Hay Mills CC

Judith Mbaabu tells how Hay Mills CC, supported by the Congregational Federation, is encouraging a fresh expression for adults with learning disabilities.

Hay Mills Congregational Church, Birmingham, closed down a couple of years ago but conversations about its future took a turn when we spoke to the manager of the neighbouring residential home for adults with learning disabilities.

Many of the adults had loved coming to services and couldn't understand why the church had closed; they were disappointed and wanted to continue to meet together. Meeting the residents, it became quite clear that we needed to open it up in a different way and encourage a new form of church.

One of the many interesting things that came up as we started on this fresh expressions journey was the question, 'Why do you still need to use the church building?' We know about fresh expressions – going out and staying out, forming church where people are and possibly meeting in all sorts of places as a result.

Hay Mills CC - smiles

The answer for us is that this particular building has significance for the people we serve. The residential home is where they live, their 'house'; they like to leave their 'house' and go next door into 'church'. There is something about their connection with that building and, for them, if we said, 'Let's have church in your house', it wouldn't have the same meaning. We have listened to what they've said about that and respect it.

The Congregational Federation's North West Midlands Area is giving its support and the local Ladypool Road Congregational Church is also playing a vital role; we couldn't do it without them. This initiative, which has been funded as a three-year project, is for all the activities associated with Hay Mills as a whole but the emphasis is on the fresh expression for our neighbours with learning disabilities. We are 'building' that alongside everything else we're doing – and planning to do – for people across the community.

Conversations continue about the name of the church. We've looked at all sorts of things like Community Church, Congregational community church, Community hub, Church hub. We are Church. We are Congregational. We are Community.  How we behave is maybe more important than what we call ourselves but our name is the first thing many people hear about us, and their assumptions matter.

Hay Mills CC - Messy Church

We asked our friends with learning disabilities because we are here to serve them, after all, and their views are very important. One lady wanted to call it, 'The church where we make friends'. For now, we have agreed on Hay Mills CC, and people can decide for themselves what CC stands for!

Stephane Vickers, who lives locally, is our Church Development Worker. He has been in post since the end of June 2015 and is working closely with the team of volunteers at Hay Mills.

One of Stephane's starting points was looking at our base as others see it, and opening it up as much as possible. During his early conversations with local people he found that many of them didn't know where Hay Mills Church was – even though they walked passed it regularly!  The church is back from the main road and cars often park in front of it. If people cannot 'see' us, how are we likely to become a presence in the community? There are of course, a number of answers to that question, including going out to where people are and being a living presence through our actions, and working hard to let everyone know where we are through advertising, social media, networking and invitation. But it's also important to get the basics right so Stephane swung into action cutting back trees, power-washing the front, and sorting out the noticeboard.

Hay Mills CC - caring

Autumn is also going to be a busy time. At the moment, we run a monthly Messy Church for the adults with learning disabilities but a launch event for the whole church programme is scheduled for the end of October. We will hope to have a monthly café church and additional all-age Messy Church, for instance, but a lot will depend what people want to have there.

Currently we have a team of about eight, very dedicated, people who enable us to run the Messy Church for adults. Three of them come from Ladypool Road Congregational Church; others travel from Bristol, Gloucestershire, Wales and Nottingham. The Messy Church format remains pretty standard but we adapt it according to the needs of our friends with learning disabilities – between 15 and 20 of them. We have activities and refreshments on arrival with time to chat followed by worship songs, Bible input, and prayer (in a variety of forms), and then a main craft activity building on the worship.

We are now aware there are two other residential homes within the local area so Stephane is getting to know them and say they’d be welcome to join us in what we're doing. It really is a step-by-step process in building the community at Hay Mills CC, we are very much at the listening stage of the fresh expressions journey.

Hay Mills CC - helpers

I read an article on Growing Mature Disciples on the Fresh Expressions website which gave good advice on the importance of being understanding with new believers, walking at their pace, and remembering how patient the Holy Spirit is with you and be patient with them. But how does it work if your companion has no spoken language?  How does it work when your companion has a learning disability, and you have limited knowledge of how they understand the world around them?

To begin to address those questions, we are linking with Prospects – the Christian charity for people with learning disabilities – and they are going to come and do some training for us about the best way we can communicate with those who understand things in very different ways.

