The Hothouse

The Hothouse - Gary DanielAn old hardware shop in Walsall, had been empty for some time when churches in the parish of Aldridge took it over, changing its name to The Hothouse. Gary Daniel is the Hothouse and Redhouse Community Worker.

The original vision for the Hothouse was to be 'a safe place for children and young people to meet, belong and discover the love of the Lord Jesus.' Whilst that vision is still in place it has increased its range in seeking to care for the families, the vulnerable and the older people in the community.

We are a charity supported prayerfully, physically (with volunteers), and financially by individuals from Aldridge Parish Church, Tynings Lane Church, St Thomas' Church and Aldridge Methodist Church.

Before The Hothouse started, there had been an evening club at Redhouse Primary School for several years run by Aldridge Parish Church's children's and schools' worker Jean Elliott. It was very popular; children and families appreciated the fact that activities were happening on the estate where they lived.

In September 2000, Jean felt the time was right to expand the work of the Wednesday evening and regular summer holiday clubs. Her idea was to transform the hardware shop into a permanent Christian venue. Obviously this couldn't happen instantly and it took time to gain planning permission, money and a group of people to take the vision forward. We also needed to know what the community thought and – above all – that this was God's project. Sometimes things have taken a little longer than we thought they would, and, as on any long journey, there have been frustrations but we have come a long way.

The Hothouse - frontage

Initially the Hothouse met on just two evenings a week to concentrate on our original vision of meeting the needs of the 5 to 11 year-olds of the Redhouse Estate. However, over time and with increased resources, we've grown the Hothouse so that we now run a vast array of activities which include: youth groups for the 11 to 14s, toddler groups, breakfast clubs, tea-time events, children's after-school and evening clubs, larger community events, special holiday club sessions, day trips, training, special lunches and we now even offer a Sunday worship twice a month.

Originally the focus was on activity within the Hothouse building itself but now because of increased staffing levels (both paid and voluntary) and a larger vision we are able to offer support to children and families outside of the Hothouse, building stronger pastoral links into the community. We have, along with our wider support networks, been able to meet certain basic needs of the community, such as providing furniture, food, practical support, a listening ear and care for needy families. If we haven't been able to do these things ourselves we've been able to point people in the right direction.

A major change in the community came with the loss of the school in July 2006. As a result the Hothouse became, and remains, the only regularly used community building in the Redhouse. In some ways it's an unlikely hub of activity; we're in a parade of shops with a chippie on one side, a corner shop on the other and flats above us but it's a space that is certainly being used by God. In fact we're being used so much as a base that we're now physically constrained as to what we can offer because of the relatively small size of the property.

Between 120 and 160 people a week now regularly use the facilities and there is so much potential that we are excited to see how God will continue to develop and grow The Hothouse.

The Hothouse - foodOur sessions for children and young people include:

  • Mondays. Youth Alpha for 11 to 14-year-olds;
  • Tuesdays. A 'youth club' style evening called 7-11s for those in school years 3 to 6 where children come along to play games, create different crafts, make new friends and socialise in a safe environment;
  • Wednesdays. WOW (Worship on Wednesdays) is an after-school session for three to seven-year-olds with an emphasis on Bible teaching in a fun and age-appropriate way;
  • Wednesdays. ALF (About Life and Faith) is an evening session for 7 to 11-year-olds. It is a more structured session than Tuesday night's '7-11' club and looks at many different aspects of life and faith with a Christian perspective;
  • Thursdays. Big Kidz for young people aged 11-14.

As for the community activities, we also have:

  • 'Baby Rhyme' every Wednesday morning in partnership with the local Children's Centre;
  • 'Hot Tots' parent and toddler group on Thursday mornings;
  • Community breakfasts every Friday morning where we invite people in for a bacon or sausage sandwich, free of charge;
  • That Sunday Thing – a monthly session for the whole Hothouse community to come together. This came about after we'd had a community get-together at which people said, 'We appreciate all you're doing but if you say you're a church, why don't you do anything on Sundays?' That was a learning curve for us because we had to fulfil their stereotype of church but then break down the stereotype of what church is all about!
  • All Age Communion – this provides a regular (monthly) service of Holy Communion to anyone who would like to come and join in. There is no other church situated on the Redhouse estate and we are aiming to offer new opportunities for members of the community to come along and take part in what we offer at the Hothouse.

