Hope Whitby Missional Community

Leigh Coates reports on how a new Missional Community has developed in Whitby.

About five years ago, a group of us wanted to start something new in Whitby – where we all live – so we launched a small cell group and began to explore the idea of missional communities.

Whitby is only 18 miles from Scarborough and 30 miles from Middlesbrough but it's a very, very different sort of place; popular with Goths and alternative cultures because of its links with Dracula author Bram Stoker.

We organised a couple of Christian worship events as outreaches; they were called Restore and we did have a couple of people come to faith as a result. That's great of course, but we felt that overall it wasn't a great success. We wanted to do more and that's when we had a vision of being involved in a regular café-style 'thing'.

My wife, Rebecca, and I approached the owner of what we reckon is the best café in Whitby, Sanders Yard, and they said yes to us doing a pilot Hope Hub event involving music – both mainstream and Christian – and short testimony or talk. The café seats around 50 people but the event was packed and about 70 people came along.

Hope Whitby - Sander's YardThat was in May 2012 and we agreed with the café owner to do the Hope Hubs for a couple of months to see how things worked out; they didn't charge us a penny to do that which was amazing. We tried different things, it petered out a bit, we tried something else; it was all trial and error but the number of people who wanted to be at this event started to build.

We then had another conversation with the owner and said that we'd like to do this long term and she said, 'as long as you make £100 behind the bar, you carry on as you are'. Since then, we have never had to pay a penny for the use of the venue.

Hope Hubs now take place there on Friday evenings twice a month and we usually get around 40-60 people, with an age range from 14 to much, much older…! It's not a service; we describe it as 'Raw, Real, Relevant' because we are working through tough questions about Christianity in a way that's accessible to people of faith or of no faith. I hate Christian things that are cheesy or naff so we do our best to avoid that!

It's our sixth year and we have learned lots of things along the way. The crowd we now have coming along are about one third Christian, one third on the fringes or who have been hurt by church in the past but still call themselves Christians, and one third non-Christians. What started off as five people meeting together has now grown to four different cell groups, huddles, Hope Hub, Hope Rocks, a new youth project called Hyp and many other things.

Hope Whitby - Leigh CoatesI am the Deacon for Mission at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Scarborough, but I don't promote particular churches to those who want to explore their faith in a more traditional setting. I'm always keen just to promote 'church' – wherever that may be or whatever it looks like.

Again that's changed because when we started, as a core team in Whitby, our aim was to put people into churches. Now we're very keen on discipleship, which is the one thing I think many churches have really missed out on.

Hope Whitby is a Missional Community that aims to show Christianity in a way that can be understood by everyone. Hope Rocks events are one way in which we are reaching out, and from that we have seen three baptisms in the sea in a year.

Ebenezer Baptist Church has been amazing because it commissioned me to go and do what we are doing and I can go there for accountability; the pastor and elders have been great. The Re-Fuel band have also been a blessing, performing at many of our events and supporting us to reach out, showing how good and Christian music can be.

As you can imagine, doing something new and different, all of the Whitby team – including me – have come up against some hard times and Ebenezer have been there to help me grow and guide me through some difficult situations. They challenge me but, because our accountability is so high, they never get involved in the day-to-day stuff. They are happy to leave that to the Whitby core team.

Hope Whitby - baptismWe have a leadership of five, including me and Rebecca, but there's no hierarchy. We work together on everything, particularly to ensure that we are not replicating something that is already being done by other churches here. We have no interest in reinventing the wheel!

Thanks to Ebenezer, I have just started to 'officially' work part-time for Hope Whitby but the church at Scarborough is not looking to put a denominational 'sticker' on the Missional Community here. They have been very gracious and open to seeing what God has in store.

Some people may have been disappointed that the community is not intended to become a Baptist Church in Whitby. Hopes were expressed in some areas that it would happen but I said no, it's not about that. It's also not about me going to college to become a minister. What's the point in a pioneer sitting behind a desk? I also work as a tanker driver and I want to continue in that, because I don't want to lose the 'edge' in what I'm doing.

Hope Whitby - postcard

Some churches may have felt threatened when we first came along but we have made it clear that we're not a Sunday church; this is all about building God's kingdom. Hope Whitby Missional Community operates from Monday to Friday with Saturday as a day of rest. Our core Missional Community is drawn from different churches so, on Sundays, we return to them. We do however have some who do not or won't go to church for different reasons; we just love them and try to meet them where they are. At the moment, it's enough that they are being disciples with the cells and seeing outreach in its natural form at the Hope Hub.

