Redeemer Church, Ajax

Fresh Expressions Canada web manager and church planter Ryan Sim is working on a new approach to church for busy commuters in Ontario, starting with a mobile app and community called Redeem the Commute.

Redeemer Church - cars

Since November 2011 I have been working with the Diocese of Toronto to lead the development of a new church in Ajax, a growing suburb near Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 

We committed to planning, launching and sustaining a community of new disciples appropriately shaped for mission in its context. To understand that context, we spent six months in prayer, research and planning to learn as much as possible about life in Ajax and where the gospel could best take hold. Our temptation would be to implement forms of church we know and love, but that are incompatible with a changing context, or that might attract only those from other churches already following Jesus. This is a brief summary of our missional listening and research methods, and the plan that is forming in response.

We began by commissioning a study of the entire community, with typical age, education, income and other data, but also learned about common values, buying habits and responses to specific statements. This study helped us to locate a suitable home. 

I familiarised myself with the community by walking, driving, shopping and enjoying community spaces, and reading about the history, official plans and news of the community. I interviewed local civic and church leaders, as well as regular residents in more casual conversations.

Redeemer Church - road junctionAfter observing and listening as much as possible, I began to interpret and look for common threads. It quickly became clear that Ajax has an extremely high percentage of young, multi-ethnic families whose adults commute long hours to work.  They spend little time at home, have high demand jobs, and experience stress as a result. They long to reprioritize their lives, but feel stuck.

In times of prayer, I would ask God to reveal needs that were not being served by existing churches in the area. We know the gospel sparks the kind of life transformation and reprioritizing that this group longs to experience, but because of their limited free time at home, it became apparent that any church events, no matter what the time or theme, were unlikely venues for such overcommitted people to learn about Jesus for the first time.

How could we reach commuters with the good news of Jesus Christ, even while on the move? An idea emerged in a moment of inspiration, so we conducted an online survey to test its potential, and decided to go ahead.

Later this year we are launching Redeem the Commute, a mobile app and web site for commuters in our area. Smartphones are everywhere among commuting young professionals, and the commute is often seen as lost time; in need of 'redemption'. To help people redeem that lost time and make positive changes, we'll deliver good quality content that serves the needs of busy, commuting people, beginning with marriage and parenting courses. We'll introduce the Redeemer himself with a Christian Basics course, and then fresh, daily discipleship content for those growing as followers of Jesus.

Our aim is not to start a virtual church, but to bring people together in a dispersed form of cell church. Participants who start a course alone will be encouraged to start or join a discussion group, meeting weekly in places like trains, buses, workplaces and homes. We will 'seed' groups by using area churchgoers, but new groups will be organic and self-organizing, centred around gospel content, and with coaching, oversight and regular visits from staff.

By the end of 2013, we hope to see enough groups running and growing in faith that we can gather them all together for a great celebration in worship – our first of many times worshipping together as one community named Redeemer Church.

This is the very early shape of a church plant intentionally focused on the discipleship of a particular people in a particular place and time. It arose after a time of careful research, interpretation, planning, but especially prayer, asking God to reveal needs, and where a new church could help. I trust that through this process of missional listening, interpretation and creative response, God will reveal to missional leaders new people groups and new forms of church for any context, and transform our neighbourhoods, communities and world.

Redeemer Church - rails

(This story was originally published in the ECGI newsletter)


Sally Gaze describes the Alpha course she ran with seven young mums from four villages in her Norfolk benefice as

the easiest ever.

They were all very alike and gelled very quickly,

she says. The women were drawn from local mother and toddler groups and were not previously churchgoers. The Alpha course developed into a daytime cell church, one of several forming part of the ‘mixed economy’ of the Tas Valley benefice, of which Sally is team rector.

In this group we had shared and prayed… we had struggled to engage with the Bible over the noise of ten toddlers and we had changed and grown,

Sally says.

They had also begun to think about mission. Three of the women, each from different villages, had the idea of putting on something for toddlers at church, specifically a music group. As their Alpha course helped them to bond and grow into a church relationship with one another, these three formed a team to organise a children’s service supported by their fellow cell members.

With Sally they visited a neighbouring benefice’s children’s service,

and got the bug of it,

Sally says. A monthly service for toddlers, 4All, is held at 4 o’clock on Sundays including around 40 minutes of ‘lively, child-focused worship’, followed by high tea for the children and tea and cake for the adults.

Young women with a life stage in common discovered church together, then went on to share their new life of faith with others

Initially, 4All was planned by Sally with input from the women. These roles have now been reversed, with the women planning and Sally helping out.

Very importantly, they invite people,

Sally says.

They deliver 30 invitations personally and look after the refreshments.