The Congregational Federation has funded this initiative for three years and part of Stephane's role is to raise money so that it can stand alone as a church in its own right. Sustainability is really important. It would then become a self-financing, independent church – as are all other Federation churches. The challenge is how to achieve sustainability, but we believe that if God has a plan for Hay Mills, then he will make it happen.

Another question centres on membership; how is that defined in the context of a non-traditional church? This is a question relevant to all of our churches that are moving forward and trying new ways of being church. If you have a Messy Church on a Wednesday afternoon, a café church on Friday evening and traditional church on Sunday morning, each with its own committed 'congregation', what is that people actually become members of?

Hay Mills CC - bear

Membership within all Congregational churches is about commitment to Christ, and commitment to the church, but we have to be prepared to think long and hard about what 'the church 'part of this looks like, and what exactly is it that people may want to become a part of. How do we establish membership with our community; what does it mean to them to belong? It's going to have to be a very different experience of membership. Traditionally the Church Meeting is where the decisions are made so, again, we are going to have to consider carefully what that means for us.

It's very important for us to have a clear plan, with short and long-term goals, and regularly review the work we are doing, revising our mission statement as needed. If you do not know what you are trying to achieve, how do you know if you are making any progress?  For Hay Mills it means:

  • reminding ourselves why we are there;
  • checking that the plans we have meet the plan that Federation Council agreed to (and if not, why not);
  • making sure we have events and activities planned that will allow the Kingdom to grow;
  • enabling the community church hub to become a reality in the lives of people around;
  • becoming a spiritual home for our friends with learning disabilities.

11 Alive

Julie Cotterill is fresh expression of church minister at New Cross Community Church in Sutton-in-Ashfield. She tells how 11 Alive has developed.

New Cross is a Methodist and Anglican LEP but, of course, local people don't see it as an LEP at all; they just see us as a church.

We have a more traditional service at 9.30am and the congregation there played a key role in helping 11 Alive to get off the ground four-and-a-half years ago. They agreed to move their service half an hour earlier, from 10am, to allow another gathering at 11. That wasn't an easy move and it was very risky but we at 11 Alive are very grateful for what they did.

What's also good is that those who attend the 9.30, and the 11 Alive regulars, get to meet each other as the services overlap, whilst the 9.30 are having refreshments the 11 Alive congregation are arriving and now tend to mingle with each other, it really helps to build those relationships and stops it from becoming a 'them' and 'us' type of situation. I, and a few others, make sure we go to both services – the 9.30 and 11 – and that's crucial to build up the relationships between the two.

We do aim to start at 11 but it's usually about 11.15 when everyone arrives; we give people the freedom to come in when they can and go when they please. It's a very informal and relaxed atmosphere with the layout of the church space being used very differently to the 9.30 service. Children and adults are given freedom of movement throughout 11 Alive and inclusivity is very important to us.

11 Alive - human tower

The inspiration for 11 Alive cam from Tim Mitchell, our previous priest-in-charge. He had read Christianity Rediscovered, Vincent Donovan's classic work on cross-cultural mission, and had analysed the culture of our community. He challenged us to consider what church would look like in our community if it was not done for them, but was created by them with our support. Our team then did the mission shaped intro course which really helped to give direction as to what we were looking at in terms of a fresh expression. It was open to anyone interested in setting up the 11 o'clock slot. We knew it needed to be relevant to the local culture and people committed to that idea came forward to be part of it. Tim moved on two years ago, so we do not currently have a resident Anglican minister at 11 Alive, but I am now on the mission shaped ministry course for Derby and Nottinghamshire, and it's great that Tim is one of the tutors so the learning continues!

The whole focus of 11 Alive, right from the beginning, has been for people to be able to come in and plan together as a team. Every 12 weeks or so we all sit down as a group and plan for the next three months, it's very collaborative – children, teens and adults all work together, Christians and not-yet Christians. A real mix.

We have an overall leadership team and five planning teams with about five people in each of them. The leadership group will discuss possible themes which we then put forward for consideration by the planning teams. We make sure that a member of the leadership group is on each of the planning teams so that people are not floundering when they start to work on a theme. We are always trying to make sure that people are being given the space and opportunity to come forward and offer their own ideas, gifts and skills.