The Hothouse - poolWe monitor and evaluate change in our community through relationship, conversation, evaluation and questionnaire. This is backed up by using statistical information from the Office of National Statistics. As full-time community worker here since September 2006, I am looking to develop the Hothouse as a viable community project as well as overseeing its growth and development as a fresh expression of church.

We are not self-supporting but it is amazing to see how some of the mums in our community, for instance, have said they want to donate to our work because of what they have found here. The next question for us will be how do we build a congregation? The short answer is that I don't know how but I do know that many (church) people now see Wednesday as our 'Sunday' here with lots  going on in the way of children's worship and teaching. Our spiritual community is certainly growing because we recently had our first dedication service here – it was for two-year-old twins. The local ministers are very supportive and we use them as much as we can!

We also have a volunteer community-based family support worker whose role is constantly expanding as the work of the Hothouse grows and a part-time sessional worker who supports a majority of the sessions that we run for a nominal monthly salary. This role enables the sessional work at the Hothouse to continue week-by-week.

In addition we have about 20 volunteers ranging from sixth-formers to the retired, and – increasingly – members of the Redhouse community itself. They provide a necessary 'work-force' for the day-to-day running of sessions and are often involved in planning and leading sessions alongside the paid members of staff.

All sessions and activities at the Hothouse are provided free of charge to all participants. This is so that no-one within the community is excluded from taking part due to lack of sufficient means.

The Hothouse - frontageOur overall vision is to make the Hothouse a positive place for children and their families to meet, belong and develop community. In doing this we hope they will discover the love of the Lord Jesus and we do this because, as it says in 2 Cor 5:14, 'Christ's love compels us.'

For the next five years we have five words which we are using to envision us and help us move forward:

  • Consolidate: We have come a long way in the last nine years and so we want to consolidate where we are now. This means keeping the level of resource and personnel at least at the level it is now so we can continue to meet the needs of the community.
  • Grow: We also want to grow. The facilities we have now are fine but we're reaching their maximum capacity. We would like to consider renting/purchasing another shop unit to enable more creative things such as like running alternative sessions at the same time.
  • Engage: We want to continue to listen to the community, find out more of their needs – and respond to them.
  • Manage: We will continue to make sure our management and administration is following best practice and up to date.
  • Fund: We will look at various ways of building on the existing funding already in place for this project. We look to local trusts, charities and churches to achieve extra funding which will follow two streams. Firstly, funding for personnel, we need one full time project leader and our hope is to move our two part-time paid workers to full time and we would also like a part time administrator. Secondly, we need funding for materials, toys, furniture, technology, maintenance and hopefully bigger premises.

The Hothouse - banner

The Lab

The Lab is a missional community of young adults in Newport, South Wales. Team leader James Henley explains more about its ministry and the development of its work as a fresh expression on the Alway estate.

We want people to feel that they can be part of The Lab no matter where they're from or what they believe. We try to be as welcoming and open as possible for people who are exploring their faith or who aren't used to church at all.

The Lab is made up mainly of people between the ages of 18 and 30, many of whom are students. We would describe ourselves as an experimental form of church but basically we're still a group of people trying to follow Jesus together.

The Lab - Rainbow bridgeThe Lab was initiated by the Bishop of Monmouth five years ago in order to develop a church community of students and young adults in Newport who would otherwise not have contact with a traditional parish church. It involved trying to be church in a different way. At first we used to meet in a pub but now our gathering takes place on Sunday evenings in the hall of St Paul's City Centre Church in Newport City Centre. We also have a weekly community meal in which people take it in turns to cook and serve each other.

Things developed four years ago when The Lab began work in the Alway estate on the edge of Newport, identified as one of the most deprived areas in Wales. According to the 2001 census, nearly 50% of the population of Alway and the surrounding area is under the age of 25. Our aim was to form a residential community of young adults who would invest their time in the local community and build relationships with its young people.

