Methodist VentureFX Pioneer Minister Simon Oliver, whose ministry comes under the banner of 'RevCoffee', explains how new things are happening in Cottenham through community, creativity, Christianity and cappuccinos.

I am employed by the Cambridge Methodist Circuit to work alongside the Cottenham Community Centre (CCC) and Coffee Shop.

The Centre and Coffee Shop came into existence when, after many years of faithful worship and service, Cottenham Methodist Church closed down in November 2007. The day after its final service a public meeting was held to explore the possibilities of how the building might be used as a community resource.

The CCC was formed, much hard work and fund raising was carried out, and in February 2011 the beautiful Coffee Shop was opened. It is no longer a church, but I am privileged to be a part of the Community Centre team. I was appointed as part of the VentureFX scheme to work alongside the CCC with young adults and families in Cottenham, a vibrant village of about 7,000 people just outside Cambridge.

RevCoffee - counterAt the heart of my role lies a conviction that being a welcome, accepting, incarnational Christian presence in the community is key to contemporary ministry. So I spend a great deal of time simply hanging out in the coffee shop, sometimes working behind the counter, sometimes tapping away on my laptop, and often just meeting friends old and new.

Out of these relationships, and my connections with other community groups and churches in the village, I try to find fresh ways of exploring issues of life, meaning and faith. People are interested in looking at such issues but often feel alienated, disconnected or simply uninterested in traditional Church, or are just too busy with the chaos and demands of life to find the time and space in their schedules.

We now have quite a few initiatives and projects going on in and around the Community Centre and Coffee Shop; my wife and toddler are very involved in many of these groups. My approach is to be as collaborative as possible, so everything has been set up as a result of prayerfully listening to what people might be interested in, and in partnership with others (sometimes Christians, sometimes those who don't usually have anything to do with traditional church). These initiatives include:

  • Arts Night: A small group of young-ish poets, musicians, storytellers, comedians, singers, photographers and artists get together on the second Sunday of the month. It is a mostly musical group and we have also had some great poetry from Larkin, Yeats and our own members, short stories and photography. Each month has a theme (eg war and peace, parenthood, love, death, resurrection) and we share original and borrowed material and attempt collaborate in creating new works, as well as putting on quality performances. And we always have some really interesting conversations exploring issues of life and faith from a variety of perspectives.
  • Film Club: A fun, new group where people of all beliefs and none come together to watch a movie, eat popcorn and then explore the existential and spiritual issues that come out of it.
  • Dad's Play: We have a large (70-plus on the books) group of dads and male carers/guardians of under-5s who meet informally in the back hall of the Cottenham Community Centre Coffee Shop. The kids get the chance to play together while the men get a chance to eat bacon sandwiches and drink good coffee. We also have regular curry nights – although the children aren't invited to this!
  • RevCoffee - logoMarriage and Parenting Courses. We have run a number of these courses in the Coffee Shop.
  • Daily Prayer: This takes place from 8:30 – 8:45 am, Sunday to Friday at the Coffee Shop. It is often just a couple of adults and my two-year-old, but others often pop in, have a natter and occasionally join us or ask for prayer.
  • Football Plus+: A group young and not-so-young men play football on the first and third Sundays of the month, and a small group of us are exploring the possibility of using of the fourth Sunday to talk football, life and faith over a couple of beers (or lemonades).
  • the Roost: this is new all-age event which we have been experimenting with over the last few months on Sunday afternoons and which officially 'launches' in September. It is a relaxed group which includes arts, craft, conversation, messy play, videos, the Sunday papers, music, poetry, coffee, flapjack and more to give people the opportunity to have fun together, create community and to explore different issues from a Christian perspective.

All of our activities aim to be open and accessible to all, and to give people the opportunity to develop meaningful community and consider the possibility of faith. All beliefs and viewpoints are valued, and seen as equal conversation partners as we try to make sense of life together. Everything is done in very low key and simple ways and – as I have already said – relationships take precedence over activities.

My ultimate hope is that through one or more of our initiatives people are given the opportunity to have a meaningful encounter with Jesus Christ and to explore what that might mean for them.