It is wonderful to welcome a great cross section of people to 11 Alive; no-one needs to have 'attained' a certain level of understanding about Christianity, they can just come and take part in things at their own pace and level. What I find is that people grow as they are able to lead and participate; some have a more natural talent and gifting for it but – once a theme is decided – all will tend to go from planning meetings and put in a lot of work at home to prepare for their 'slot'.

It is risky but we try to affirm everyone in what they do. Lots of people in this community have low self-esteem and we also serve many with learning disabilities so it's very important to be generous in praise and, where necessary, address things in a loving way. I have heard people comment that 11 Alive gives them something they don’t receive in their own home environments, saying, 'This is my family'. We are very conscious of always welcoming in new people.

People usually want to offer their skills when they've been coming for a while and have seen others lead different elements of the service. We don't force anybody to do anything but, thank God, increasing numbers of people – both adults and children – want to participate and take on responsibility in some way.

11 Alive - singing

Our outline structure for 11 Alive is:

  • worship;
  • icebreaker;
  • refreshments and activities;
  • talk;
  • prayer and worship.

So, people bring different icebreaker ideas – we've had dodgeball for instance; men and young people tend to particularly like more active icebreakers. Others demonstrate their gifts, anything from beatboxing to yo-yo tricks! We've also had some brilliant talks from teenagers and I have learned a lot from them.

We don't have a worship band but we thank God for the internet; it's such a blessing to be able to use the big screen and a projector to access worship resources online. Someone also came to us who could play the piano by ear but had never been trained. Thanks to encouragement at 11 Alive, he learned to read music and continues to play worship songs for us also.

We have refreshments half way through; this is also a time for building on relationships and prayer for individuals when needed. During this time we also have craft or prayer activities or something which makes us think more about the theme.

I have held the title of fresh expressions lay minister since November 2013 and, as a part-time stipendiary minister, the role is ongoing. It has been really hard work but it's so rewarding because this is a team effort – and God has brought together that team.

We are also involved in a lot of 'background work' for our people here, with much pastoral care needed and a lot related to financial issues. There has been tension around our giving because others in the church community could feel that 11 Alive is not giving enough financially – but it's the case of the 'widow's mite' here. People might not have money to give but they give hugely of their time and always take part in all the fundraising events that we have; they are raising money in a different, more indirect, way. A team of women from 11 Alive also come into schools with me and are very active in that ministry. People are also taking up roles within the church such as church warden, being on the church council and other committees.

We continue to deepen people's spirituality, partly in response to individuals having done Alpha and then wanting to go on from there and do something a little bit deeper. There's no doubt that we have such a blessing in the people here. They tell things to you straight and, if someone has got a question they'd like to ask the speaker they will feel free to ask the question during the talk or in the discussion time. That really focuses the mind! But we are all learning together.

As 11 Alive grows we are starting to ask what happens next. The size of our building and the way we worship, play games and move around is at times at capacity but as we increase in size then the dynamics will change. Perhaps we need to do another one at another time or somewhere else? God will let us know.

The Ark at Crawcrook

The Ark @ Crawcrook is a church, café and soft play centre near Gateshead. Deacon Tracey Hume and Superintendent Paul Saunders explain the concept.

The Ark at Crawcrook - caféThe Ark opened its doors this month and we aim to help children and adults to talk about God and learn more of Bible stories by providing a safe space in which to explore matters of faith. We look to serve the local communities of Crawcrook and surrounding villages – as well as the wider Gateshead area.

Rev Liz Kent and Deacon Tracey Hume are the ministers there and they work alongside our centre manager Janette Lea. As a venue which can be used for children's parties, and lots of other events, we rely heavily on volunteers and party hosts.

The Ark at Crawcrook - building plans

The Ark, a not-for-profit organisation, has been built on what was the site of the Robert Young Memorial Church in the village of Crawcrook. It is a fresh expression of church which aims to be a place where the community can meet, have fun, be supported and welcomed.

We are inspired by the words of Jesus in Luke 18:16, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these'.

There has already been a lot of interest in using these facilities. SNAP! (Special Needs Access Play) sessions are for children and adults with physical and/or learning disabilities, and developmental disorders such as autism. The play sessions, which are also for their siblings, are run outside of public opening times so that the children and adults can have exclusive use of the playframe and sensory room. We've made sure that all areas of the playframe are accessible via a mobile hoist.

