Deeper Network Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Night Shift

Night Shift - MairNight Shift at Hereford Baptist Church runs on Saturday evenings from 12 midnight to about 3am – and was featured on expressions: the dvd – 1. One of its organisers, Mair Granthier, explains how things have changed – and some remained the same – since Night Shift started over nine years ago.

The church's front entrance is opened up so that those in local pubs and clubs can finish their evening with a hot cuppa or coffee and a chat. We have met hundreds of young people, and some not so young, over the years.

A small team of volunteers are on duty each Saturday night to provide a welcome for anyone who comes through the door. Since Night Shift was featured on expressions: the dvd – 1, the process remains the same and what we offer remains the same but there is a significant drop in the numbers of those coming in. This is due to several things: the licensing hours have changed so people filter out of the venues at different times and the local fast food outlets now have to shut by 1.30am so you no longer have huge queues of people waiting for their fish and chip supper.

Night Shift - outsideHowever, the fact that fewer people are coming in does offer greater opportunity for us to speak to them. Looking back on those early days it was more like crowd control! Week by week, we continue to feel that there is a reason why we are still around. The clubbers now expect us to be there – though it's not just clubbers we serve. We also have the homeless call in on us and people who would be seen as the misfits of society; they view Night Shift as their 'night out' or at least a place – maybe the only place – where they can feel welcome.

Another thing we've noticed more recently is the increasing call on team members' time, which unfortunately limits their availability. The needs of the people we serve don't change so the availability of sufficient staff is really important to us. We always try to have at least three or four on duty at any one time and there's probably about 10 people involved altogether.

We offer hot drinks, toilet facilities, and a safe warm place to sit, wait for a taxi, eat a burger or rest their feet. We've also had people who get thrown out of clubs; they come in to Night Shift and text their friends to tell them that they are 'at the church'.

Night Shift - visitorSome of them we see very regularly, in fact we know most of our visitors by name, but a lot of those we used to see don't tend to go out drinking any more but will occasionally drop in and say hello. We have built up a lot of friendships over the years and it's great to see how people are getting on. We've also had parents and grandparents of young people say to us how good it is to know that there is somebody trustworthy there to help their kids or grandkids if they get into trouble on a Saturday night out.

We have come to accept that Night Shift really is church to quite a few people, and even if they only come in for 20 minutes or half an hour they know who we are and why we do it and who we do it for. There was great joy at Christmas when we gave out carol sheets to them and we all sang favourite carols; they really enjoyed that! We pray that Night Shift will be part of people's faith journey; it may be that someone else does the harvesting, but that's fine.

We have a small prayer team of predominantly older people who support our work. We write a prayer request report for every Night Shift that they use to identify prayer needs; the report is also useful because it means that we have a record of who comes in.

Night Shift - policeOur greatest desire at the moment is to recruit more volunteers – even if it's just to do one stint every couple of months. Our team members are all getting older and so we would like to encourage others to be part of the welcoming team. They could come along to 'taste and see' what it's like; if they do they could well become hooked on it – just like us! We recognise that very elderly people or those with young families couldn't help us in this way but it would be good to see some new volunteer faces.

The people we meet at Night Shift wouldn't normally consider going through a church door and it's a privilege for us to be there for them. We believe that the church more and more has to be prepared to reach out to where people are, rather than expect them to come to what we call church and 'fit in'.

Night Church Hastings

A town centre church in Hastings hosts a monthly Night Church to provide a safe space on Saturday evenings – a place where people have the opportunity to encounter God. Revd Annette Hawkins explains more.

Night Church - aisle

Several people from different places had a vision to open a Night Church in Hastings. Some of them had been inspired by Church for the Night in Bournemouth (featured on expressions: making a difference and this website) as something that would work alongside and complement the ministry of Street Pastors in the area.

As we met together a team emerged and we found that the vision we shared was to create a safe space where people felt welcome and accepted. We would offer hospitality and be sensitive to people's needs; talking and praying for them if that is what they wanted but also giving them space and being careful not to get in the way of what the Holy Spirit was doing.

Night Church - galleryTowards the end of 2011 a team from various churches in Hastings transformed the interior of Holy Trinity Church in the town centre. We covered an 8ft cross with Christmas lights and decorations and set it in the chancel, organised a comfortable area where people could pray, light a candle and pin prayers to a prayer wall. We also set up a large café area with sofas, chairs and tables, good tea, coffee and cakes. The church was decorated with tealights and Christmas lights and different areas were created by using fencing panels covered in material!

There were poetry, art and multi-media displays and music and light projected out into the street to attract passers-by. Sixty people of different ages came in, some for a few minutes, others for a couple of hours. Some lit a candle and prayed silently, some chattered noisily and asked lots of questions, some poured their hearts out and shared deeply painful and moving experiences.