I take the Methodist and Fresh Expressions commitment to ecumenism very seriously, and have found it very encouraging to work alongside the Baptist Church, The Salvation Army, All Saints Parish Church and Christians Together in Cottenham as we seek to develop our ministries in collaboration.

It is not always easy, but it is a wonderful role and a rewarding project, and I feel very grateful to God and to the Methodist Church for allowing me to be a part of it!

Eaton and Millbridge Project

The Eaton/Millbridge Project is part of the Uniting Church of Australia's Wellington Regional Mission (WRM). Rev Karyl Davison and a team of volunteers support people in the area and are hoping to see a fresh expression of church take shape.

When a new housing development started to be built in the Eaton area of Western Australia, it had no community facilities. The Wellington Regional Mission saw an opportunity to do ministry there and I took on the role of creating community in Eaton and Millbridge.

A few years ago the WRM consisted of a number of small, declining semi-rural congregations plus one large congregation in Bunbury, the regional centre. As a result of hearing about fresh expressions of church, and with the urging of some forward thinking people keen on mission-shaped ministry, the WRM sold unutilised property and put the funds into a new community-based ministry.

Eaton and MIllbridge - parachute gamesA team of people went out into the community to see what God was up to. A process of listening occurred, including community gatherings and individual conversations, which identified that people wanted opportunities to do things as a 'family'. The WRM has invested in the Project by buying a manse in Millbridge (opposite a popular park) and I've been there since January last year.

As the Eaton and Millbridge area underwent dramatic residential growth, the WRM saw a great opportunity to help create a sense of community and bring the community together. The project had been a dream for a number of years but it was ready to move to the next level.

I have responsibility for Collie, Waterloo and Harvey congregations as well as the Eaton/Millbridge Project – being church in the community for the new housing development which will eventually cover about 500 acres of land. By its completion it will have over 1400 new homes, two government-owned  primary schools, and a Catholic school. The community is made up primarily of Anglo Australians, though there are a number of families from other cultural backgrounds.

The Eaton/Millbridge Project team is currently made up of volunteers from members of the Wellington Regional Mission congregations, a significant number of whom are residents in the area or have family living there. After 12 months we have got to the stage where other residents are becoming interested in joining the team.

Eaton and Millbridge - Santa workshopHowever, at this early stage of the Project we are still trying to make connections with people in the community. This is done mainly through events. We have now had two Easter Egg Hunts, a 'mini festival' called Christmas on Hunter, Movies by Moonlight as well as a number of smaller activities. Most are held in local parks as there are no indoor community spaces in the suburb.

We took part in the national Clean Up Australia Day by getting involved at Cadell Park, Millbridge. This year's Easter Egg Hunt was held in the same place and we had games and activities, plus the Hunt, and the all important coffee and cupcakes. We had over 150 people there, about two thirds of whom were children.

We continue to listen to the community and for the Spirit. At each event we have a comments board and invite people to make suggestions or tell us something about their community. We have also created a Community Banner featuring the handprints of all of those who come to our events.

Eaton and Millbridge - handprint bannerIn terms of 'advertising' what we do, we intend to connect with people electronically as well as face to face. All of our promotional material for the Project notes that we have a Facebook page and this enables me to let lots of people know about what's going on. I also send out reminders by email and we do a door-to-door leaflet drop before every event.

For those in the Project team, God's presence is much more apparent at their community events in a way that they never feel in regular worship. There is such a great sense of community and energy and fun it's a privilege to be part of.

We seek to engage with our community without an agenda of 'getting them to come to church'. We aim to be willing to receive hospitality as well as offer it; listen; and seek to identify what God is up to in our community. Our intention is that, as we gain the people's trust, we will begin offering different kinds of contemplative spaces at our events and invite them to engage in that alongside the fun activities such as games, craft, movies etc.

We hope the result will be some form of 'congregation' for unchurched or dechurched people but if we're true to our commitment to listen to the community and the Spirit, we can't set out to form a new congregation but to see what emerges.

Reel Church

Reel Church is for film-lovers who want to start to think about a movie's spiritual impact and significance and how it might relate to their own lives. Hereford Baptist Church's senior pastor, and Reel Church leader, Antony Wareham explains how the initiative is developing as a missional church in its own right.