They also pray for those who attend, many of whom were not previously churchgoers.

4All is a bridge. It has done a lot to help build community in the village.

Two years after studying the Bible together and growing in discipleship, the cell has undertaken the Alpha course again, this time running it for a new set of participants.

Young women with a life stage in common discovered church together, then went on to share their new life of faith with others.

Threshold Church

In 1996 GP Pete Atkins and his wife, Kath, planted a new church called Threshold, with a vision to strengthen church in the villages of their home county, Lincolnshire.

Operating along the cell church format, Threshold grew and in 2006 separated into four separate congregations. Three were based in a different village and one in inner city Lincoln. There is a bi-monthly meeting of all four.

The congregations draw members from 15 local neighbourhoods and range in size from 20 to 100 members, who gather together in village halls and Lincoln YMCA.

But for Pete and Kath, this is not the end of ten years' work. They have given each congregation the challenge of multiplying further through prayer and planning. 

We are vision driven,

Pete says.

The vision has always been to establish church in the rural situation, with a focus on neighbourhood planting rather than network planting.

Pete believes that the success of Threshold lies in discovering and training new leaders.

The key thing is that by the grace of God we have managed to multiply leadership,

he says.

They have given each congregation the challenge of multiplying further through prayer and planning

Those who have perhaps led a cell have also been on a 'Mission-shaped leadership' training course [now developed into mission shaped ministry]. Leaders meet together bi-monthly and in between are supported by regular contact with the main leaders of Threshold. The Atkins' own role has moved to supporting the main leaders, who in turn support cell leaders.

All our developments are consistent with our original vision of seeing the kingdom of God re-established in the villages,

says Pete.

The leadership communicates this vision through preaching, through a slogan and by holding welcome evenings for newcomers to the villages.

Moments of multiplication, such as the division into four congregations, become opportunities to revisit the original purpose of the church.

By keeping in mind at every stage what they originally set out to do, the Atkins and the members of Threshold are achieving their aim of multiplying 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.

Walking Church

Phil WoodWood Green Mennonite Church, London, is piloting a 'walking' fresh expression this year. Phil Wood, a member of Wood Green, explains how the monthly church is a mixture of walking, talking, prayer, liturgy and meditation.

Walking has always been a passion of mine – whether hiking, rambling, bird-watching or prayer-walking. I first came across Rebecca Seaton and a Methodist South Lakes 'Walking Church' experiment in Cumbria. Their 'boots on the ground' approach proved something of an inspiration.

It has taken a few years and a move to London for the idea to become reality. There has been much to consider. For a start, we've had to take a fairly close look at what we understand by the term 'Walking Church'. There are plenty of organisations for Christian walkers and many churches have walking groups but we are not looking at an ecumenical 'fellowship' made up of Christians who walk in their spare time but a church that walks! Imagine a congregation where the essential elements of church – mission, sacraments, worship and the Word – primarily take place on the move or in the context of hospitality along the way. The idea is to create a community of faith where the heartlands of 'church' happen in the course of walking.

Walking Church - bridgeWhen I first talked of this, responses were mixed. No matter how practised I become at explaining the notion of a congregation where church occurs in the walking there are still people who don't 'get it'. That isn't surprising. Walking Church was never intended to be in competition with worship inside a traditional church building – some still think it is a gimmick but I believe they are wrong.

But my congregation at Wood Green Mennonite Church caught the vision and, following an Epping Forest taster last autumn, we pulled on our backpacks for a full-blown 2012 pilot. We're walking four London locations this year with walks arranged for the final Sunday morning of the month, changing location every quarter.

Every walk has a leader responsible for a theme and three or four reflections. We walk, eat, listen, meditate, pray and sometimes sing – though the latter is a topic of discussion. It also involves hospitality – whether in homes, pubs or cafes. Each time we learn a little more. Much of our missional energy is focused before the day of the walk because it needs a good deal of preparation with routes needing to be surveyed, publicity disseminated and conversations had.

We have just completed our Highgate series of walks. In February, I joined others on a walk between Highgate and Alexandra Palace. Wayne Hostetler led it on the theme of 'perspective' and there were some splendid views of north London to illustrate the point. We talked about the panorama from Alexandra Palace with the City skyscrapers to inner-city Tottenham and the 'smudge' of Epping Forest – all that poverty and power cheek by jowl.

Walking Church - sign

Since then, we have also tackled the 4.5 miles Parkland Walk in London's largest nature reserve following the old railway line from Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace. Now Walking Church is preparing to travel south of the river to Richmond for walks in April, May and June. Our first is scheduled to take place on Sunday (29th April) in Richmond Park with the aim of covering 2.5 to 3 miles in about three hours.