Most were amazed that they were allowed in at all – especially if they had been drinking, many of them expressed their appreciation and their intent to come back and bring their friends.

Night Church - crossEncouraged, we opened the doors again on New Year's Eve and similar numbers of people came, several who had been to the first event but many new people as well. Our next event will be around Valentine's Day and we plan to open monthly from then on. Up to now we have advertised Night Church as running from 10pm to 2am but in reality we have kept it open as long as people needed us. We're thinking that we may now have a cut-off point of 3am though on New Year's Eve people were still walking through the doors at 4.30am. One person who had been contemplating suicide that night said the fact that they could come into Night Church had saved them from doing that.

Holy Trinity is an Anglo-Catholic church and a very beautiful building; the local council pay for the chancel to be lit and the light can be seen through the stained glass windows. It's one of those 'wow' sort of interiors and when people walk in for the first time their first reaction is one of amazement! The church is in an interregnum at the moment but the predominantly older congregation have been so helpful and are really thrilled that their church is being used in this way. They have also been generous in giving us storage space there. One of the most exciting aspects of this ministry is that at the last count there were people from 10 different churches and seven different denominations working together with no agenda other than to serve the community and show God's love.

Night Church is missional in that we seek to help people to encounter the living God, particularly the unchurched and dechurched. We actively discourage Christians from coming unless they are on the team. At the moment we are not in a position to disciple people although the hope is that, as we build relationships through regular contact, we will be able to encourage people in their faith journey. We are at a very early stage and are quite open to the leading of the Spirit as to what the next stage may be.

Night Church - logo

Church for the Night

Church for the Night lights

As a nightclub chaplain in Bournemouth, Michael French has always loved dance music and the club scene. He explains the many strands to his work in one of the UK's most popular clubbing areas.

Michael FrenchA main focus of the work is to provide a listening ear and a helping hand to those in the club scene. We also have people going out on the streets to show kindness and love to the clubbers, and anyone else who may need some support.

The chaplaincy itself, part of the Night Outreach Work ecumenical charity set up here 10 years ago, is about helping people to explore faith and responding to needs. As part of that, we organise something every two months called Church for the Night which is an event at St Peter's Church, Bournemouth, which runs from late evening to 4am.

The idea is not to 'pounce' on people when they walk through the door but to offer a free café art exhibition, and use projections, smoke machines, light ambient dance music, and a chilled out euphoric, atmosphere to help whoever comes in to find space with God.

Church for the Night girlsGirls will often arrive in their stilettos and hot pants, kneel down at the front and cry, pray, hug their friends and then walk out without saying anything, but they’ve had some sort of encounter with God which is just incredible.

A new website, Spaces, is now offering us a wonderful opportunity to highlight all the Christian work that's going on in Bournemouth. There will also be an online calendar to help in the development of ongoing programmes.

I originally worked in children's services as a youth and community worker, then I spent three months in Ibiza with 24:7 Prayer – meeting up with others who have a similar love for club culture and God meant that everything changed.

I've been into dance music and dj-ing since I was 17, and involved in the club scene for the past 10. Lots of people think of the club scene as being completely bad but I would say there's a huge amount of life there; the music is amazing and the amount of creativity in terms of multimedia, people's expression of dance and the community life is incredible.

Church for the Night prayerWhat we do in Nightclub Outreach Work is express our life in God in a different way. A lot of us have previously been members of various churches but this work is more about community – we just want to live life together, eat together, pray together, and get involved in social action with Worship, Word, and Witness.

It's going back to the roots of Christianity, having life and sharing life together – there is a lot of fear around about being controlled. That's why most people have rejected traditional church so we try to create environments where people can come together and pray without that sort of pressure. Our values are based on humility, servanthood, and accountability through the concept of D (discipleship) groups – these are three people that we meet with regularly and keep accountable to them.

All of this encourages me but I think it's not without opposition as well – personal struggles and issues are always there. In saying that, it's about actually learning from each other because I often find that my faith is strengthened by meeting with those who have an experience of spirituality in their own way but don't know where to place it.

Church for the Night logSome of the things that happen are quite bizarre. A guy working on the door at a club in Boscombe jeered at me that I looked like a famous porn star called Ron Jeremy. All of his mates laughed, I did too (with slight embarrassment). I then got a call and had to head back to my car to collect a ticket for someone. On the way I realised I had a 'Jesus Loves Porn Stars' Bible in my car and recalled there was a story about Ron Jeremy inside.

As I went back into the club, I handed the Bible to the door man with my business card in the page that said 'Jesus Loves Ron Jeremy'. The guy was astounded, saying, 'What are the chances of that?' He told me he would read the Bible and let me in anytime for free. Result!