In the future, we are exploring the possibility of doing many new things but we are still in prayer about it. It would be easy to get caught up in lots of plans; that's not the way it should be. It's being sensitive to what's developing around you and listening to what God is saying.

Shed Church

Phil Smith describes the growth of the Men's Shed movement in Australia.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics general social survey showed that only 20% of Aussie men are likely to affiliate with a religion. The Lifeways organisation estimates that more than 70% of the boys that are raised in church will abandon it in their teens and twenties.

In the last 10 years, the Men's Shed phenomenon has taken off in Australia in response to sky-rocketing rates of depression and suicide amongst young Australian men. Suicide is now the tenth highest cause amongst young Australian blokes; the rates are three times higher than for women.

In 'sheds' around the country, blokes have come looking for friendship, commitment, purpose and help. They can look like:

  • a barbecue behind a suburban truck shed where between 90 and 120 doctors, labourers, accountants, prison parolees and IT geeks get together to hear one another's stories;
  • a backyard workshop where older fellows share skills, mentoring younger men;
  • a tent at a music festival where blokes can let their guard down and talk about anything from being a dad to struggling with porn. It all looks a bit like Luke's Gospel view of missional church (Luke 10.1-9).

The evening barbecue version is called Shed Night and the liturgy is simple, blokes break bread rolls and share steak; friendships are formed as stories are shared. There is no alcohol for the sake of alcoholics who are present. A couple of volunteers are interviewed with no judgement. Most men know the topics; fatherhood, sex, failure, work stress, dreams, hopes; stuff men don't usually feel safe to discuss, a place of grace is established here and disability, mental or physical health, wealth or prestige, being cool – all count for nothing.

Shed Church

Australian men need friends; not colleagues, not competitors, not heroes or life coaches. The Christians behind Shed Night are trusted friends who need healing just as much as everyone else. In theological terms, it's incarnational, relational, evangelism.

Like the disciples sent by Jesus, the Shed men are prepared to do the journey together, co-dependent, mission-shaped. These men are experiencing the biblical injunction to walk alongside one another and with God.

It's not clear when or where the Men's Shed movement began. In Australia there have been formalised associations and networks, such as Men's Sheds Australia and The Australian Men's Shed Association; it may not be possible to unearth the points at which Christians around the country began exploring this connective culture. The organic movement was already building around ideals of welcome, trust and respect. The physical and mental health benefits were already evident when Anglicans, Baptists, the Uniting Church and Lutherans began engaging at the local church level to introduce spiritual health.

Some denominational churches have tried to reshape the idea but the spectacular organic growth has been outside organised, denominational church.

To go where Christ is not yet known, to find people of peace and accept their hospitality has required a 180 degree shift in language and understanding. In the past three years, a new iteration of Shed has begun at music festivals; for most who take leadership in this movement, there's been a reversal of the 'build it and they will come' philosophy in the style of church in the suburbs each Sunday morning. They are prepared to go to the 'Samaritan' borderlands where they have had to learn languages other than Christianese and, in this experience, the disciples' own lives are transformed as much as anyone with whom they might share Jesus's good news about the kingdom of God.

The 'McDonaldisation' of church and society, that 'cookie-cutter' effect of forming a church, doesn't seem to be the case in Shed where the context always forms a unique ministry.

Shed ChurchChristian Shed blokes sometimes find themselves challenged to accept the hospitality of others and learn from their experience or skill. The risk of discovering we have the same weaknesses and struggles creates a sense of vulnerability; I have seen very few clergy in any Shed Happens events – some men I know have reflected that's because pastors and priests don't have mates; they have accountability partners and only trust other priests and partners with their hearts.

On the other hand, the Stafford Baptists’ Men’s Shed is a large backyard workshop, a few doors from the church building. It’s a very big investment by the local church and the pastor is closely connected.

For many of these blokes, it's more about the journey – and leaving it to the Holy Spirit to 'worry' about the destination. I came across one Shed group that had a motto, 'Better than fine'. This was a group of blokes that were interested in belonging and being open to one another, 'fine' was an acronym – Fouled up, Insecure, Neurotic, Exhausted. If a brother asked how you were doing, you had to be 'better than fine'. This was a brother that wanted to go with you and do the journey, looking for justice, mercy, and healing.

The Shed movement flips the coin over for blokes who've been burnt by church culture that told them, 'behave yourself, then believe what we all believe, and then we might let you belong'. Shed offers the opportunity to belong amongst men who are just as screwed up as anyone else.