Where do we go next with this idea? There are multiple possibilities but we are trying to get our priorities right and inclusiveness is a challenge. How do we accommodate 'serious' ramblers, not-so-serious amblers, exponents of 'walking meditation' and pilgrimage and those walking for health and ecological awareness? Also, how do we go about youth and children's work and what provision are we making for those with limited mobility?

I see Walking Churches as having enormous mission potential. According to the Mission-shaped Church report, 20% of the UK population is involved in walking as a leisure activity – a figure just slightly lower than that of the entire British churchgoing constituency. There are 139,000 members in the Ramblers (formerly the Ramblers Association) alone. In large areas of Britain there are more people out walking on a Sunday than going to worship.

Walking Church - group

Of course, there are a number of potential pitfalls for Walking Church – with one of the most obvious being the weather! Although the main activity would obviously be walking there is clearly a need for some time indoors as well as outdoors – as long as this doesn't undermine the nature of the church.

Hospitality is the bridge to providing this support, especially where a Walking Church is linked to an existing congregation. What a wonderful way not only to cope with the weather but also to nurture a profound link between walking and welcome, between continuing and emerging churches. However, there's nothing to say that hospitality needs to be in a church building; it could be in a pub, a home, a youth hostel or any number of other locations. Walking Church also raises the possibility of linking together fresh expressions of church – for example by partnering with a café church.

Some provision has to be made for the practicalities of teaching, worshipping and sharing the Good News on the move but otherwise the business of 'church' remains much the same. A church that walks still needs leadership, administration, health and safety and safeguarding, for example. We would also need to bear in mind the optimum size of a walking church given the practical limitations of audible conversation and the challenges of arranging hospitality for considerable numbers of people.

Walking Church - cycle route

In terms of organisation, I believe the cell church model – with some adaptation – offers the best insights for structuring walking churches. The largest investment in walking church from the outset is not finance; it's time – although salary, training and staff accommodation costs should also be considered.

I have been thinking too as what might be possible as Walking Church develops. Here are some of the early thoughts:

  • a link with a Tourist Information Centre;
  • versatility of Walking Church – urban, rural or suburban;
  • launching Walking Church via a long distance path such as the Pennine Way or the Ridgeway, perhaps involving people from different churches along the route;
  • there is a strong ecological dimension – opportunities for awareness raising and practical conservation;
  • walking with a webcam would enable a Walking Church 'service' (a walk) to be viewed live online. Potential to link congregations in different areas or across denominations;
  • offers a natural window into powerful expressions of social justice in identification with the stranger, the homeless and the refugee;
  • walking Church 'guidebooks' could be an exercise both in devotional and travel writing;
  • play a significant role in extremely rural communities;
  • could walk 'home or away' (i.e. near or far away from where most members live) or it might draw members from a wide area based on a network connection. So, a Walking Church might have a close association with one locality or much more of a network focus.

Walking Church - smileWe're learning something about evangelism in the values driving this particular fresh expression. One of our walkers likes us because we don't 'proselytise', instead we 'reflect'. Are we too peaceable to share faith? I hope not – but our message isn't 'become like us and you will be saved'. We are a 'peace church'. Yes, words are important, but mostly peace is in the pace. It's easier to listen at three miles per hour.

Springfield Church

Will Cookson is minister of a 'church that was a fresh expression before the term was invented'. He tells how important it is for fresh expressions of church to keep on reinventing themselves.

Watch Will Cookson and Sue Bosley discuss multiplication not duplication (transcript available on the update Oct12 link to the right).

Springfield Church was originally set up by Holy Trinity Wallington in 1992 to reach out to the community. In 2002 it became what is known as an Extra-Parochial Place (EPP) in Southwark Diocese which meant we had no 'official' parish and no church building. Our two key objectives were, and are, mission and worship and we now have about 400 people of whom about 40% are under the age of 18.

Springfield's two congregations meet in different places in Wallington on Sundays at 10.30am. The larger one gets together at Wallington High School for Girls while our second is the Springfield@Roundshaw cafe church which meets at St Paul's church on the Roundshaw estate.

Springfield Church - café church

The thing about a fresh expression is that over time it can become regularised in the way it does things so it has to re-discover itself. To an extent, when I came here almost 10 years ago that was what had happened to Springfield; it had got set in its ways. The thing that cried out to me was to go to a cell church model because everything has to be relational if it's going to 'speak' to people outside inherited church.

We are doing this through a whole series of different things, such as a Christian club at a local school (Xplore), Messy Church in the same venue (Footsteps), parent and toddler group transformed into Messy Church format, as well as cell groups and various ministries – such as an English conversation class – planted in the community. When we were asked by the vicar at Roundshaw estate to plant a new congregation in that area, we sent out 25 people and now average about 40 at the café church. Most of those who have joined come from the estate itself.