Reel Church has been running for about 18 months. I have been doing some further studies at Spurgeon's and one of the modules was to do with The Gospel and Film. As a result of that I got together a few people to look at what that might look like in our own context and, from there, we went on to try and make this an opportunity to engage with the local community as a mission work.

It is now available in three different streams because we have found that lots of people find it a good way to start thinking and talking about life issues.

Reel Church - screenWe run the film evening once a month on a Thursday night but it is more than an event because we are seeking to build a Christian community. It is taking place in the church building at the moment as we have got two fantastic projector screens in our main church area and we make the most of that – but we also try to make it as informal as possible. We also have two other halls in the church and they are also kitted out with DVD projectors so we can use those spaces if we want a more intimate setting. Cinema going is about the whole experience, not just the film itself, so popcorn and sweets are available and we have had ice creams and hot dogs in the past. About 20 to 25 people come along on average and we have an equivalent Reel Church for children which is also very popular.

Reel Church - hands

We are in a very early experimental phase but we have had some really good evenings watching a range of films, including The Boys are Back, Stranger than Fiction, The Adjustment Bureau and The Company Men.

We don't preload the evening with a prepared 'study' as such, at first we just examine our gut reaction to the movie and share what we felt. We then use some questions to go on and unpack the themes of the film before thinking about how it engages with the Bible. Do those themes contradict or hold together? We go from film story, to life story, to Scripture.

Reel Church - sofas

Further chat tends to take place at what we call our Review Nights which take place a week after the film screening. Once people have had time to 'digest' the movie, we'll show some clips and use resources from Bible Society and others to dig a little deeper.

In another development, other groups within the church are also picking up on the use of film in their life and ministry so Reel Church is affecting those both inside and outside the traditional church community.

Some of the people coming along are those on the fringes and margins of church life and we're really grateful for that but we are looking more and more to reach those we wouldn't normally reach and develop the resulting community as a missional church – a place where people could find their spiritual home. That would still be our aim.

Reel Church - popcorn

I think we are struggling to keep it missional because Christians can sometimes get so involved in church life that they do not know any non-Christians to invite to something like this. Partly for that reason we are looking to try and connect this idea into a local cinema in the town; in Hereford we have both a cinema chain and a smaller one which is part of a drama centre. In that sort of setting we'd look at providing a Film Club sort of thing where people would be able to reflect on the film and we'd take it from there.

Reel Church hasn't solved all our problems but what we are trying to work through here is that when people want to explore life issues, it doesn’t mean they have to come to our 'normal' type of church to do that. Reel Church has helped us to start that process.

United Media Church

United Media Church in Kingswood recognises that people learn and engage in different ways. Adrian Wyatt explains why they describe themselves as 'the same, but different'.

In our Gloucestershire village, children and young people from the age of nine had become disenfranchised by the traditional Sunday church 'model' of doing things.

I became part-time pastor at Kingswood Congregational Church in May last year and I wanted to find out why the traditional Sunday School wasn't bringing in the children as it used to do. We are a church of about 30 adults and some research was urgently needed as to where all the children of that age group had gone. We found out by taking the remaining handful of youngsters to McDonalds and asked them, 'Why?', 'What sort of church would you like?' 'What do you like doing?' The answers revolved around eating, films and computer games.

United Media Church - car washIn February we launched a Monday church just for them. United Media Church uses film clips and computer games to teach the gospel message fortnightly on Monday evenings. These meetings, which include a short prayer time and all-important food, take place in an informal 'café church' environment. A variety of films are used and the same format has encouraged some to return to Sunday church as well.

We started the Sunday venture by watching Shrek the movie. That gave us the opportunity to discuss things like Do appearances matter? What makes good friendships? What makes a good king? Other topics on a Monday include what we learned from sport, Finding Nemo, Avatar, The Simpsons, and Friends. It really helps to keep us on our toes because they can choose to stop the film at any point and we then step in to give 15 minutes of Biblical teaching based on what they've seen and heard.

Part of my professional background is as a drug educator and some of our discussions have tackled substance abuse, alcohol and smoking but there is also a lot of fun. Plans for the coming months include a technology 'fast' for 20 hours when they will go without mobile phones and iPods etc.