Is Shed church or could it be church in future? Luke's benchmark for church is followers gathered around Jesus and sent by him to express the kingdom of God. If a Shed is only men gathered round a barbecue or a workbench, it doesn't measure up as a fresh, stale, or any other expression of church. If, however, some of these blokes are parts of Christ's body, connecting with others, investing time and love to grow alongside them; if this is more about incarnation than recreation, then we'll see the transforming work of God – and that does look a lot like church.

Buckshaw Village Church

Pioneer curate James Gwyn-Thomas is based at St Andrew's, Leyland, and also leads Buckshaw Village Church.

Buckshaw Village, known to many as Buckshaw, only started to be built 10 years ago. It's a huge area between the towns of Chorley and Leyland in Lancashire and is one of the largest sites for urban development in the North West. There's a population of about 10,000 at the moment but that's set to rise by a few thousand more as new housing becomes available.

Buckshaw - scaffoldingIt is being developed on the site of what was the Royal Ordnance Factory, Chorley, and Buckshaw is sandwiched between the M6 and M61 which means that a lot of the residents work in Preston or Manchester because the road links are so good.

Interestingly, there's a huge craving for community because everyone who moves here is new; no-one's grown up together in this place and that means they want to find a community spirit. Many people choose to come to Buckshaw because it was built with that expectation of creating community.

Buckshaw - houseInstead, it can seem a bit strange to newcomers at first because Buckshaw Village is all very manicured and neat, like living permanently in Center Parcs! That's why, when I first came, I spent the first four months just talking to people, finding out more about them and their lives, and listening to what they wanted to see happen here.

Buckshaw Village Church is a church plant from St Andrew's in Leyland and was established in the summer of 2010, with the support of the local Methodist and Anglican congregations in Leyland, Chorley and Euxton. Led by my predecessor, Ken Campbell, a small group of people started meeting together on Sunday mornings. The idea was to make gatherings accessible to everyone, regardless of age, background and any previous experience of 'church'.

Buckshaw - dog walkingWhen I came to Buckshaw, I found that the key thing was to hold everything lightly. We just wanted – and still want – to find ways of church getting involved with what the community is already doing, such as what happens through Buckshaw Village Community Association. It's very important to me that the word 'we' – rather than 'I' – is used when talking about the church here and, as part of that, we now have a church leadership team in place. I'm not on my own in this. Buckshaw Village Church exists for the community and in the community.

Buckshaw - chattingI work quite closely with local Anglican and Methodist ministers because we see Buckshaw as a kingdom priority; and we find it's so important to meet, pray for and support one another. The Methodists are also starting to come into the local primary school where they're running a Messy Church with our support.

Our main meeting of the week is on Sunday mornings in the Buckshaw Community Centre. We don't have a church building but we do hire the community centre room and that's our biggest financial outlay. Shops are being developed and some have already opened, including a café called Cowshed which is where we now run the Alpha Course on Thursday evenings.

Buckshaw - Community CentreBut some of our greatest growth is not through outreach courses like Alpha, but rather, through the relationships that form through times such as our toddler group: Semi-Quavers. Meeting on a Tuesday morning for many parents on the village has proven to be a life line and they greatly appreciate the time we spend together. Relationships, relationships, relationships! It has been great to provide events where we, as a church, can get to know the community. We've had a whiskey night, curry nights, afternoon-teas and hope to have cheese, wine, sausage, coffee and film nights too, all open to the community. As relationships are being built, we are starting to see crossover into our Sunday service as people realise they quite like us and can certainly trust us and that they too are actually quite interested in their own relationship with God!

Buckshaw - audience

It is of course also so important to have our midweek youth groups (sorted) and the recently started growth groups for fellowship and discipleship.

Buckshaw became a Bishop's Mission Order (BMO) because this is quite a big village but not a big enough community to have lots of different types of church. There was a danger that the area would attract all sorts of church plants which could weaken the overall mission. By working with the other local denominations, we said, 'Let's protect this and work together and be strategic for the kingdom'.

Buckshaw - coffeeIt's my first curacy but I already feel that, in future, I'm not going to long for a parish that has a church building because there is something very special about not having one! At the community centre, if people feel comfortable coming through the door for karate or acting class then you already have a head start. But a question is, 'How can we make that space that was sweaty on a Friday night for karate become one where we go to have a really special place of worship? Is it possible?' The answer seems to be, 'yes we can' because we are not limited, we can explore and discover, we can make mistakes as we continue to think about, 'What is the best way to do church in Buckshaw?'