We have a huge focus on relationships and building events and ministries that reinforce and complement each other. To my mind, too many Messy Churches have focused on trying to get the numbers in and getting the event done efficiently. We concentrate on the relationships that people can make there and – as a result – have seen friendships growing, families joining us for other events, parents getting involved to help and some becoming part of Sunday congregations, cell groups and taking part in Alpha courses. The social events organised by those different cell groups look to encourage community and it may take one, two or three years for people to get involved to that level – but that's OK, it all takes time.

Springfield Church - smile

The common problem for many churches is that they have some great ministries but they are stand-alone and don't benefit from the relational overlap. So, for example, children come to Xplore on Mondays after school with their families invited to our monthly Messy Church. Those in Year Six are given invitations to our youth outreach The Mix, again every month, at a local community centre. The larger-scale events we put on are never officially advertised; we prefer to use word of mouth and ask people and families if they'd like to come along. Feast in the Field attracts about 600 people as a community event with laser quest, assault courses, Scalextric and face painting among other things. We also take up to 600 people to the cinema at Christmas. If we advertised I am sure that we could get larger crowds in but we would lose out on relationship building. We find that the more that we overlap and inter-connect what we do, the more that people are interested and able to take the next step in their faith journey.

Springfield Church - sharingThe Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, will be visiting Springfield Church to help us celebrate our 20th anniversary next year by preaching and presiding at our Sunday morning service on 18 March. It's a wonderful recognition that churches such as ours are now integral parts of the Church of England and no longer an oddity! The Archbishop's visit is a practical sign of his enthusiasm for this mixed economy and a huge encouragement for us.

Springfield has always been a different sort of church. We were a fresh expression before the term was invented! The thing with many fresh expressions is that as their communities mature then it's all too easy for them to revert to 'normal' church mode.

We really emphasise to our leaders that the focus shouldn't be on the task but on the people they're seeking to serve and reach for Christ. This has led to a real depth of community with a very high level of participation; about 80% of our congregation is involved in something.

The important thing for anyone involved in a fresh expression to remember is that we're here to reach the unchurched. The disenchanted Christian and dechurched Christian will also come our way but keeping that outward focus is vital if we're going to continue in our true calling.

Tas Valley Cell Church

In the Tas Valley Team Ministry, there are six traditional parish churches and a cell church comprising six adult cell churches and a youth cell. This 'mixed economy' reflects the nature of rural networks, some of which cross the villages through social links, others of which are village-based.

It is mixed here,

says Tas Valley vicar, Sally Gaze. She gives the example of a young mothers' cell which grew out of an Alpha course.

It was the easiest Alpha ever because they were all very alike and opened up to each other very quickly, but they were from three different villages. If we had focused on one parish we wouldn't have got enough people together. By enabling certain groups to come together, we strengthen them to be part of the church as a whole.

Sally explains that the Tas Valley group of churches is still working out what it means to be connected to its different parts, both village to village and cell to traditional church. Cells have about ten members each, the parish churches between six and 45 members. Many of the cell members are also members of one of the parish churches – but new Christians usually join a cell in the first instance. Sometimes they later start coming to Sunday parish church services as well.

Sally believes that the presence of cells in the mix helps to create unity. The success of this approach is reflected in the supportive presence of four members of a very traditional ('Book of Common Prayer') congregation at a cell-led monthly seeker service. The cells also contribute towards their 'parent' churches' finances.

Respecting both the traditional way of doing church and the needs of those outside it 'to discover Jesus, too'

If you're in a cell it's much easier to think that you can't be church on your own than when you have a medieval building,

Sally says.

Cells are more fluid so members think benefice-wide. Often the members of a cell will come from three or four different villages and help to draw the congregations from those villages together in understanding.

We don't bring the six parish churches together with the cell church very often  because we've tried to maintain the witness of Sunday church in every village. When we do come together we can do something of a higher quality.

United benefice services happen about three times a year. Benefice-wide events focus on socials, outreach activities such as holiday clubs, training events and 24-7 Prayer.

Respecting both the traditional way of doing church and the needs of those outside it 'to discover Jesus, too' has seen this rural benefice celebrate and share in the life of faith in all its members.

The cells, says rector Sally Gaze (in mission-shaped and rural: growing churches in the countryside, CHP, 2006),

worshipped and loved, they related to the wider church and respected the authority of its leaders, and participated in the sacraments… they engaged in mission.

Putting the cells together, the cell church was also as strongly attended as some Sunday services with around 8-10 members in each cell (making 40-50 members) compared with 6-45 in each parish church.