The Ark at Crawcrook - playframeThe playframe has been tailor made for The Ark because we managed to secure the rights to using drawings by popular illustrator and author Mick Inkpen. He's well-known for books like Kipper the Dog and Wibbly Pig but he has also produced many books based on the stories that Jesus told.

We had the playframe designed with these Bible stories in mind and we chose about six images from each story. The idea is that we will take the children into the three-storey playframe and literally 'travel through' a Bible story with them because there will be illustrations in each part of the frame to highlight what we're talking about. There are quite a few commercial play centres in this area but nothing at all like this!

Our play centre and conservatory is open to the public from 9am-3pm, Monday to Friday, for pre-school age children and birthday parties can be booked each evening and Saturdays.

The Ark at Crawcrook - sensory roomOur church centre manager, in a full-time role, oversees the day-to-day running of the centre and takes the bookings for it but is also very much part of the vision. Janette is like a mission partner because she has to work with our partner organisations as well as supervise two part-time café supervisors. Volunteers help us to run the café and keep a watch on the play centre.

We also have party hosts who are going to co-ordinate the events that we will have as a party venue. Most of these hosts are local people and a lot of them are not involved with traditional church at all. We see it as being about the community trying to help the community. That's why we hope to welcome one or two adults with learning difficulties to help in the café as problems in getting employment has come up as an important issue.

One day each week we will close to the public from 1.30pm to 3pm so that local schools for children with special needs and disabilities can come in and use the facilities. We are also looking at doing money management courses and have been approached by groups for ex-addicts who want to use the space; there's certainly a lot of potential and we will keep on listening to what the community is saying to us.

The Ark at Crawcrook - teamOf course we have to cover our costs as well but we are working with the council in an effort to access money to subsidise places for the disabled-only sessions. Our business plan shows that the birthday parties are what pay for the building and the café. The idea is that we cover costs so we can be as flexible as we can.

Our aim is that The Ark will be self-funding, covering its staffing and other costs, in order that it is sustainable in the long term. We are also still seeking some funding for the equipment we will need for some of the more specialised needs of people with learning and physical disabilities.

Play and Praise is just one of the ways in which we are looking to provide opportunities for people to explore faith. We were very aware that we didn't want to predict too far in advance what these opportunities need to 'look' like. There will be free sessions once a month but we are also planning to do café church. We are holding off at the moment because we just want to establish relationships in the first instance but it's pioneering ministry. It's important to listen to the questions that people are asking rather than answer things that people aren't asking in the first place! It's an open book at the minute.

The Ark at Crawcrook - sign

There isn't an existing congregation alongside us in this; we've got a blank canvas, only God know how it will develop! Whatever shape it takes in future, it will be useful for the Circuit as well because they will also be able to explore how to do new things.

This isn't about setting up in competition with anything or anyone else; it's working with people the Circuit have already engaged with very closely so we do not end up trying to meet the same needs. Yes, there will be some overlap and there will be times when families are drawn to us rather than other churches in the area but we can't avoid that. It's simply providing other routes for people to ask questions.

We are a place of worship so we can still do weddings, baptisms and funerals. For some families who find their way into The Ark it may be the only time they come into a church building. If they are then looking for a baptism, for instance, it seems a sensible place to do it rather than going somewhere which seems very alien.

The Ark at Crawcrook - logo

It's important for us to get to know what people's physical needs are as well as their spiritual needs. Interestingly, the developing of partnerships and community links has already succeeded in opening up the eyes of the local council to what the church is all about. As a result, we are now getting quite a reputation for community involvement.

We have learned that it's not about telling them why we are doing something; instead we simply do something because it's the right 'something' to do. They see the difference and recognise where our motivation is coming from. It's a lovely thing to be involved in; it's where God has called us to be.

Upstart Church

A brief encounter with a coffee shop owner changed the way Greg LeMaster thinks about church.

Greg learned the coffee shop was struggling to make a profit and wanted to help. So he asked if the space might be used for an 'upstart church' on Sunday mornings. Without hesitating, the shop owner offered him a key to the building.