Buckshaw - team


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Peter Grant tells how a fresh expression of church has developed from long-standing work among young offenders.

The ministry of Reflex, as part of Youth for Christ North East, ran for 15 or 16 years but changes in the prison system relating to young offenders brought changes in the ministry too. Such a lot of great work was being done but things had to develop in a different way to serve the needs of those coming out of prison so, just over 12 months ago, we set up our charity – The Junction 42 Foundation – to develop our work with ex-offenders, their families and friends in the community.

I've been working with men involved in issues of offending and domestic violence for over 20 years and what we started to see were real openings with the gospel in prison but it all broke down when the men were released and tried to get into the community through church. It just didn't work because the cultural difference was too great to make that step.

As a charity we started to run a couple of groups in the community, one for men and one for women. We also set up some mentoring training and got some people involved from local churches. The guys' group had around 10-12 people coming along; some were just out of prison while others were mature Christians, some with an offending background in their past.

Connect - kitchenWe ran an Alpha course in May last year and ended up with about 40-45 taking part and 11 people being baptised. It was incredible to see people inviting their families and friends in a really natural way; it seemed to be a bit of a magnet for them. When we got to the end of the course, we knew we couldn't simply say, 'Well, that's done now so go and find a church.' We also knew we couldn't remain in the Alpha format because of the increasing, and very welcome, challenge of the sheer number of people wanting to worship together – and so Connect came into being.

The key for us is that it started really small, started from relationship not from structure. We read Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens by Neil Cole and it resonated with what we saw God doing with us.

A sense of ownership is something that has always been part of all that happens here. Right from the very start of Alpha, people went into the kitchens and started helping and then tidying up afterwards, they didn't have to be asked. That kind of 'come and be involved' approach is part of who we are and what we do; it's all about doing things together and not for. Connect is not something that's 'put on' by the church, instead that sense of ownership prompts many people to share their testimony and has encouraged people to discover – and use – their gifts.

Every week we see new people coming in, God is doing amazing things. Over the last year, we have seen many, many come to faith for the first time. We probably have about 60 'regulars' now –  though the number would be closer to 100 if everyone involved in Connect all came at the same time; it really has grown very quickly and the core of it is growing stronger.

Christians come to us from all sorts of church backgrounds, including Baptists, Anglicans and Free Churches and a retired Methodist minister who's helping us too. A lot of people are particularly getting involved in mentoring so that's something we are looking to use and be fairly intentional about it.

There have been a number of signs of growth. Our women's group, which meets on a Thursday, grew out of one of them saying, 'I want to start a sisterhood'. These are young women in their early 20s, passionate about their faith, who look at the Bible and focus on teaching. We also have about 20 people going to another weekly Bible study – from which we are seeing an emerging leadership team.

Connect - full roomWe are not affiliated to any one Christian denomination though we do meet at St Luke's Church, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where the vicar – Robert Ward – is a great supporter of what we do. Robert heads up a network of church leaders in Tyneside and there are a few people now going to his church who started with us here. However, the majority of new Christians say that Connect is their church.

To be honest, we kind of resisted the whole idea of calling ourselves church for quite a long while but when others started calling it their church we thought, 'Well if they are happy with that, we will too.' We are not so bothered about it now.

I have been a Christian for most of my life but this is like nothing else I've come across before. Yes, the discipleship issues are generally more difficult than what most churches see because they might involve drugs and other addictive behaviours, re-offending and so on but now a wide range of people are now being drawn in so we are beginning to get away from the idea of us being seen as 'an ex-offenders church'. About 25% of those now attending have been in prison, 50% are people who have come through a connection with ex-offenders, either as family or friends, and 25% are from local churches lending their support too.

We don't have kids with us but we have quite a mix of ages, including a number of retired people who have a lot of wisdom. People are invited to come as guest speakers and some really understand about speaking into our culture, for others it is quite a new experience but they always tell us that they are greatly encouraged by being there. Again, as part of this strong sense of ownership here, we are very open to visitors and people are very welcome to come and see what we do.

We see partnership as being really important and so we are working with Christians from other areas who want to do similar things. Sunderland is just about to launch a Connect and we are also in touch with people looking to develop one in Durham. Our aim is operate as a network; we don't want oversight of them but to help them.

In terms of oversight, there are now seven or eight of us involved in that, including people we have seen emerge as leaders here. We used to meet with Robert and Alice Ward regularly but now our leadership is moving towards being more inclusive in its structure – something not necessarily run by the charity.