The Diocese of Monmouth offered us a vicarage there and in September 2008, a group of four of us moved in and started to develop links with the community. At first there was suspicion because the local people found it very odd that we should want to make our home in Alway. Slowly but surely they grew accustomed to us but it has been hard at times. Unlike the approach of traditional evangelistic thinking we have not put on big events and asked people to come along to them. Instead our mission strategy has always been to be as pragmatic as possible and simply join in wherever we see God at work.

The Lab - basketballFor instance, the parents of younger children in the area asked us if we could run some sort of summer holiday club. We did, and lots of families came along to join in. As a result we've had a lot more contact with the mums and dads.

What we do in Alway is constantly changing and expanding as new initiatives are developed and old ones are expanded. At the moment we are involved in youth work and a chaplaincy project at the local high school; primary and secondary school assemblies and RE lessons; youth and children's work in partnership with Bishpool Methodist Church and detached Youth Work. St Teilo's Church (Church in Wales) and Bishpool Methodist Church have been tremendous in working with us and building up contacts on the estate.

As a result of the partnership between these two different denominations we are accountable to both of them through different structures which have been created to support us. We also love to work closely with and support other local churches as well. The Lab is supported financially by the Church in Wales and the Methodist Church, though we also receive grants and funds from various organisations with further donations coming from Lab members and supporters. I am paid by the Diocese to work full-time as project leader.

The team has grown since we first got off the ground. Four people are now based in the old vicarage; me and my wife now live just down the road in another 'Lab' house. From September we will be taking on another youth work student who will be with us for three years and we also have funding for two gap year students to work full-time with the Lab.

The Lab - teamOne of the challenges we have encountered is people being interested in spirituality and faith – but as individuals not as part of a group. We think that perhaps this is the direction youth culture is going, as we seem to be meeting lots of young people whose reliance is not on a particular friendship group.

The other challenge is to marry up the gifts of the young adults who join us at Alway with the needs of the estate. Different people bring different skills so it's important to monitor who's doing what and where because things change. Our missional intention has always been to form relationship; if something looks like it's stagnating we are not afraid to put a stop to it and try something else.

In the next year or so I'd really like to see us developing some kind of church or forms of church with the groups of young people in this area. I'd also like us to build on the work we have just started with families. The long-term vision that we are exploring is what it would look like to plant a second Lab community in another area of Newport.

Part of the Welsh religious heritage is that the country was originally evangelised by small missional communities of monks. It seems fitting now that we are attempting to be part of a new wave in mission by essentially doing the same. That's inspiring and challenging!

Fridays in Faith

Annandale Churches Together in south west Scotland ran summer holiday clubs in a local secondary school for many years. Very few of the children involved had any relationship with existing churches. Pam Mellor and Deborah Steele explain how Fridays in Faith has helped to bridge the gap.

The holiday clubs in Annan were really, really successful. They took place in an Academy and attracted about 150 children on average but they seemed to disappear as soon as the clubs were over.

Then the questions started, 'Where do they go afterwards? Why don't they come to church?' We said, 'Maybe church is not the place for them. Maybe we should ask if there is something else we should be doing.' Amazingly it was as if everyone had the same thought.

Fridays in Faith - parachuteWe had a team of 60 helpers for the holiday clubs and we all started to think about what this alternative would look like. After discussion, thought and prayer we thought about going back to the Academy on a Friday night to run something which would incorporate a lot of the key components of a holiday club – things like fun and food and games – but for all ages. The Academy costs about £150 to hire so we went to the churches and asked for their support in this.

Fridays in Faith is backed by Annandale Churches Together, an ecumenical group that includes Annan Old Parish Church, St Andrew's Parish Church linked with Brydekirk Parish Church, Annan United Reformed Church, St John's Episcopal Church, and St Columba's Catholic Church.

They were fantastic, simply saying, 'It's a great idea and we will support you!'

Fridays in Faith - groupsOur first step as co-leaders and co-planners of Fridays in Faith was to find out whether the people themselves actually wanted us to do something. We recognised that those who were coming along to the holiday clubs were not anti-church: it was simply that church wasn't even on their radar. In saying that, there were a number of kids from church families at the holiday club as well so we could see there were great opportunities for those within our churches – as well as outside – to grow together as a community.