Greg has worshipped at Graceland Baptist Church – just west of Richmond, Virginia – for 20 years; the last five as the church's part-time minister of outreach. With a weekly attendance of 250, churched families who move to the area almost always move their church membership to Graceland as well.

Upstart Church - groupBut Greg is now helping the Graceland congregation to see things differently, going outside the walls of their building to the people not reached by any church.

Greg started the process by asking a few people from his congregation to begin meeting in coffee shops. They in turn were to invite friends who would normally meet them for coffee but not for church. The format for the group remained the same:

  1. catch up with one another;
  2. a short reading and reflection from the Scriptures;
  3. a conversation about the Scriptures and how it applies to our daily life;
  4. prayers for the group members and for the people in the place where they are meeting.

Greg has also been delighted by what has become a regular get-together for people from around the world. It started a couple of years ago when Greg and the associate pastor at Graceland arranged an outreach event at a Richmond apartment block. They organised some games and handed out ice lollies to the children while a team of visiting, Spanish-speaking missionaries shared a brief message with the people living there. Not only did they encounter Spanish speakers but they also met people of many different nationalities with some from Latin America, Jamaica, Sudan, Nigeria and the Congo (DRC). To their amazement, 15 of the residents became Christians.

Upstart - familyThis 'one-off' event has become a weekly gathering. Every Friday afternoon, a small group of people, some of whom first met at the original event, get together for church. They meet on Friday, because they (like 30% of people in the US) work on Sundays. 

This has connected Graceland, a predominately Anglo congregation, with Colonial Place Christian Church, a mainly international congregation in neighbouring Henrico County. Greg says,

You know it's a move of the Spirit, when all of these informal partnerships start to spread. A few months ago, we did not know any internationals. Now, we're doing church together.

This group is beginning to function as a church in its own right. They regularly share the Lord's Supper together and collect a weekly offering.

Greg's son Daniel is autistic and while Graceland is a welcoming place for him, he wanted a place where his son could be as expressive as he needs to be. So Greg started a group in his living room using the same the four-step pattern as in the coffee shop and apartment block. Several other families, uncomfortable about bringing their own special needs children to a traditional church, soon joined.

Upstart - pair

On most Sundays, Greg and his family go to an early service at Graceland and then return home where they are joined by a group of 12 to 14 others for Joy Church. It's a place where parents can share their joys and concerns – and where their kids are free to praise the Lord as they are comfortable. At Joy Church, an outburst is a welcomed part of worship.

Greg comments,

All the groups that we have started are foundationally set to be church. Some people may get confused with what they consider outreach because they have grown-up in traditional church from a very young age. However, the truth is that each is a church and has the DNA (Divine Truth, Nurturing Relationships, and Apostolic Mission).

As far as pressure to bring these into the 'real church' is concerned, I think that it may exist to some degree but the truth is these churches function by themselves. I have no problem that some people elect to get additionally involved in what they may perceive to be 'real church'.

I think this complements the ministry of Graceland Baptist as we together desire to disciple and direct folks towards a deep life in Christ. I feel that people at Graceland are beginning to see that we must engage the culture as we can no longer attract the culture into the church. We simply must take church (us) to them in fresh expressions.

Rainbow Worship

The church of St Birinus and St John is surrounded by three residential care homes for adults with learning disabilities. When a few of the residents started attending Sunday morning worship, church members began to explore the idea of holding a regular service where those with disabilities would feel less inhibited and other residents from nearby care homes could also be invited.

The first service was held in January 2006 and has met monthly on a Monday evening ever since. Worship is interactive, noisy, creative and, most importantly, a huge amount of fun. The team that lead Rainbow Worship describe it as immensely refreshing and highly rewarding.

Over time, Rainbow Worship has developed a congregational life of its own. Those who participate increasingly see it as their main place of church belonging and, as a large group, they have been able to organise outings and events to raise funds as well as to have a good time.

The Bishop of Buckingham confirmed six members of Rainbow Worship in April 2010 and reflected on his visit:

[Rainbow Worship] is rumbustous and celebratory some of the time, but hushed and awed at others. Comments are chipped in from all around as things happen, like an ol' time revival meeting. Craft actvities are built in, and the management has radically tried to break down the distinction between client and helper. On one occasion, as Noah’s Ark was revealed in all its glory, a loud voice cried from the back, 'This is one I made earlier.'