We meet on Tuesday nights, arriving at 5.30pm to cook and set up and starting at 7pm. We try to finish at 9pm but people tend to leave at about 10!

The biggest surprise to us here is the worship. It was during our third session of Alpha that we decided to introduce the idea of worship at Connect. The worship leader used to be a prison governor. We were unsure how this would go down with people unfamiliar with church but simply said that 'This is what Christians do'. The worship leader said he'd play a song through once so everyone would get the idea of what it was like.

It was 'How Great is Our God' and it was just amazing. After the first verse everyone was on their feet and going for it, it was such a God 'thing' because it could never have been organised, or had such an immediate effect, if it had come from us. It was very, very, very different than any other kind of worship I have ever come across. It was raw. Our musicians are very talented but they are not polished; we have guitar, drums and sometimes piano. Our singers are young women, with incredible voices, who became Christians with us and they sing with a couple of guys. We are now very passionate about music as a community, the worship band has come into prison to lead worship in the prison from where Connect first grew, and it's amazing to see and hear it – the guys there love singing. It sometimes sounds like a football chant. The closest description I would have is a kind of Geordie version of a black gospel church.

Our format is pretty flexible but generally we have:

  • some worship as people gather;
  • about 20 minutes of worship;
  • eat together;
  • news of what God is doing in people's lives, including testimonies at times;
  • speaker for 20 minutes maximum;
  • discussion around tables;
  • prayer and ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit.

We are very much up for networking and not being isolated. That's why we have made connections with local Tyneside churches; St Thomas' Church, Philadelphia in Sheffield; and Reflex's links with The Message Trust.

Now, we are excited about linking in with Fresh Expressions and being part of a network of fresh expressions of church; we don't know how things will develop but we do know that God is in control.


A waterfront café in Ipswich has become home to a community of people keen to develop faith and friendship. One of LINK's organisers, Roger Eyre, explains more.

I wasn't around at the beginning – about four years ago – but LINK founders Dan Jolley and Scott Huntly had a vision to do some sort of cafe project. They wanted to reach out into the community and be very relationship and community focused, providing a place where non-Christians would feel very welcome.

I got involved when Heart for Ipswich contacted me. This group aims to link Christians from many different churches to work together more closely to help meet the social and spiritual needs of the people of Ipswich. It is run on a voluntary basis by a small team of lay people. Heart For Ipswich got in touch to tell me about this new café project idea. My vision had been about putting music into cafés and using it as a way of outreach. In spite of living in the same town, I didn't know the other guys at all so it was important to hear from an organisation who had an overview of everything that was happening. We spent three or four months getting to know each other; we became friends and spent a lot of time together after which it became clear that we very much wanted to develop a Christian project based on relationship.

Link - crowdAt first we thought it might be a stepping stone for people moving on to church but we quickly realised that the sort of church our community now called LINK would be prepared to go to didn't really exist. For a handful of people I'd say that LINK is their only contact with Christians and they consider it as a place where you can discuss all sorts of things; however they probably wouldn't describe it as church.

We are not trying to do church in a café as such but two people have come to faith through a journey which included LINK. There are others who have definitely made enquiries and are searching. The good thing is that LINK has reached deep into people's lives and relationships have been sustained over three years.

The experience brought by people to the team is very important. There's a wide variety, such as people who have led youth work in churches and a teacher – while I've done a lot of music events and gigging. Some of us have been brought up in church and had a very purposeful vision for what we are doing; namely reaching people who felt they could not walk into a church building and also providing a place for Christians who had been hurt by church in the past. They still had belief but did not want to be part of religion.

We started to form connections with people and things have just grown organically. We usually plan no more than 2-3 meetings ahead and our LINK nights are primarily music-focused with opportunities for discussion. One of the key things that we have is unity across denominations in the team and those that attend. This is also how we draw our governance, from a group of wiser Christians from different church traditions. They are also people who have held a lot of responsibility either in church or in business.

LINK - building

LINK is widely known in Christian circles in the town. We did operate weekly for about two and a half years but there is only so much a small team can do. We now run from 7pm to 9pm on the first Monday of the month, at Coffeelink café on the Ipswich Waterfront. It has been quite a roller coaster ride along the way. People will turn up at any time between 7 and 7.30pm, then we have some light music or it may be a full gig night. Otherwise we might have a talk or some sort of 'interview' with different contributors. We also do practical stuff as well; a local charity might come in and give a talk on their work or a particular challenge they're facing and we will give them some ideas. The networking side of things is important as well. There is always more than one thing going on; we don’t want to just put on music events.