On the final day of a holiday club with an Olympics-type theme of Going for Gold we did a 'closing ceremony' when nearly all of the children's parents came along. At the end of the session we stood up – very nervously – and said, 'We would like to ask you all something. We recognise that you love your kids coming here and you are enthusiastic about it all. We also recognise that church isn't working for you for whatever reason. Would you be interested in joining us as we would like to offer something for the whole family? We would set up and run the whole thing but would you like to come along on the first Friday of the month?'

Fridays in Faith - notesThe answer was clearly 'yes' with more than 140 people coming back for the first Friday night session. We read out a statement on that first night to set out what we were there for and we often remind ourselves of it to help us keep focused on the work in hand.

The statement reads:

If what we do here tonight, helps you to find faith, or helps you get to know God better, then that's what we're about.

Faith is a journey and people have helped us on our way. That is all we are trying to do – give people a little bit of help on their faith journey.

These evenings are about fellowship, fun and faith in a new and different way.

We hope that you will have a good time with your own family and with each other, that will be great.

If in time, in coming here, we all become closer to God, then that will be a wonderful blessing. Thank you all for being here and journeying with us.

Each session has a biblical theme running through it. Everything is centred on different activity tables and many of the people who helped with the holiday club became table hosts. Each table works as a team, moving from one activity to another throughout the evening. But on that first night they didn't have time to complete the activities before they had to move on to the next thing. It ran for two hours and we simply tried to cram too much in to the programme!

Fridays in Faith - faceSo we cut back on the time to 90 minutes and allowed a breathing space in activities. Now people have the opportunity to sit and talk during supper time.

We also have a time of prayer, when people are free to join in with us or not.

In terms of planning for the sessions, we meet every week. We set a theme for the year and follow it through each month. This year we are looking at travel, with Peter's journey as the Bible thread.

We told people that we would be looking at faith as a journey and that we'd imagine it as a journey in a car. For the first session we asked, 'How do you go about buying a car?' We thought about listening to people, listening to other opinions, having a look at what was available, counting the cost of it and getting in the car and having a test drive.

Fridays in Faith - ropeAn interesting process involved stringing up a very long washing line on which we had pegged A1 sheets with various statements written on them about where you were on your faith journey. At one end of the line we had, 'I don't think there is anything' through 'I think there is something but I'm not sure what' through to things like 'I do think there is a God but I'm not involved in church' and 'I really do believe God is in my life'. There were also blank sheets of paper in between so that people could mark where they thought they were on this washing line.

What was so interesting about that was the fact that so many of our church helpers felt they could be really honest about how they actually felt on their own personal journeys of faith.

The sessions went on to include the MOT for which we looked at the Beatitudes; and Breakdown – which was our Easter session.

Fridays in Faith - breadWe set out on this journey to do 3 months and we have just come to the end of 3 years! We recognise that there are still many questions as we go forward and many issues for us to consider, such as offering the Sacraments. We have broken bread, but recognise that this is not Communion.

All of these issues of leadership and Sacraments come up again and again. We have to stop and think, 'Are we leaders? Are we getting it right?' Sometimes we both wrestle with that a great deal.

It's also difficult when people ask us whether it is 'church' or not. The label of 'church' can be a very real stumbling block to people, we want it to be a place of God's Kingdom where people can cry, ask questions and be real. We didn't know the word 'intentionality'; we didn't know the word 'incarnational' – all we thought about was, 'These are our families. How can we connect with them? How can we make faith more relevant and more real? How can we move them on in that faith?' We're still not sure whether we're going to run Alpha because once you introduce a course like that the concern is that you're imposing something that doesn't quite fit with the context and culture of your emerging community.

Fridays in Faith - ballFor the future, we realise that we have limits as co-leaders and some people have already stepped forward to get involved in various aspects of the work. Our funding runs until the middle of April next year and we continue to listen to God as to what he wants for Fridays in Faith. However, if our Presbytery wants to do something else, we have to be ready for that – if Fridays in Faith has served its purpose in helping the people in the churches to see what's possible by looking at things differently, then so be it.

For now, we continue to be excited at what God is doing in Annan and are blessed to be a part of it.