In a mixed economy benefice, the question arose: how can a growing number of cell churches find their legal standing alongside the traditional churches?

We felt it was time to help the cell church grow up and take responsibility,

says Sally, who also wanted to give the cells a secure place within the benefice.

We felt that cell church members should give to the cell church. It also makes a statement that giving to church is not just about keeping buildings going – our cell church doesn't have a building.

So the benefice discussed with the diocese ways in which cell members could give to their church that would enable it to claim back tax as in traditional offertories. In 2005 a cell bank account was set up, an important step in acknowledging the Tas Valley cells as part of the Church of England as a whole.

The bank account, says Sally,

encourages us to sort out giving, to encourage Gift Aid and teach stewardship. The cells pay a couple of thousand towards the benefice share. This is less than their numerical strength would suggest because a number of people are brand new Christians who will take a time to sort out financial stewardship, and others are members of both cell and parish congregation.

We didn't want to reduce the income of parish congregations so where people are members of both cell and parish church, they either stick with their parish giving or give on top of that to the cell church. The proportion of benefice share that the cell church and all the PCCs pay is kept under annual review.

The cell church has a cell leaders' meeting rather than a PCC and is still

a peculiarity on the edge of the diocese. But in the benefice itself it is treated as an equal member of the team of churches and represented on our equivalent of a team council.


Reside - EllieReside is a Christian project evolving in response to growing housing developments to the south of Loughborough. It is led by Methodist Deacon Ellie Griffin, Reside's full-time paid worker.

The original vision for a worker on the development came from the Loughborough Churches Partnership and is mainly funded by the Anglican and Methodist Church. The rest of Reside's team is made up of volunteers from a range of denominations, most of whom live in the housing developments we serve.

I have been here for just over three-and-a-half years and am based on the Fairmeadows estate but also work on the new Grange Park housing development. Generally I attempt to co-ordinate the various activities of Reside and enthuse people to get involved.

Our vision is to be an evolving Christian network that provides safe and welcoming places, explores the Christian faith, cares for the community and collectively expresses each element of Church.

This is an affluent estate but we are in the parish of the Good Shepherd CofE Church which is based in a far more socially deprived area. In saying that, they still provide part of the funding for Reside and the vicar, Eric Whitley, is on our steering group. In some ways it's quite difficult to be taking support from a church with such limited resources themselves but, as often happens, it's those with less who tend to give more. They saw the vision of what we were trying to do and have gone for it – and we're very grateful for that.

Reside - buildingIt was only 25 years ago that the whole of the Fairmeadows estate was nothing more than a farmer's field. Eventually the community will consist of about 1600 homes. When the original plans for this development (known as Grange Park) were first set in place, the churches in Loughborough saw the need for the potential community to be developed and so looked to appointing a full time worker to live on the estate. I moved here with my family in September 2007.

It wasn't long before Reside was 'born'. We aim to contribute to community by enabling residents to be actively engaged in developing the area in which they live – whether that's through the residents’ association, involvement with schools, Neighbourhood Watch, litter picks or working with children and young people. The opportunities really are endless and the range of skills needed is diverse.

We want to get people excited about getting to know their neighbours and to provide opportunities for building relationships. There aren't many meeting places on the estate and so we are trying to be imaginative in how we address this so that all groups within the community can interact more with each other. Recently we made a trip to see a project near Malton which uses a council-funded facility called the 'Ryepod'. It is a converted mobile home hired out to various organisations for a range of purposes. This is the very beginning of our explorations but we are excited by the possibilities.

Reside - residents' association

In some ways, Loughborough has got quite a lot of pioneering stuff going on from Pioneer Network, New Frontiers International, student work and a huge variety of other churches. In saying that there is still an idea or expectation as to what 'real' church looks like; trying to convince those part of inherited models of church that Reside really is church can be quite difficult. Even if people can cope with Reside not having a building as a base they will still ask, 'why aren't you gathering for worship every week?' It can be so difficult for them to grasp that Reside may never have a big gathering for worship but it's very much church in a different way.

Reside cares about every aspect of community life and the individual lives of the residents who make up this community. This comes from our belief that God cares about every aspect of lives too and that the Christian faith has something to offer in each situation.

So far Reside has been involved in the Haddon Way Residents Association working with them to listen to the community's needs or concerns and hosting Community Fun Days, a Big Tidy Up event and an outdoor Christmas Carol service. We have also hosted Easter Fun Days on the Grange Park housing development two years running giving the families opportunity to meet their neighbours and have fun together.

Reside - Christmas

Through support from SOaR (Schools Outreach and Resources) we have been part of a prayer group for Outwoods Edge Primary School, led assemblies and delivered Easter lessons. Leading on from this we have been invited to lead the school community in celebrating harvest and Christmas and are currently exploring further ways of engaging with the school.