We were also looking at ways of anonymously requesting prayer or asking questions. We'd seen the Post It idea done many times in other organisations when people come up with ideas by sticking the notes all over a wall so we did it at LINK and it was a great way for people to find out more or ask for support without putting themselves in the spotlight. 

We have had about 50-60 people, on a few occasions nearly 100 people turn up. Now we have anywhere between 10 and 50 depending on the night; we had a massive peak of initial interest, then things tailed off before climbing back again to reach the plateau where we are now.

Our age range is anywhere between 18 and 60-65 though primarily it's people in their 20s and 30s. It's a blessing to us but we don't pitch it for a particular age group. We don't particularly want under-18s to come because most churches are well equipped with groups for that age.

LINK - guitarWe are right in town next to the new University Campus Suffolk. We now have pioneer minister Tim Yau working with us, the only ordained person on the team, and we're hoping he will be able to get to know people at the university and develop contacts.

Apart from Tim, we are all lay people with full-time jobs. We have all held, or hold, responsibility within church but not as a pastor or elder. LINK is not led by ordained leadership and we do not affiliate to any one Christian denomination.

I know lots of people who lead but they are not paid pastors; they have full time jobs and they still do church and that's a great model. If someone has worked recently then they are 'real', they understand the current job market and the pain and the politics of work. I think that's a good thing and should be encouraged.

One of the biggest things for the future is for churches to learn to put aside differences and work together. In some cases they have to be prepared to sacrifice their own personal goals for a joint goal. Sadly there are some people who still want to do their own thing; they want to have their church brand on it and not work across churches.

But when you are prepared to take a risk together it can lead to wonderful things. We had a community waterfront festival in Ipswich near the beginning of LINK, three years ago, when we wanted to make LINK known a little more. We thought, 'Why don't we go there and take our lounge out to the people instead of waiting for them to come to us?' So we took our sofas, a lamp, table, and boxes of pizza and cake down to the waterfront. It was great.

The café where we meet is run by a guy who is from a Muslim background who is open-minded about faith and providing a forum for its exploration. He lets us use the venue for free and he only gets coffee money out of it. The important thing is to find people who can broker these sorts of relationships with people in the community; we need these people because they are catalysts for change.

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Lyn EdwardsLyn Edwards, project leader of the Shackles Off youth project in Cumbria, explains the development of its fresh expression of church, X-treme.

Shackles Off provides support, training, a safe space, advocacy and mentoring for 11 to 25-year-olds, as well as youth clubs and activities. We have always had a prayer box on our counter in the former shop we use as a base but we wanted to provide something much more intentional. Some of us decided to sit and pray in the premises on a Sunday morning – whether anyone else came or not. X-treme, as our fresh expression, came out of that.

The project as a whole had started as a result of three vivid dreams that God had given me during a holiday in the Lake District. I returned to my home in Pembroke and announced the move to Seascale. We did that in 2006 and then I became involved in the HOPE 08 initiative. Some friends and I drove a 'HOPE Mobile' – a Citroen Picasso with a HOPE sticker in the window – around the area but it enabled us to get to know the young people. With support from the village's three churches, we gave out snacks and built relationships.

X-treme - Shackles Off shopI had walked past the shop I had seen in one of my dreams every day and noticed that the landlord was doing it up. One morning, I plucked up the courage to share my story. He didn't believe in God, but said if someone had moved house because of his premises, he would take my interest seriously. When I said we would fund rent through 100 people giving £1 a week, he laughed, but he trusted me.

After getting permission from the local council to secure the building, Shackles Off was launched. In 2007, we started X-treme as a place where we would talk explicitly about God. It runs from 9.45am to 11am on Sundays though when it first got off the ground, it was more like a discussion time for our young people. They would come with their mobile phones in hand and then we'd sit around. We had much of our music on a CD and they would laugh at us trying our best to sing. Not one of us who started the group could hold a note and the young people would be in hysterics listening to us. I also always did a very short bible study but our young people had no idea who the biblical characters were.

Right from the start we were up front about what we believed in, asking the young people if they wanted us to pray for anything. One of our first requests came from a boy who said his family always had mashed potato on a Sunday, could we pray that it wouldn't be made lumpy again?! But gradually those prayers got a lot more serious with requests like, 'Lord I want to stop drinking, please can you help me?' or 'Nan has cancer and I don't know what to do. Please help me.'