Bishop Alan, Weaving the Rainbow in Wycombe

Fenland Community Church

Fenland Community Church - groupWhen Edward and Marilyn Kerr, with the support of Plumbline Ministries, planted Fenland Community Church in their Cambridgeshire town, they had no idea who they would meet.

Their new congregation of a small number of people who had moved from another church held an outreach week on a bus in the town centre. Among those who came were two women with learning disabilities in their thirties.

Drawn to this church community, the women also began attending a long-standing youth group led by the Kerrs. However, it was clear that this was not the best place for them.

We began to ask, what can we do for them?

Edward says.

At around the same time, two years into the plant, members began to leave. As the church collapsed, the number of learning disabled people showing an interest increased. They began meeting with the Kerrs, with the permission of their carers and residential home managers.

Up to 35 people, including carers, now meet three Sundays a month in a local scout hall, while the Kerrs open their home once a month for a prayer meeting. In addition, they take monthly meetings in six residential care homes where either a proportion or all of the residents take part, depending on the size of the home.

'Are we meeting their needs? If not, how can we?'

All this is very different from the Kerrs' original vision of evangelising their local community through events and a house church gathering.

We had to give way on a Fenland wide church with 'normal' people,

Edward says.

At first it was a struggle because we were just managing these people, not knowing what to do. We have had support from Causeway Prospects, and have adapted some of their material for our groups. However, much of our material for Sundays is 'home-grown'. It was about five years in that I realised, okay God, this is right, and we're not looking for 'normal' people now.

In fact, Edward and Marilyn, despite their struggle, have never said 'no' to the way Fenland Community Church has developed, their main concern being 'how'.

Even now we're still asking those questions,

Edward says.

Are we meeting their needs? If not, how can we? Within obvious limits no idea is excluded!

He tells the story of one man who has attended Fenland Community Church since its early days in 1996.

'Within obvious limits no idea is excluded!'

By nature he's quite diffident,

Edward says,

but he has blossomed over the years. He's now able to take responsibility for handing out percussion instruments and the flags we use in worship. He often volunteers to pray for people or to start the service. Every now and then he is prophetic, though sometimes he's a bit mumbly and we have to ask him to say it again!

Another young man with Downs Syndrome, who rarely talks and can sign only badly, is

wonderfully sensitive with flags, waving them over the congregation in a way that's very prophetic and moving.

What does the future hold? The Kerrs are fully committed to exploring ways of sharing Jesus with people with a learning disability, involving them in church life, using whatever works rather than whatever is traditional.

New Horizons Christian Fellowship

New Horizons in Hemel Hempstead was featured on the first Fresh Expressions DVD (expressions: the dvd – 1). They provided much in the way of social action. Have things changed since then? Pastor Arno Steen Andreasen tells of the current state of play.

We are very much moving ahead even in these difficult times. Our Sunday worship service takes place at Woodhall Farm Community Centre and New Horizons is now offering CAP debt counselling, two Sure Start Children's Centres covering over 1,500 families, the Ignite special needs school, an international degree programme, management of a community centre and support for an orphanage in India where we have also started two churches. We have another church in Sri Lanka and we will be starting a human rights project there in April.

The last few years have also seen us providing:

  • adult learning to 500 people a year, including offenders and people with learning difficulties/disabilities;
  • accelerate youth leadership training;
  • DreamKeepers mentoring programme for primary children with behaviour problems.

New Horizons - BBQThe development of emerging church, fluid church or fresh expressions of church language means that Christians sometimes lose sight of what church is all about. For me it's crucial that we constantly look to Acts 2:42-47. Some people describe what they're doing in a community as being radical but I see many of those things – such as having a meal together – as an expression of mission, not church.

The other concern I have is that the poor and vulnerable need structure to make sure that they have access to discipleship, training, etc. If things are too fluid, they easily lose out. I might have the inner strength to take the initiative in order to learn, develop and train but not everybody is proactive like that. We need to make sure we cater for the people who do not so easily take the initiative or have the drive to move forward in faith and life.