Offering the opportunity to ask questions about God and faith, we ran a six- week exploration course. In small discussion groups we used film clips, news articles and other medium to stir debate offering insight from biblical teaching and Christian thought. Reside has also hosted craft sessions, parties, a police drop-in, quiet space and Open House, all providing a variety of opportunities for residents in the area. All of our activities are provided free of charge as a gift to the community to express God's abundant, no-strings-attached love.

The Residents' Association was one of the first links we made into the community. At first they thought it a bit odd that someone from the church turned up and they wondered what we wanted from them. It was also a little confusing because I didn't 'fit' their idea as to what a church leader looked like! Once they became accustomed to the fact that I was attending as a resident and not just as a church representative, everything was fine.

Reside - police

It was interesting that after a community event run jointly by the Association and Reside, the chairman said to me,

I still don’t know what you're after. The church has bought the house you're living in and they're paying your wages for five years, what are they getting out of it?

It had taken him three years to ask that question directly and it was only because we'd built up such a good working relationship that he felt able to ask it at all. In turn I could tell him there was no catch; that it was all a gift to this community because God loves this area and the people who live here.

Over the next 12 months we hope to:

  • Develop the work we do with the local schools;
  • Explore the possibilities for a mobile meeting place;
  • Provide opportunities for residents to get to know one another;
  • Network those already actively serving this community;
  • Provide opportunities to explore the Christian faith;
  • Grow a number of 'Cell' groups;
  • Plan for long term sustainability of Reside.

Reside - hose

We are very much developing cells at the moment and we're just starting a pilot cell of people who will be leaders in different cell groups. We have got lots of good contacts now on the edges of the community but how can we take it a bit further? I think the cell church model, tweaked to this context, would be a very good model for us. I pray that it will take off and that the trust between groups will become stronger.

The work with the primary school has been awesome because initially it was closed to what we were offering to do. The vicar would go in for standard assemblies at key times of the year though they were a bit worried about taking anything further than that. Slowly they have begun to open up and this Easter we are working with them to host an exhibition of Hope where members of both the school and wider community can creatively offer their Hope for the future.

Again this has all taken time. Thanks to the gradual building up of relationship they invited me to be on their governing body and now they approach us to do things rather than the other way round. It's amazing to think that when I started here there was no link between anyone on the estate or anywhere to go so I used to sit at home praying, then walk around the streets and pray a bit more.

I was pregnant when I took up the post so that did mean I could meet other mums as a way of getting to know people. It also meant that any immediate expectations were lifted as to what I was to 'achieve' in the role; otherwise the aim was that I'd be involved in building a community centre by now because that was one of the points in my job description! The developers of the estate are providing space for a community centre of some description and I'm hoping that Reside and the residents will be able to work together on creating a special space where all sorts of activities can take place.

Reside - craft tableA five-year funding plan was put in place for us so we are now at the stage of looking at how things can be sustained in future. We are already starting to get some income from the local community but it's nowhere near enough for us to be financially sustainable – and that's in an affluent area! How can people hope to achieve that sustainability in poorer areas?

Also, the context has changed so much here in just a few years. Lots more people have moved in, mainly young families, but many head out for work early in the morning in their cars and the estate's almost dead in the daytime. The nearest shop is nearly a mile away and all of this can combine to incredible isolation for those left behind. There are actually quite a few older people here as well and the community – on the surface predominantly white and middle class – is actually quite a diverse one.

In serving them, Reside will never look like a 'normal' church. I think it will always be messy, an evolving network continually listening and continually responding to the needs of the community. I think that's why many traditional churches have come to a halt – because they stopped listening.

Legacy XS

Legacy XS - rampLegacy XS offers, among other things, indoor and outdoor skate parks, a recording studio, arts suite… and a youth congregation. Leader Pete Hillman gives the lowdown on its work in Essex.

It's never boring being involved in fresh expressions! When we first appeared on expressions: the dvd – 1 there was a lot going on but things have developed much further. The skatepark is still very much a going concern but we have also developed the building itself and now have outside ramps as well. There is a multi-use games area at the back for basketball and 5-a-side football and we fitted a recording studio and an arts suite with a dance floor so we can offer dance lessons. There's a café downstairs, Café Legacy, and a video editing suite that boasts £20,000 worth of equipment which we got with a grant from various sources.

There have been some difficult times along the way. The local council decided they wanted to begin charging rent on the land on which Legacy XS is built (an interesting move in the context of the 'big society!') and, as a result, we had to make the centre manager redundant. However, the council's decision made us take a fresh look at what we wanted to achieve with the skate park as a whole.