We are created to create; we are creative beings and looking at those things which give you passion and life are those things which I would encourage people to start. I wouldn't say it was a good idea for people to start club ministry if they're not into clubbing or dance music, for instance.

Church for the Night floorWe don't discourage people from going to traditional churches. If people want to find God there then we'll take them along but the fact is that we view ourselves as church. We love God and, as people meet with us – whether it's in a nightclub, out and about, or in someone's home; God is in the club, God is in the home, God is in the streets, God is everywhere.

People tend to have a certain image of clubbers but I encounter all sorts of people on the club scene, from those in their late teens to their 50s.

We go to a dance class with teenagers and we are also linked with Christian DJs from Clean Time Sound System who work with a bunch of recovering drug and alcohol addicts. That's what I love about this job: you come across different classes, different races, different ages, different everything – it’s brilliant.

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


Solace - Wendy SandersonWendy Sanderson, Night Club Chaplain, Church Army Evangelist, Lay Pioneer Minister and co-founder of Solace tells the story of this unusual fresh expression of church in South Wales.

Two years ago, I co-founded Solace with James Karran, an assistant Baptist minister. Solace is a new form of church that meets weekly in a bar in central Cardiff on Sunday evenings.

Solace - Rowan WilliamsFrom the beginning we met a lot of people who were into clubbing who were interested in Jesus, God and faith but often, not traditional expressions of church. So we began on April Fools Day 2007 aiming at people who were searching for something. I am 32, and clubbing is part of my life, so Solace has grown out of our lives as clubbing people. On our launch night over one hundred people turned up, mostly I am sure out of curiosity, and now on Sundays we draw on approximately fifteen to twenty people a week. When the Archbishops of Canterbury and Wales came, of course numbers rocketed. We like guest speakers!!

In an attempt to make church accessible and relevant to clubbers, we broke it down into four different elements, which we do on four different Sundays a month. Each month we focus on a theme, and deliberately target difficult issues such as sex, relationships, debt and other issues that really matter to clubbers. The first Sunday each month tends to have a guest speaker and three of our regulars take a bible verse and say what they think about it with questions afterwards. On the second Sunday we have an entertainment night and people bring their friends. On the third Sunday we hold a debate night and recently looked at the issue of sweatshops and how we can be more active in the fight against exploitation. On the fourth Sunday, we have Agapé, based round the symbolism of Communion, and using the arts and other elements in an alternative worship style event enabling those attending to express themselves.

Solace - tablesWe engage with the de- and un-churched – in fact anyone who is interested in exploring faith. We have wanted to break down the negative stereotype that many hold concerning Christians and Church. Most of the other churches in the area are geared up to the needs of young families with children, but we are uncompromisingly focused on the many younger adults who are single. There are many, many single clubbers in their twenties and thirties who do not relate to forms of church which seem to over-focus on families. In many ways, Solace is a spiritual community, a society of friends where clubbing is an important part of our lives, and most of us are single. We are pleased that Solace has developed into a place of hope, a place of peace and safety. Some have said they value it as a place where you can be completely yourself and be accepted unconditionally and where people are non-judgmental.

Solace - logoWhen it comes to discipleship, we specifically work on a one-to-one basis, where the themes and discussions on Sunday nights encourage people to explore or re-imagine spiritual things. We allow people to challenge each other on Sunday nights, and encourage people to dig deep with the Christian faith and the stuff of life. This is learning about the faith through proactive engagement in activity. Something like an Alpha Course or Emmaus just would not work in a clubbing context.

We hope that people will increasingly explore the Christian faith starting where many are – a long way away from it. Through a strongly relational mission we hope that Solace will continue to grow a very strong community of people who 'are and who are not yet' Christian. We are also now looking for our own building, to house not only the Solace Sunday nights, but the many social outreach initiatives we have started, which need developing by having a permanent space.

Joe's Story

I’ve been a Christian for a number of years, but never fitted into 'traditional' church; feeling like an outsider and never quite connecting. This feeling of detachment has meant that I have undergone long period without attending Church. I felt disconnected from God, mainly because I was trying to be someone that I wasn't and it was just too hard emotionally to keep that level of pretense up for long periods. One of my closest friends felt the same way and so we decided to look for an alternative form of church.

In March 2008 we found Solace on the internet. The first meeting we went to, was discussing the issue of debt and making it relevant to my life! For once I found somewhere that made my faith relevant, with like minded people, who rather than judge, accepted me, flaws and all. The biggest and best difference Solace has made is that I am now a Christian 24:7 rather than just on Sundays or in front of other Christians. Solace is a place of acceptance and hope which makes my relationship with God relevant and effective, Solace is somewhere that my God given gifts are needed, used and developed for the glory of God and I will always be thankful to God for guiding me to it!