WUnited Media Church - car washe now regularly attract up to 16 young people from the ages of 9 to 13, most of whom have been brought along by someone else in the group. That's very good news in that most of those children have not previously had a link with any sort of church at all but the challenge is that we outgrew our original room at Kingswood; it was simply too small for what we were doing.

We could have moved into the church hall but we felt that using the hall takes away from the special atmosphere of the place. In saying that we've now moved into the main church building because there is a big screen and a TV in the vestry room which means that some of the group can be watching a film while others are playing games or using the Nintendo Wii. We try to ensure that the film and the games reflect the same theme.

United Media Church - Africa projectThey are exploring their faith and the world around them in new ways and it includes things like supporting a youth project and families in Kenya, and sponsoring a child. They have raised quite a bit of money for their charity projects, a sleepover in the church raised more than £600. This is a way of being 'church' that our young people asked for. They also give into a collection every week because the adults do that in the main church and it's important to be reminded that we are part of something much bigger.

We have also started to develop a version of Messy Church and café church for those who would not come to inherited church and who are even put off by the word 'church' –  if not what it stands for. We're looking to build on an event which uses craft to explore a Christian message but without the insistence that parents stay. As the model develops, the parents will be encouraged to do so.

United Media Church - necklacesWe have always seen this as a fresh expression of church and not a church youth group and we need to keep that focus on being a different way of doing church. Otherwise it could easily become a youth club where you just come along and have a bit of a laugh.

In future I'd really like to see some of the older children coming through to become leaders themselves. It would also be good to see more people catch the vision and realise that this is far more than 'getting children and young people in'; it's about asking ourselves, 'What is their discipleship?', 'What is their Christian walk?', 'How is this Kingdom-building?'


Cre8 is a fresh expression for children, young people and their families, at Carlton Colville Methodist Church, Lowestoft. Deacon Ian Cartwright explains how the range of activities include a gardening club, health and fitness programme and special events.

Our purpose is to build lives and build community and to serve beyond our gatherings. Cre8 has been going for about three years around a flexible mix of activities in our church building based on a very large, private housing estate. Among the most popular is a cinema and film club where the children choose the movie to be screened and dish out the popcorn and everything else!

Before launching Cre8, we wanted to try and find out what the community wanted rather than what we thought they wanted. Our first piece of research, done in conjunction with the University of East Anglia, started with focus groups from which we developed questionnaires. We asked things like, 'Would you like to meet?', 'If so, what time would you like to meet?', 'What activities would you like to see in this area?' The questionnaires went out to 6,000 homes and nearly 1,000 of them were completed and returned.

The overwhelming response was for health and fitness opportunities and things for young people to do. The next step was to ask the children and young people themselves whether they wanted to have such activities. Questionnaires went out to the six schools which serve this area: two Lower, two Middle and two Upper. Thanks to the schools' support, we were able to classify the children and young people into postcode areas.

Cre8 - drinkThe research was carried out by groups from within the schools themselves while Christian Research did all the analysis. It mirrored our first research results and also told us that what they meant by 'activities' was really a good place just to chill out and relax, somewhere they could go to play with their PlayStations and Wii. As health and fitness was such a big theme, we got in touch with The Leisure Database Company which provides data, analysis and advice for the sports and leisure industries.

They draw up what's called a Mosaic map, a sort of jigsaw puzzle, of the people in your area. They can analyse the socio-demographic breakdown of a place and tell you things like how many 0-15s there are, the type of families they come from based on income, and eventually build a profile of the area and classification of those who live there. From that they can delve deeper to tell you how many people are members of gyms, what the competition is for health and fitness provision, and so on. They told us there was a latent demand of about 1,000 people in the area we serve.

A sport and leisure trust called Active Luton acted as our consultants in this and they said 1,000 was a good number to make things add up commercially. Cre8 came about as a result of that research and we built up a small team to get things off the ground, including someone who worked with the Schools Partnership Agency.

We started off with the kids taking part in shows. Adults would come along with them on Saturday mornings for rehearsals and have a bite of breakfast with us. At that time the Christian input was very small because we were at the stage of simply wanting to build up relationships with the children and their parents.