Legacy XS - hand plantWe decided to reduce the hours we were open to the public and instead of running our midweek sessions on a commercial basis we instead now operate them as cell groups organised by our team of youth workers. That has been running quite successfully on Tuesday evenings for young people from Year 4/5 up to Year 7.

Wednesday evenings are now given over to skateboarders, we started with very small numbers but this has grown steadily. Thursday night is a BMX cell and, again, numbers are very encouraging. On Fridays we have just started running a gym as a bit of a pilot project.

On Saturday and Sunday we can get 60 young people through the doors. It's interesting the response we get sometimes. For instance, a local Catholic Church gave us a large figure of Jesus made out of wicker which we put at the end of the skatepark on the wall – it is supposed to be a crucifix but looks more like ascension. A couple of years ago when one of the BMX lads was leaving, I was joking with him about me doing all the work around here. He said, 'What do you mean you run this place? I thought it was that bloke hanging on the wall over the ramp.'

Legacy XS - flipThe Legacy XS youth congregation itself has been much quieter and has shrunk down to a maximum of 20 people. How many of them are moving on in faith? Not many that we know of to be honest. It's better to tell the truth and say it is really, really hard to develop the youth congregation. The fact is that the measure of success and failure in God's economy is quite different. That may make it sound as if we are trying to cover ourselves but that's what we believe. All we say is that it's our job to put Jesus at the centre of what we do, for some young people that will be enough for now because maybe the time isn't yet right for them.

About three years ago we also launched Legacy Rayleigh which operates in the neighbouring town. It has its own full-time worker as part of the parish team there and has developed its own distinctive ethos. They too have mid-week outreach activities for different age groups as well as a cell group and Sunday evening gatherings for worship, prayer and teaching. It's another runner of the plant springing up somewhere new.

In other areas Legacy XS, now open for six years, continues to develop very well. Two years ago, the local county and borough councils and the Canvey Island Town Council asked us to be the lead partner in a drop-in centre on the Island. They came up with all the money. I reminded them that we are Christians and they said they had no problem with that at all. In fact I have never encountered a problem because of our Christian roots – quite the opposite. We have got another year or so of funding so we can now offer sessions on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, after-school Saturday and most of Sunday.

Legacy XS - bikesThe team does a lot of teaching work on Canvey Island and we also managed to get some money to buy a 33ft Winnebago-style vehicle to use as a mobile recording studio to go out into different areas. It's like a youth club on wheels.

Sustainability is always a big challenge. My curacy comes to an end in June 2011 and at the moment I have no idea what will happen then – hopefully something to help me continue with Legacy XS. It's always a struggle because youth congregations in particular are never, ever going to break even. The only way they will be self-sustaining is if they are delivering work on the ground that is recognised by secular funders. That's why we have to be clear about what we are doing and why we are doing it.

Legacy XS - jumpYou really have to be an entrepreneur if you are going to be doing radical stuff; that can be seen in things like taking risks and being a bit creative about the way you describe what's happening and what you can offer. It's about being as wise as serpents and a bit shrewd about things.

People then begin to recognise what you are doing. The local secondary school is a Business Enterprise College and they now study Legacy XS as an example of social entrepreneurship. The fact is that I run a reasonably sized organisation and have learned to be creative – not just in the work itself but how I am able to develop ideas within the existing structures. Through my work as a school governor, I not only take lessons in Religious Studies but also in Business Enterprise. This is a time of great opportunity and we hope and pray that we can continue to make the most of them in all of our activities.

Scarborough Deanery

Revd Sam Foster is fresh expressions pioneer missioner for the Scarborough Deanery. Numerous projects are now underway, among them a fresh expression of church in Hub Groups. Sam tells us more:

I am a fresh expressions missioner for the whole Deanery instead of a single parish and that has made a huge difference. Although I work for the Church of England, I work ecumenically – mainly through Churches Together – helping churches to step out in faith in building community and supporting Parochial Church Councils and ministers along the way.

Scarborough Deanery - friendsI now have an Anglican team of about ten people, including Church Army officer Shena Woolridge. Church Army gave us full funding for five years and Shena works full time on spirituality and the arts. The entire Deanery is represented in the make up of the team, we have got 27 Anglican churches here for instance but five of those churches may be in one benefice so one person will represent that group.

The team overlap a lot; and the beauty of it is that everyone has responsibility for a project or particular area of work. The groups of people helping us to run these projects are ecumenical, everything from Anglo-Catholics to Pentecostal Baptists. If we want things to be sustainable we must equip and encourage lay people to do all sorts of things; I am against the model of a vicar as a Jack of all Trades. I have been ordained for seven years and I don't want to have a breakdown because I’m running around trying to do everything.