If churches get involved in social action, as we do, people need to make a decision as to whether they want to be able to evangelise directly or not. If they receive public funding, then they are restricted in what they can do and how they do it. If they want full freedom, then they need to self-fund it or have individual donors. If they receive grants, even from Christian grant makers, they typically will have to do some monitoring or have some objectives that fit the funder.

I want to be part of a fresh expression of church in some respects but we are also quite old-fashioned in the way we approach things because we base our understanding of church on Acts 2. One chap wanted to come here on a placement because he had seen it as a fresh expression, but when we explained that a lot of what we did could be seen as traditional he didn't want the placement at all. We are a fresh expression with an old gospel.

New Horizons - waterI think it is important to have a clear picture of what church is all about. New expressions of church could easily be used by people who do not like accountability and just want to do their own thing. There are a lot of powerful initiatives around, but do they carry the Spirit of Christ? We try with our staff team to discern how we should work with people and which methods to use. We will then discard even powerful methods if we do not think they fit the Spirit of Jesus.

I think it is easy to copy structures when we learn about each other's projects but it is the values behind the structures that are important. We had this discussion when we started the churches in India and Sri Lanka. They asked us if they also had to sit around tables and have breakfast at their Sunday services as we do. My response was that it is not the structure/style that is important but the value behind the structure. The value is fellowship and they need to find ways to implement that in their services.

Our work has been recognised by the local authority and we were asked to extend that work into a different borough but we said no because we didn't have a church in that area. Our community work flows from church and not the other way round; an incarnational ministry must mean we are right here, on the spot. I don't have a local connection there. It would be all too easy for us to become a high quality social provider rather than an expression of church.

I was also asked if New Horizons could start things in nine districts across Hertfordshire, as well as our own. They would have covered the whole of the county. The projects had funding put aside for them and it was all very tempting because the tendency is to think, 'I could reach an extra 500 or 1,000 people by doing one such project or another' but the fact is that you're not reaching them because you are not reaching them for church.

New Horizons - football playersWe need people to fall in love with the local church, for it to be the most exciting and supportive of places. As part of that, I have been really impressed by Christians Against Poverty and its debt counselling service because they don't start something unless it's part and parcel of the local church. They become an empowering ministry within it.

If you have the backing of a traditional church or denomination and are looking to develop new ways of being church in a community, the most important thing to slot into place is the funding and the awareness of how that funding stream will affect what you do.

I will always be 'grilled' as a church leader when I apply for funding. I do not think that is right but it is what I have had to get used to and learn to accept. There are always some outside funders who don't want anything to do with church but I can point to the quality reports from independent assessors and relevant bodies which prove that we are good at what we do. I have evidence to show that we are more diverse, that we have the biggest reach and so on. I would not get involved in setting up new projects if I did not keep on fighting for them – even if I am rejected by funders.

Boring Wells

Boring Wells - AdrianBoring Wells is a network of fresh expressions of church in and around Belfast. Each has a very different flavour but all share the same vision and core values. Adrian McCartney explains more.

Genesis 26 tells the story of Isaac who pursued the vision passed to him by his father, Abraham of re-opening old wells and digging new wells, sources of life and prosperity for anyone who chose to live close to them.

The collective vision of Boring Wells is to continue the legacy of faith in the Church of Ireland, to re-open old wells in old places of faith and to open new wells where there are signs that a new community could be expressed. The hope is to bring life and the presence of Christ to local communities who may have difficulty connecting with church.

Our ideas of what the church is like are fairly well culturally shaped and even when we apply scripture to them we tend to default back to something like it has always been. Wells is no different mostly. We are trying to be the family of God. If there is any difference it is that we want to be shaped by the mission and by those whom we engage with rather than predetermining the result.

We originally thought that we were to reopen old wells but then we found that we were re-digging wells where the church had gone a bit dead. Since then the main emphasis has been to try and open up new wells.

I am a Church of Ireland minister but I came out of parish ministry in 2003 when the Bishop of Down and Dromore gave me permission to plant a church in a commuter village on the outskirts of Belfast. We quickly discovered that trying to do that among unchurched people just didn't work in that area.