It was at that exploring sort of stage that we began to see the development of a holistic ministry, where people's Christian spirituality is very much seen as part of their physical, social, mental and emotional health and wellbeing.

Cre8 - climbingThe spiritual dimension is there in all we do because of our desire for God to be at the heart of it all, involved in every aspect of it – and for the glory to go to Him. It is also there because of who we are and the values we apply. They shape and form us into the community we are and what we hope to be. We see these as being Worship, Pray, Create, Learn, Enjoy Abundant Life, Transform, Influence, Give, Celebrate, and Be inclusive.

A family service once a month is done in a very informal way. This month it will be aimed at blokes as part of the Father's Day theme – there'll be bacon sandwiches to eat, a Yorkie bar challenge; a clip from a Rob Bell DVD, and a lot of bunting and a banner made by the kids!

In the past we've also had very low-key Communion with them. At one such Communion, we looked at the meaning of symbols; starting off by looking at McDonald's, Nike and KFC – what did their 'symbols', their logos, say about them? We then moved on to the symbolic meaning of the bread and wine. It was all consecrated properly but we served the wine in paper cups and gave half slices of sliced bread like the people would eat at home. It was all familiar to them.

Fridays@7 is another development – a café church environment in our building where men chill out to eat, drink coffee, watch films, enjoy music and explore what faith in Jesus is all about.

It's amazing what has happened there. One guy loves Shakespeare and he went out to buy himself a King James Bible because he sees parallels between the two; there were a lot of the programmes on radio and TV at the time about the King James' 400th anniversary and he was fascinated by it.

I went to register at the local gym and met a guy who couldn't get along with traditional church services at all but now he's working at a rehabilitation and recovery centre and brings some of his clients along to us on a Friday night.

Cre8 group

Established for nearly four years, we are members of the Willow Creek Association and use materials from a variety if sources including Christian Vision for Men and Rob Bell. We are currently making whole life discipleship our priority. There is also crossover with CRE8 with two of the Fridays@7 guys running our gardening club.

The group wants to stay small, about 10 to 12 at the moment, and develop a new offshoot on Thursdays called Thursdays @ 7. From time to time we meet at a local pub. We call this evening 'Who Let the Dads Out?'. We also go karting, walking, and other fun things that men enjoy and encourage our non-church friends to join us on these occasions. 

In all of this, there have – of course – been struggles along the way and it hasn't come together easily but the church and community wrestled with issues together to find a way forward and develop things. This has certainly been a painful process at times.

Now I think the mixed economy works very well here because we have mechanisms in place for communication between the inherited church and the fresh expressions. We meet once a quarter when representatives from the different areas of church life come together to plan and discuss. The fresh expressions group is very firm in saying that it is as much 'their' church as inherited church but they also know that it is all about working together for the good of the Kingdom. Sometimes there are difficult conversations because these are part and parcel of what it means to be church – we know that's what it means to work out the mixed economy in reality. Not always an easy journey.

Ashburton Methodist Church

Ashburton Methodist - baptismRev Kevin Hooke, of Ashburton Methodist Church, Devon, tells how a District Review and involvement in msm helped to change the church's approach to mission – and its impact on the wider community.

As a part of the whole Christian Church our aim at Ashburton is to respond to the Gospel of God's love in Christ and to live out our discipleship in worship and mission.

We always wanted to share the riches of our faith by working through Teignbridge Circuit in partnership with other local churches and a wide range of organisations in the community.

Ashburton Methodist - ChurchThe church is on a large central site with great potential for development in service of the community but there are practical considerations… it is a listed building within Dartmoor National Park and is in need of repair and modernisation. Work on the exterior has been started and architect's drawings have been done on adaptations to the interior to meet modern-day requirements. Major fundraising will be required before any developments can take place.

We attract a congregation of around 30, about 50% of whom are in a more elderly age group with the rest tending to be people ranging from 45 to 65. We got to a point where we knew the church needed to be doing things differently but as half of our congregation didn't have a huge amount of time because of work commitments, we didn't quite know how that was to be achieved.