Church at The Centre

Church at the Centre (United Reformed), Tonge Children's Centre sees its mission as sharing the love of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the people of Tonge Moor through worship, fellowship and action. Community Minister Pat Oliver explains more.

Church at the Centre - building

Tonge Moor United Reformed Church, Bolton, was originally founded as a Congregational Church in 1891 and is now a member of the Vision Pastorate with Rose Hill URC and St Andrew and St George URC. In 2000, the church reviewed its calling of service to the community and major issues were identified as a result:

  • increasing age and decreasing numbers of members;
  • burden of upkeep and unsuitability of a building over 100 years old;
  • call to work more closely with other churches and organisations supporting the Tonge Moor community.

Whilst many members of the fellowship had their roots in the Congregational and United Reformed Churches, many of them actually lived outside the immediate community and so did not share (as residents) the problems and aspirations of local people. It was strongly felt that there was a need for the church to be shaped by local residents into the form of fellowship which best suits the needs of the community.

Church at the Centre - tablesThe church responded by firstly inviting neighbouring churches (Anglican, Methodist and Roman Catholic) to create Churches Together in Tonge Moor. Then after taking advice on the potential uses and limitations of its existing building, the church also approached Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council and East Bolton Regeneration with a view to making the church's land available for the development of a Community Centre, which would include accommodation for the church.

In October 2003, after demonstrating a willingness to work alongside others supporting the community, the church was invited to join in the creation of a new Children's Centre to be built on the church's land and that of the neighbouring Tonge Moor Community Primary School. The fellowship adopted the name Church at The Centre, when the Children's Centre opened in May 2006.

Out of the church's desire to better serve its local community, the church identified the following aims for its Church-in-Community project, Building Bridges:

  • To counter alienation in young people and fear in older people by building bridges between the two age groups and developing mutual trust and support;
  • To explore opportunities presented by the Church's partnership with the Children's Centre;
  • Use this experience to identify and share ways in which other churches could become more engaged in the national Children's Services/Children's Centres initiatives in their areas;
  • To provide a model for other churches to shake off the constraints imposed by obsolete buildings.

Church at the Centre - FairtradeThe Tonge Moor project involves Age Concern, Bolton Council Children's Services, other denominations, local Residents' Associations and URC NW Synod (all represented on the Project Management Group). The church has developed financial management systems for its community support work separate from its life as a worshipping fellowship. This was done to facilitate access to, and eligibility for financial support from a variety of bodies.

The Children's Centre's main remit is to help 0 to 5-year-olds, their parents and families, but we work alongside them to provide some supportive extra glue eg. summer holiday activities for the older siblings of families using the statutory services, craft activities or just chatting with lonely young parents in the Centre cafe etc. I basically try to grasp every opportunity I can to support what's going on here. It works as a seven day a week operation, five days a week for children's services with a community café and activities on Saturday and our informal services on Sundays. We try to be open to and willing to take advantage of as many opportunities as we can to demonstrate the love of God in Christ in this place.

Church at the Centre - craftsIn terms of community development, it takes time to build up relationships so as I'm based in the Centre, I'm able to work with the Centre's community outreach leader to organise some events jointly – it is part of their community cohesion remit and it's our reason for being. We are also building a volunteer base, involving people from church and community, which will help us to offer long-term support in this area. I’m not into offering something that comes and goes very quickly because that builds on the low expectation that many people have around here. People are accustomed to things starting up and then disappearing without trace; this contributes to the feeling that 'we don't matter'.

Being based in someone else's building has required adjustments by the church fellowship. Even new members who never knew the old building have preconceptions based on the traditional model where a Church has control of its own building. We've had to learn to share. People now appreciate how hard it is to cross the threshold of someone else's building no matter how warm the invitation! This new Centre is far more welcoming to 'non-church' people and provides 'neutral space' for church folk to meet with others from our local community and this is happening more and more now.

Church at the Centre - mosaicA recent joint venture involved creating a mosaic on the theme of nature. Anyone who came in to the Centre via the café was invited to join in and it took us three months to complete. We had a community artist working with us and the result is wonderful – the folks who aren't used to being creative have something to be very proud of. As far as the theme of it is concerned, for those who have no faith it's nature, for those with faith it's creation. This is the best visual example so far of what we are trying to do together.