Scarborough Deanery - CaféWe also have a mix of lay and ordained as well as some people who have recently come to faith. Whatever their Christian story so far I look for people who don't speak church 'language' all the time – it's very easy to slip in to that but it ends up meaning nothing to the people you're trying to reach. It's interesting that people who don't know anything about church tend to respond to friendship and support but the de-churched people we meet along the way look for some form of accountability so they know if we are 'safe' or not.

To work across the Deanery means that I can go anywhere and open things up, not only to our own CofE churches but also ecumenically. Part of that work is getting as many churches as possible to support and fund the initiative. Twelve churches of different denominations have done just that though this comes with its own challenges; namely that we have to make sure that everybody is singing from the same hymn sheet by using the same national material from Fresh Expressions. It sounds a bit heavy but in order for this to work it has to be that way.

Our team also meet regularly to share in the vision. That really helps when facing criticism from the various denominations – whether it is not preaching the Gospel enough or preaching it too much!

Scarborough Deanery - beachHealing on the beach for example is a bit controversial among the churches but most people on the streets – faced with things like regular Mind Body Spirit Fairs – are saying, 'It's about time Christians were doing something like this'. The media around here call me 'the vicar without a church' and I'm fine with that. I don't face too much opposition as such – mainly because I'm ordained and the vicars see me as being in the same boat and also that I came into this job because I truly felt that God was telling me to do it; to be a church without walls.

The Hub Groups are part of our fresh expressions faith community, discovering together what it means to be disciples of Christ in the 21st Century. There are three groups now with the first one coming out of an Alpha course we did in a Travelodge. It was New Year and they let us advertise on the railings outside because they were promoting New Year's breaks and we were looking at Resolutions in one way or another. We had a real mix of people there and by the time we got to the end of the course they wanted something more.

Another of the Hub Groups is made up of people not really involved in their own churches but who still want to be disciples and deepen their faith journey. They are our potential leaders.

Scarborough Deanery - Indian

There's also a 20s/30s group and that's more flexible. That started with a young married couple who said they had no friends. I asked them to stay on for six months, start something, and see if they could build it up. It is now a very social group meeting twice a month in all sorts of places. The others meet weekly in people's homes. We also bring the three Hub Groups together for different occasions.

Our next step is to think about something on a monthly basis; we currently do creative prayer days around the town and it would be good to expand on that possibly. One thing is for sure, we are not at all interested in just starting another church. We share people and share resources but that would possibly change if we were in one distinct building.

This is a real mix of an area; it's a seaside town with a middle class suburbia that attracts visitors all year round but two locations in Scarborough are also nationally recognised areas of deprivation. We also cover many rural villages too and this rural focus makes up quite a lot of the Deanery.

Scarborough Deanery - lanternPart of our role is to try to encourage churches to shape a team and take over building community when they feel equipped to do so. At Christmas last year, St Mary's, Cloughton, staged a live nativity on Town Farm in the village. It was the first time the church had ever been involved in anything like that. It has since moved the local post office inside the church to ensure that the community doesn't lose that vital service. They also have a fresh expression café church called Café Refresh which meets in the village hall.

St Thomas', Gristhorpe – part of the Filey group of parishes – is an iron clad shack that came in a flat pack from Harrods 150 yrs ago. In April 2009 the fresh expressions team set up a Community Cinema in the church.

St. Mark's Newby, Wreyfield Drive Methodist, St. Luke's and St. Joseph's RC Churches and some members of the Barrowcliff Residents Association are in the process of looking at how we can best serve and be part of the community of Barrowcliff. We are also following the stages of the fresh expressions mission audit 'Listening to the Community' which involves asking local residents, youth workers, councillors, to tell us what they are already doing. What they share is forming our prayers.

Scarborough Deanery - nightSacred Space on the beach is very popular with people lighting a candle to give thanks or commemorate something or remember someone. In the pilot project last year 150 candles were lit on South Bay, Scarborough. We are not there to Bible bash or collect money. As a result people stopped and said, 'We don't go to church but can we join in?'

The Deanery actually pay for my post, the Diocese provide the house and pay my expenses. Initially it was for 5 years – now they have said they want to continue with it. At the moment we don't give anything to the parish share.

As a team we meet together monthly and pray together and we dream dreams but I'm also very much a member of the Clergy Chapter and Churches Together. I like to see us as one church.

Needing a Bishop's Mission Order (BMO) to go places and do things clearly works in other places but in this area it would be such a poor witness, this attitude of blessing from God is to work all together for the needs of the people.

The only way we can get through to people is by God's good grace and through relationships. Two years ago I had a blank canvas, now God is filling in that bigger picture.

Scarborough Deanery - red