Boring Wells - pubI had taken a year to recruit a group of people. Initially there were 35 of us who started meeting in a pub in Moneyrea. We organised a Sunday service but not one unchurched person ever came to it! We threw everything at that service; we had projectors and sound and lovely coffee and nice things to eat. We also had lots of visitors from other parishes, saying, 'O we'd love to do this' though there was always the underlying thought, 'This just looks like we are moving the existing church around.'

Then we read the Mission-shaped Church report and we began to consider how we do church and it became something that wasn't quite what the bishop or any of us had expected. Questions like 'when are you going to build the buildings?' became irrelevant. We had to say that we weren't going to be doing it that way any longer. Defining ourselves in a way that can be accommodated within a diocese when we cross parochial boundaries, and even diocesan boundaries, has been an ongoing challenge both for us and the diocesan head office.

Our main problem was, and is, that people find it difficult to recognise anything except the parish. We don't have the equivalent of a Bishop's Mission Order in the Church of Ireland so most people see us as something between a parish and a mission agency. The way we have moved forward is to become a company limited by guarantee with a charitable basis. We have a board of directors and have to submit our audited accounts to the Charity Commission. This allows us to have charity number but it doesn't give us any status within the Church of Ireland even though we would very much like to be part of the diocese. Representation at Synod and financial support are ongoing discussions.

Five wells, our attempts at creating mission shaped communities, go to make up the Boring Wells network. We found that people had a sense of call in different sorts of areas – not geographical as such but among certain groups of people. The wells each decide how they express church individually but we have a general sense of how the whole family of Wells expresses their love of God together. The wells are called Tinys, Resound, Shankill, Elk and Networks.

Boring Wells - TinysWithin a year of us starting, we set up Tinys. It all happened when we were running that service in the pub; one night we simply came across a crowd of teenagers drinking on the windowsills of a row of shops. In time, we rented one of the retail units as a coffee shop for young people; there was no way those youngsters would or could transfer to the Networks church – then known as Moneyrea Wells. We needed to let them do something to express their experience of Christ where they were in their own way. That was quite a learning curve for the first group of people who had thought that what they were originally offering was a fresh expression of church only to discover that something very different was happening with the people who actually lived in the place.

We released some people to go and make Tinys their spiritual home. The original group of people now call themselves Networks. They have a non-local sense of connecting primarily with their natural contacts in work and through friendships. Members of Networks are now praying about the possibility of gathering somewhere closer to the city.

The bishop gave me an opportunity to work in two inner city parishes part-time. These small congregations are very elderly but we have found that the Networks group (about 30 of them) have been very supportive of those congregations who have actually come to like them.

Resound was originally a small outreach in an interface community comprising two working class estates on opposite side of a main road in Dunmurry on the outskirts of Belfast. There are two large secondary schools, one Catholic and one Protestant, and some community facilities that have been made available to Resound for youth activities. In the summer we have a fortnight of non-stop activities; the first week is aimed at primary school children – this year we had 400 children and young people every day with 73 leaders. In the second week we had over 100 teens daily. The regular Resound meetings, comprising a Sunday night session and drop-in stuff during the week, are organised by the late teens/early 20s.

Boring Wells - ShankillThe Shankill well is all about people serving in the area, a place at the heart of sectarian paramilitarianism. The Summer Madness festival started Streetreach to offer an opportunity of service to the community. Every summer for five years we used to take teams of people to do street cleaning and gardening in different parts of the city. Growing out of that was a group of people who had a strong sense of call to go and serve in Shankill itself. One couple have moved to live there.

Shankill well has a meal together every Monday evening. They are trying to be very simple in what they do, developing friendships from around the area and trying to incarnate the gospel in natural ways.

Elk well meets in my local pub in Dundonald, not far from Stormont. Our team get together on Thursdays to join the weekly quiz night. Friendships have grown and relationships have developed in a away that has allowed for many opportunities to share in prayer and care for this growing group of people.

All of our network team leaders are pioneer types and so are now really struggling with what to do when communities do start to grow. Launching out in mission has an excitement about it. Discipleship and pastoral care are the balance. The challenge for this autumn is come up with a better support system for those who make up the mission teams and the new family members who are becoming part of us. We presently organise a monthly gathering for worship and teaching supported by resources for small groups. None of this is easy and everything always feels quite fragile. As St Paul said, 'I am certain that He who began this good work in you will bring it to completion…' I pray that the Lord will help us to keep going.