Hindu population, but you’d never know that from the marketing image portrayed.

Presence - mealThe regeneration of great swathes of the city means that new communities have become cut off from parish churches because the landscape has shifted, but by starting a fresh expression alongside those churches, we can redefine a pastoral boundary. It has just worked brilliantly in that it's possible to run a straight mixed economy which lets the existing parishes do what they do while we look at how we use these places in new and creative ways.

In other areas people may say, 'we are all in this together', but underneath the surface they are worried. In Leicester I believe it has worked – and, with God’s help will continue to work because of the unique circumstances surrounding redevelopment of this city.

Presence - candlesThis is a minimum 10 year project, and part of the challenge is that the landscape will continue to change dramatically during that time. Large brownfield sites in our area are set aside for new developments but are yet to be built on, so we need to be flexible in our approach and planning.

But some of our plans are very firmly in the pipeline, including the launch of a film club in the Highcross area; the setting up of a Christians Against Poverty (CAP) centre and money management course; and a term time Street Pastors scheme around DeMontfort University.

Presence - logoWe also very much hope to be involved at The Quay on St Patrick's Day. There are lots of possibilities but we might look at having a religious 'bit' followed by Open Communion using Naan bread – reflecting the type of area we're in. We want to reclaim these celebrations for God, and show that we're a church of festival and fun.