We invited the (Plymouth and Exeter) District to come and do a Review with us in 2008. One result of this saw 11 members of the church deciding to go on the Pioneer Disciple Course – the specially tailored mission shaped ministry course for this area – during the following year.

Ashburton Methodist - StreetThe Pioneer Disciple experience proved to be a great benefit for us in that it emerged as a church leadership course because the thoughts of all our folk taking part were stimulated collectively. It was permission-giving as well in that it was deemed OK to take risks and try things. If they didn't work out it wasn't necessarily a failure.

To develop further work within the town, we also employed Youth and Community Worker Martin Parkes whom we share 50:50 with Ipplepen Methodist Church. One of the things we asked Martin to do was develop opportunities for working ecumenically. During One World Week 2010 he put together a whole programme of activities, including a film night and shared prayer space with the Quakers. A particularly popular evening started off as a social and talk on a topic associated with One World Week in a local pub. This was followed by 'sacred jam' at the church: somebody interested in music asked if they could have a 'sacred jam' session by playing some gentle music in an event at the chapel. They had a group of musicians playing and – at the end – some Celtic prayers were said. Quite a few people came in to that. We are now wondering if we might try something similar on a more regular basis.

Ashburton Methodist - horsesMany different things came out of the whole mix of the District Review, Pioneer Disciple course and the period of thinking it through, but we didn't know exactly what God was calling us to do. Of course it's a challenge when there is a change in the air – if you ask 30 people as to what they would like to see developing, you will get 30 different ideas! However, it's wonderful to see people having those ideas and wondering about what will work in our context.

One or two people came to join us around that time and lots of ideas were then coming to the fore: film evenings, a puppet ministry, book club. People would say, 'This is my particular area of interest, can I try it?' Each time I just said, 'Have a go. If nothing else it will give you experience and confidence. Nothing ventured, nothing gained – and see where God leads us.'

Regular activities now include daily prayers from 7.45 to 8.30am, a Christian meditation group and a fortnightly Church Community group time for puddings, prayers and discussion. It's wonderful to follow on from the sense of community built up through the course and maintain that momentum by meeting together so regularly to discuss where we go from here.

Visiting preachers sometimes say there is more of a buzz about the church and there's no doubt that people are looking forward now with anticipation. It feels as if we are at a very early stage but it's a good place to be as we seek to use our interests for the glory of God and serve those around us.

Ashburton Methodist - tor

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

Mind the Gap

Mind the Gap - baby

It has been a time of great change for Mind the Gap. What started as a project in the Gateshead and Jarrow Methodist Circuit in 2001 became a church in its own right seven years later. Stephen Murray took over the reins as leader in September 2009; he tells us what happened next.

Mind the Gap had been set up to offer support, discipleship and alternative worship for those who were feeling isolated in established church. It also had a missional aim as a cell church initiative to reach people with the Gospel.

We were based in cells and also got together every month to worship, as well as offering regular faith finding courses and seeker events. The idea wasn't to plant a fresh expression of church as such, we just tried to follow what God was doing at the time and respond to that.

It was fantastic to see people being renewed in their faith, discover it for the first time, or grow in maturity and we were so grateful for the backing from people across the Circuit and others in authority who built us up with their support. So much was going on in those early days and it would have been very easy to lose sight of what it was all about, so you have to keep it at the forefront of your mind and your prayers.

Mind the gap - bannerGrowing leaders and helping people to achieve their potential was something that underpinned everything. Elaine Lindridge was our leader at that time and she helped us through a major transition in 2008 when many members of the Mind the Gap – who were also involved in their own local churches and doing too much as a result – were released to go back to those fellowships.

A relatively few number of people remained but they saw Mind the Gap as their spiritual home and so Mind the Gap became more formally recognised as a church in 2009. I was Elaine's assistant leader three years ago before going on to co-lead it with her; then I took the lead one year ago and Elaine became my coach. Last September I took on full responsibility for overall leadership, planning strategy, and pastoral care, but I am so grateful for that model of encouraging lay and indigenous people and preparing the ground for a leadership change.

We meet at Sheriff Hill Methodist Church's building at 5pm on Sundays, and have midweek cells in various homes. Our Sunday sessions always start with food because we see that as an integral part of our worship. We now have a rota of people who come along and do a buffet tea, or something like that, for us.

