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.
We 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.
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.
Part 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.