I think at the beginning of all of this people said, 'Let's have a church within a Children's Centre' but what that actually means in practice is very different to what some imagined it would be. It can be a challenge for many to realise that church can look very different from the way they might expect. Folk outside of our fellowship find it hard to take on board that we're all about supporting people in living as good a life as they can in their community.

If they ask us about our motivation, then we have an opening to tell them about the whys and wherefores behind it all – the faith that stirs us into this action. If they don't ask, we just get on with it knowing that in God's time our message will be received one way or another.

We have about 30 members and we are growing. Some of the new folk have come from very different sorts of church backgrounds, or from no church background at all but whoever you are, you still have to get through the doors in the first place. As a result, hospitality events are very popular and very rewarding. We work with the other Partners in the Centre on special occasions and we also have a hugely popular candlelight Advent Supper.

Church at the Centre - singing

Weekend baptisms, weddings and funerals can take place here as in any church but, mid-week – thanks to an arrangement with the Centre Management, the same services are possible. When requested, part of the premises is closed and we use a different entrance, enabling families to have their ceremony on the day and time they choose. Thus far only funerals have taken place mid-week but who knows what the future will bring.

My role is not about me alone or about building church in its narrowest sense; it's about supporting all in the challenge of looking for where God's love is already evident and joining in, it's about all of us carrying God's love to where it's needed, and it's about us together building God's community wherever God calls it to be. Not an easy task… some of the challenge comes from those who say that if people don't become 'official' members of our churches then how will we continue as a denomination? Others ask, 'If you are based in a Children's Centre, do you get children coming to church on Sunday?

Church at The Centre believe that we are taking our worship beyond Sunday mornings and into the week, and sharing the love of God as we meet people in their everyday lives – just as Jesus did. We don't expect people to respond by falling in with past traditional patterns – all must be encouraged to worship in ways that suit them and their journey with God.

As we go forward we know we are totally reliant on faith and the way God works in the community through people who say they have no faith. Christians don't have the monopoly on God after all.


Kairos - Charlie NobbsThe Kairos Centre has opened its doors as a building for the community in Grange Park, Northampton. It's a dream come true for project chairman Charlie Nobbs and the start of another chapter in the story of Grange Park Church. Anglican minister Charlie tells the tale.

It has been such an interesting journey for us all at Grange Park Church. What started off as a germ of an idea has become a reality in the shape of a central place where people can get together from all walks of the community for all sorts of reasons at the same time.

We have worked with many people along the way but, most recently with South Northamptonshire Council, to transform an empty shell of a building into a much-needed facility. It is the vision of Grange Park Church to follow the call of Jesus to be the good news to Grange Park and beyond – and the Kairos Centre will certainly help us in that.

Kairos - posterAs an Anglican and Baptist Church Local Ecumenical Partnership we meet together on Sunday mornings in Grange Park Community Centre in a nearby part of the village but the Kairos building, in a parade of shops opposite a doctors' surgery, is the base for our church office and coffee shop.

The Kairos Centre is not a church – it’s a place where people can have 'kairos' moments. Kairos is ancient Greek for a critical moment in time, a moment when God draws near and the opportunity to take new direction or restoration is available. Jesus uses the word in Mark to announce the drawing close of the Kingdom as he starts his ministry.

Our vision is for a place that provides facilities and a home for the existing church family, provides services and relationships with the wider community and ultimately will be home to future fresh expressions of church. We are just relaunching a café style evening service and hope to develop an after-school club fresh expression and maybe even a film church – as and when we are able.

Kairos - balloonsThe larger meeting room can take about 60 people and there is also a quiet room; a place where people can have 'kairos' or just find some peace from the hectic pace of life. The lounge area also has a coffee shop currently open four mornings a week as well as a small meeting room and the church office. These rooms can also be used for affordable conference/meeting facilities.

Lots of people these days are concerned that new housing areas run the risk of becoming soulless dormitory estates, but we are working hard to combat that. We also hope to develop a menu of wellbeing and lifestyle events, such as advice on debt management, counselling, social events for adults and children's and youth activities.