Focusing on the importance of building community with food has made a big impact on the life of the church – in fact it became so much part and parcel of who we are that people have said they feel very strange not to be fed if they go to a service anywhere else!

Mind the gap - micA worship leader will start up at about 5.30pm and we'll go through to 6.30-7. There are no set rules as to what happens but generally there is a speaker or people sharing what has been happening for about 10minutes. At other times we'll use the NOOMA DVDs by Rob Bell to prompt discussion; on other occasions we use songs and projected words.

When we first started, we ran Alpha in that timeslot and that seemed to work very well for us. Now we're starting to think about how we can engage effectively in all-age worship. We are also looking at employing a youth worker just for a Sunday evening as we are a very small church and it’s a very small group of people who do the work.

Mind the Gap became a variation of what church is on a Sunday, and it's what we do in the week during the cell that makes us different. Discipleship in a cell group has stimulated a kind of shifting mindset about what the Church is and what we do in it.

There have been quite a few who have gone through Mind the Gap but others have made roots here. It's interesting to see that people today tend to be committed to God but not so committed to an individual church.

Our numbers can range between 10 and 25 but we will get a core of people here every week. Up to eight kids from the ages of 9-13 also turn up on a Sunday. In all I'd say we probably have regular contact on a Sunday, at least once a month, with about 40 people.

At the moment we have got two cells rather than three. In what is an interesting experiment one cell has divided during its weekly meeting with one half going into a room to do cell material and the other half (about four people) watching an Alpha Express DVD to see how Alpha works in a cell.

Mind the gap - worship leadersThose who have committed to cell have grown a great deal in confidence and are prepared to do more and more things. One example is when a homeless lady came into Mind the Gap having been to the main church in the morning where she had been given a crisis number to ring if she wanted to find a bed for the night. Instead she came to us, shared our food, and sat through a service after which one of our members said she would help to find this lady a bed. People are doing things like that through the growth in fellowship. It's key because it's about not trying to do things on an inappropriate scale, doing things that are right for our normal figures of 18-22 people rather than something more suitable for a church of 80-100.

It's all about being flexible in responding to change and opportunities. When we were a Circuit-wide one-off monthly event, we'd have a worship band and a lot of people would come along. Now we meet every week and usually have one worship leader but that's much more appropriate to the surroundings.

Some of the new opportunities include a family film morning with refreshments on the last Saturday of the month. What we have found is that we don't get as many church people come along to that but we have made contact with about six or seven people we had never met before. The possibility is always there for them to come along on a Sunday as well but we don't force anything, we just want to provide a service in what is a socially deprived area.

It's all relatively small numbers but it feels like it's the right thing to be doing. In 2010 we are also trying to do two to three prayer labyrinths – though in the place of the Good Friday labyrinth this year we decided to do things differently and screen The Miracle Maker animated film. Future plans include hiring the children's pool at the local swimming baths so that the little ones can have fun there. All of these community events are free, we want to be seen to be giving and not taking.

Mind the gap - discussionWe are also looking forward to our first Mens' Breakfast in July when our speaker will be a man was a local gangster before becoming a Christian and a church leader. The idea is very much to try and engage with men in their 20s and 30s.

In future, I would just like to see the church increase in its vision for the community and get to know more and more people around us. I also pray that those who are already involved in Mind the Gap will be not so much committed to the work of the church for itself but instead be committed to mission and evangelism focusing on friendship.

I'd also like us to grow and take on the cell values, build ourselves up and help others on their journey. The Church has to be missional so we need to set up worship that's different but engaging. Deliberate choices have to be made in what you want to do and that should be to reach people who are not yet Christians. Putting on events for people just like us is not what we're about. One of our values at Mind the Gap is that we don't want to take people from another church fellowship, I sometimes feel a bit sad when I see some congregations growing simply because people are coming from other churches.

In the Church in general, it can seem that your main aim in life is to get money and raise money. What does that mean for us? We lose focus as to what we are all about. At Mind the Gap, we just try to cover costs and trust that God will provide. Yes it's important to be wise with the resources that God has given us but it can't be right if the finances push out all thoughts of reaching people for Christ.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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