X-treme - group with cross

This pattern of meeting went on for at least two years, we'd have 10 or 12 regulars but nobody made a commitment. People used the prayer box; we talked about issues in their lives and made sure that anything we studied in the bible related back to their situations. We learnt bible verses off by heart – in fact they first learnt them by rapping them. Having been a teacher for over 30 years, I thought we had to find a way that they could remember so I ended up going on Google to find out how to rap! We started with John 3:16 and then we started to rap our own rap songs, we formed a group called The X-treme Rappers and the Strangled Duck and we would learn verses or hymns and stories like the Prodigal Son.

So we just kept on going, doing the traditional in a very untraditional way. They would ask me all about the things we can take for granted in church, things like, 'Why do you put your hand in the air when you pray?' 'Can I lie on the floor?' In the end they just did their own thing and nobody had any inhibitions in God's presence.

When we started, the youngest was 12 and the oldest would have been about 18. Most of them were about 14 or 15. On a Sunday there could be two or three coming along or we could have 12 to 15. They were the core who would say to their friends, 'Come and see what we do.' On a Friday night at Shackles Off youth club we would have 45-50. That was all great but I knew that the thing to make it complete would be to know just one person come to know Jesus.

In summer last year, the prayers were answered when we took 11 of them to Soul Survivor and nine became Christians. That totally changed everything. I can see that commitment in their lives and in their worship; it's now personal. It has changed them but, of course, it's a mixed picture. Some are intermittent and are struggling while others would go to a big event without any problem at all. This year we are taking 20 (13 young people and the volunteers).

X-treme - Soul Survivor

God saves, not us, and he knows when people are ready. For too long I think the church has tried to force people into the Kingdom or seduce them into the Kingdom but it's got to be fruit that will last. All I'm doing is telling them about God and teaching them all the things they need to know. We go to a church with them if we are invited to take a service – there are usually three or four of those invitations a year.

For ongoing discipleship I tell them there are three things they need to do every day; namely talk to God, worship God and read his Word. To me it's that simple. If they do that, they will grow as Christians.

We have things that are causing big hurdles for us because we are a Christian-based project – not just a social project. We come under the Methodist umbrella but we also work with other denominations. At the Christian end of things we can be seen as being 'too social' while, in the light of our social commitments, we can be viewed as being 'too Christian'. It's an interesting balancing act!

Our next challenge is looking at the question of, 'How do we have communion in our drop-in centre?' We are talking that over with Methodist Circuit Superintendent Philip Peacock but the fact is that we are pushing boundaries and making the traditional churches think about how things have been done in the past and how they may need to change now.

Full immersion baptism is another issue. Some of the young people said, even though they had been baptised as babies, they wanted to publicly declare their faith and be baptised in the sea. We are hoping for baptisms and declarations of faith to take place in the sea at Seascale.

We have broken a lot of rules here but I don't mind because Jesus broke the rules, not the laws. The last thing we would want to do is to upset the churches around us so we get involved and help in any way we can. We come under pressure sometimes because people will ask us to come and plant a Shackles Off youth project in their area. I tell them to get together and seek God's face to find out what he wants in the place where they are – not to take on what someone else has done because it may not necessarily be right for them.

L’Oasis Christian Fellowship

L'Oasis - Peter MasseyBased in Provence, L'Oasis Christian Fellowship, Lorgues, serves the predominantly elderly ex-pat community. Peter Massey explains how it started.

In 2OOO, after a badly needed holiday in Provence, we had a real sense that God was calling us to France to provide a place of shelter and rest; a place for people to spiritually charge their batteries. It seemed such a crazy idea but shortly after returning to Ireland where we lived, I was made redundant. As a result we started to explore the possibility that God was saying something to us.

Watch Peter explaining how L'Oasis began.

The dream was that we try and find a house with space for people to come and stay and that our home was to be open to people from all denominations and none and be an oasis of calm in a beautiful and restful part of the South of France. Needless to say there were many difficulties and hurdles on the journey and it was tempting at times to give up, but God always stepped in and opened doors.

Becoming accepted by the local church was difficult at first. There was an understandable wariness of us as 'these people from Ireland who had just parachuted into the area wanting to start a sort of church'. This was complicated by the fact I am an Anglican minister but eventually we were welcomed and now our ministry has been accepted by the Diocese in Europe and that has helped.

We first learnt about fresh expressions in 2006 and this gave us a real sense of belonging, not just to the church, but to something new and exciting that seemed to understand and reflect our own experience and walk with God.