Looking back, and I was just coming to the end of my curacy in 2001 at St Giles Northampton when it was suggested I could maybe do a church plant in this new housing area.

Kairos - girlsI gathered a few people together but the Baptists had beaten us to it! They felt that God had called them to plant a cell church at Grange Park and we had a similar sense of calling to what God was doing so we joined forces and started to gather a team.

Just a few hundred houses had been built at the time; you could walk around the place in an hour or so and knock on every door. I joined the parish council, while my Baptist colleague helped to set up Neighbourhood Watch in the area and got involved when the primary school was being built.

Initially we were church planting with a traditional Sunday service plus small groups model rather than a fresh expression, but we were keen to connect with those who might not usually attend a traditional church and focused on young families.

To launch the first public worship, we did a holiday club type 'thing' called Kidzone. There was no building to have anything in and all the issues with child protection were getting to be a bit of a nightmare so we set up a 'camp' around one of the school playgrounds – we had lots of gazebos and each gazebo was an activity zone. Naively we thought that all the children and parents who flocked to Kidzone would also flock to church the following week. That didn't happen but what we did notice was that groups of parents would be chatting together while waiting for their children and the conversations would be along the lines of 'Where do you live?', 'O I'm just round the corner from there, come and have a coffee.' We had stumbled upon community building as a means of being good news to Grange Park!

Kairos - crossKidzone has continued and grown as an annual event and we usually get 400 to 500 children over three days in the last week of the summer holidays. As our aim is to be good news in the community, Kidzone is something that has worked very well in letting people know there is a church, that it is good to have it and begin to build relationships.

The other area in which we have seen very encouraging results is through the work of health care professionals. We got to know one of the health visitors and she said that all of the doctors' surgeries were over-run with depressed new mums. We suggested she use our home for appointments with the mums and so Talking Point got up and running on Thursday mornings. My wife Charlotte has been very instrumental in helping to develop something that has become phenomenally successful.

Visitors are offered tea, coffee, cake and a warm welcome. They just meet and chat in our lounge, comparing birth experiences and sleep patterns. The Health Visitors love it because they can see eight or more at a time; the mums love it because they make friends and realise they are not alone. There aren't many babies born in Grange Park that haven't been through our house!

Kairos - toysThe good news is that the Health Visitors believe Talking Point has significantly improved the mental health of struggling mums as it is a network which picks up different people. We now have various Talking Point groups in and around Grange Park. We use cell principles and organise a social night for the parents without their kids; it welds them together as a cohesive group.

Midwives in the area have also picked up on Talking Point, telling mums-to-be about it as a place to go after the birth. Things shifted again when one of the people coming along to the sessions asked about getting their baby baptised; another wanted to do an Alpha course.

The upshot of that is a group called Stepping Stones which we now run fortnightly on Tuesday mornings in the Community Centre. We make it clear that it is run by the church but it is all very informal; we offer a breakfast of croissants and orange juice for carers, mums and children, hear stories told from the Bible in creative ways, and provide a craft activity. We say it's an opportunity to take a stepping stone towards God. I would say Stepping Stones is a fresh expression of church; it has been going for nearly four years and we regularly get about 50 mums and their children.

Kairos - cakeThat in turn has developed because several mums said they wanted to find out more; their children were asking questions they didn't know the answer to and the parents also thought of the Bible stories as being a 'good thing' to teach the little ones.

To meet that need, we offer a five-week introduction to Christianity course through a DVD series called Journeys. As a result, a number of people have come to faith, some continue in that faith and others disappear.

The Kairos Centre now offers further possibilities in our life together in this community. I believe God wants us to be blessed through it and in turn bless Grange Park and beyond.

Kairos - waving


Simon GoddardPioneering Baptist minister, Simon Goddard, explains how RE:NEW grew in rural Cambridgeshire.

Lode is situated about eight miles north east of Cambridge and the Baptist Chapel serves five villages in East Cambridgeshire. The membership of Lode Chapel has been declining, but is currently stable at just over twenty members. The majority of these are professional couples with families, although around a third of the members are retired.