L'Oasis - eatingOur Sunday worship is based around Communion but is informal in character and is always followed by a shared meal which, in true Provencal style, may go on till 5 or 6pm as people share fellowship together and catch up on each others lives. We meet twice a month, once in our own home in Arc-en-Provence (or in the garden in the warm summer months) and once in a local chapel which is part of a retirement home where we are made very welcome.

When we came to France, we were unaware of the vast numbers of retired ex-pats who either live or have second homes here. There are many needs within this elderly and vulnerable group of people and a third of our fellowship is widowed. Loneliness, low self-esteem and lack of mobility are all growing problems but God has blessed our fellowship with many gifted people of all ages and our Sunday club for the children is growing as well.

L'Oasis - meetingL'Oasis comes under the ARK association – this exists to assist the English-speaking communities of the Var in areas of pastoral care where there may be need of compassionate care or personal support. We work both independently and alongside other agencies who share a similar concern for the welfare and well being of the resident ex-patriot community in this part of France. The ARK is established as a French Association which has a similar status to a UK charity. It is guided by a steering group of professional and dedicated people who live and work in this part of France and share the concerns for the needs of the community. This work is endorsed and encouraged by the British Consulate in Marseilles, the Anglican Diocese in Europe and the British Association.

L'Oasis - kidsIt is an unusual but rewarding 'mission field' and the potential is enormous for communities such as ours to be fostered throughout the south of France, and that is part of our vision. Our focus is on encouraging fellowship and sharing the gospel through action and pastoral care; to be a place of healing and growth and simply offer ourselves and our home for the Lord to use. We seek to be church without walls, Christ-centred, people-focused and Spirit-led.

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.

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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.

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Messy Church at Parkstone URC

Alison Dalton, Church Related Community Worker, looks at the growth of Messy Church at Parkstone United Reformed Church, Poole.

We began our Messy Church journey four years ago with our ecumenical partners – the Parish of Parkstone St Peter's and St Osmund's with Branksea St Mary's.

They already had really strong links with our local schools and were involved in holiday activity days. Those developing these events had been inspired by Messy Church founder Lucy Moore and wanted to explore the idea of Messy Church further. As a result we talked together and developed our team throughout 2006.

Messy Church Parkstone URCAfter discussions with the schools, parents and carers and wider community it was decided that the Messy Church model would be piloted over six months. However, through my experience as a Church Related Community Worker, I realised that six months was not long enough to get something off the ground and so it was extended to one year. Our Messy Church journey began in January 2007 but it was in the eleventh month that our numbers increased. Our lowest numbers in the early days were around 10 children and their carers whilst our highest numbers were over 60 children plus parents/carers.

We were in no doubt that this was a different experience to our earlier activity days, this was Messy Church! The upshot is that we have found ourselves developing a community, asking questions of ourselves about Church, baptism and who we really are. For me personally that has been a key part of the whole thing, being able to look at such questions as, 'Is this an activity or is it church?' 'If it is church, how can we make it more sustainable?' 'How can we be open to people's questioning without imposing our belief system on them?'

Messy Church Parkstone URCI feel the whole thing is about relationship. If I was in the position of forming a new traditional church and it was developing as a community, I wouldn't expect that to happen after a month or so – it would take years. Why should Messy Church be any different? I have just got to be ready to be where people are, not expect things to happen quickly but be prepared when it does.

It's all about timing and unreal expectations.

Lucy Moore has facilitated two training sessions for us and continues to support us through the Messy Church Network. Nearly four years on – and with a cluster of a dozen Messy Churches in Poole – we realise that this development is really important for us as individuals, as a team and as a wider ecumenical partnership. Parkstone and St Peter's have been a Local Ecumenical Partnership for about nine years but Messy Church, among other initiatives, has helped that partnership to deepen even further because we have got a shared goal, a shared vision and shared experience. When we work together we grow together and that's of great benefit to everyone.

Messy Church Parkstone URCThose Messy Churches which are part of our local network have worked together to ensure that they are not in competition with each other and their Messy Church times do not clash. This means that mums or dads and their children can go to all the various Messy Churches if they want to and we have already found that some parents are doing just that.

There are many personal good news stories about God's work through these churches. People who have gone forward for baptism in other churches have said it was because of their involvement in Messy Church; our Messy Church coordinator has been accepted for ministerial training; members of St Peter's youth group, and other young people, have become actively involved as volunteers while students at a local college cook – and sometimes serve – food for Messy Church sessions as part of their studies in life skills.

Messy Church Parkstone URC