I was called to part-time ministry at Lode Chapel in September 2005, with a particular focus on pioneering. Lode Chapel held a summer holiday club which was a well attended feature of the church’s outreach. Despite positive contact with a large number of local families, there had been very little follow-up to the club. This became an issue we discussed with the local Anglican vicar and we ended up talking about the possibility of a monthly 'Kids Club'.

NEW - gymSo in September 2006, 'Sunday Club' was launched with personal invitations for each of the sixty or so children that had been to the holiday club, and adverts in the village magazines and through the schools. It was advertised as a 'holiday club on a Sunday' and this meant that there would be video, games, craft, action songs, a creative prayer activity, and a very short talky bit focussed around a memory verse. A number of families from the holiday club joined us at the first event and although a few didn't return, many continued to come each fourth Sunday.

Initially resourced only by the Baptists (who cancelled their Chapel service on that Sunday), sustainability was an issue. Fortunately, however, the vicar had been approached about having a curate, and had asked me to meet him. Jonathan, and his wife Emma, were excited about what was happening with 'Sunday Club'. They were keen to get involved, and from September 2007 they joined me in planning and leading the events. Graciously, on those Sundays, the vicar allowed them to be free from responsibilities in his five parishes to be able co-lead.

We recognised the weakness of our individual churches in sustaining mission and the need for us to work together. As Jonathan shared with the parish churches news of what was happening in Bottisham, one of his other churches, in Swaffham Bulbeck, asked whether it could start something similar. I was invited to be part of discussions about this possibility right from the start, and when, in May 2008, this new event started, it was scheduled for the second Sunday of each month partly so that the 'Sunday Club' families would have the opportunity of attending something twice a month.

NEW - pool splashThis development, however, was not how the members of Lode Chapel had initially envisioned 'Sunday Club' progressing. The fellowship’s hope was that 'Sunday Club' would provide a way for the main Chapel congregation to grow, but although one family had come to a few services, they had not stayed. Families were still coming month by month to the school event, but Chapel services were so different from 'Sunday Club' that it seemed such movement was unlikely. To me, rather than being engaged in an outreach activity, it seemed that we were now involved in planting a new congregation. Although it was difficult for the Chapel members to understand, I felt that my commitment to this new initiative was critical.

The first few Swaffham Bulbeck events attracted a good number of new people, mainly families from that village. Although it was also based in a primary school hall, the feel of this event was quite different. Tables were set out in a café-style (rather than the 'Sunday Club' rows) and there was deliberately a less churchy feel (for example, no singing) to make it more accessible for those with very little, if any, church experience. The hope was that it would be a relaxing and enjoyable place for families to spend some time together doing something fun as well as thought-provoking. The parish church congregation didn’t cancel its morning service but came afterwards to the school (which is next to the church) for shared refreshments at the start of RE:NEW. This was a particularly busy but rewarding time; we were making positive contacts with a number of families who were coming to the school events, and slowly but surely our churches were become more engaged in mission.

NEW - venueThere have been some challenges as we've slowly realised that the two styles of event connect with two different groups of people. Whilst the Swaffham Bulbeck event was accessible for the 'un-churched', many of those coming to the 'Kids Club' could be described as 'de-churched' – having some previous, but not current, connection with church. But as we've clarified the vision there have been some exciting times too as a growing number of people at Lode Chapel have grown in commitment and enthusiasm to this mission activity. Many members have a more active role in the 'Kids Club' which is now accompanied by a 'RE:NEW Café' where parents chat over a coffee and watch a Nooma DVD. Jonathan and Emma, whose particular calling is to work with the 'un-churched', are now taking a leading role in organising social events and 'community blessing' activities.

The three of us, along with the rest of the leadership team, see the need for us to be building this fledgling community as well as supporting those who are coming to faith through Alpha and the other small groups that are developing. Recognising the mission opportunity, the Baptist Union is providing a grant that has enabled me to be in full-time ministry since 2008, but nonetheless there is still uncertainty in terms of the future of the congregation and the personnel involved. We are therefore also exploring the possibility of a Bishop's Mission Order, and our prayer is that resources will be found which enable someone to be appointed specifically to oversee the future of RE:NEW.