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.

Tudeley Messy Church

Revd Pamela Ive is parish deacon at All Saints,Tudeley, and she is thrilled at the development of Messy Church in her area. She tells the story so far.

I attended the Fresh Expressions mission shaped ministry course from September 2008 to July 2009 in Rochester. It was really useful and made me rethink a lot of things about how we reach out to people and, in certain aspects, also helped me to be more realistic about which goals were achievable.

As a result we changed the style and format of midweek after-school activity we had been doing for quite a while and I have been surprised and delighted at the response we've had to it.

In the past we had a monthly meeting called Light on Thursday which was really a discussion time with a very few mums who had gone through confirmation, and a couple of others who had joined along the way. There was a minimal amount of worship while the children had tea but there was not much faith input for them. That folded after about four years when the volunteer helpers moved on.

Tudeley Messy Church - PentecostI prayed with a member of a local Baptist Church about the direction in which we were meant to go. A third person came along from Christians Together in Capel and she had a vision that we should set up Messy Church so we decided to pool our resources and put our energies into that.

We are in a Local Ecumenical Partnership (Tudeley cum Capel with Five Oak Green), and Messy Church really came together because of the involvement of a number of churches. We also have an Ecumenical Church Council and they were happy to support it financially.

We are meeting on the fourth Sunday of the month at Five Oak Green United Church, and decided to schedule 10 Messy Churches for this year. Helpers come from the Baptists, the Anglican/URC LEP and a local charismatic Free Church.

We decided to stick to Sundays because we are quite close to London and a lot of dads don't get back until 7pm or 8pm from work during the week. If the children are aged five or six, that’s no good for them on a weekday, so we opted for Sunday from 4.45pm for an hour. I think that time of day is perfect. They have had their Sunday lunch and they may be on their way back home after time out somewhere, this is dead time and we fill the gap.

Tudeley Messy Church - fishAt our first meeting we catered for 40, buying two hotdogs for each person expected so we got 80. Then somebody reminded me that we might have vegetarians there so we got veggie versions as well. Thankfully we did, with a crowd of 65 on the day!

We have a very small church. When everyone is sitting down packed into rows, the maximum we can hold is about 100. It was a huge surprise to see who came because there were a number of people we had never come across before, and lots of husbands accompanied their wives so there were actually men under 40 there.

One mum said that her husband had decided not to come because he didn't think there would be any men – she couldn't wait to tell him that lots had turned up in the hope that he'd come along next time. We were just overwhelmed, it was wonderful chaos. The people who were there said they felt they could invite others to come, it was fantastic.

Tudeley Messy Church - cake buildingCreation was the theme. We had a table game and word searches, and told a story with drama involving the children. It was so packed and so noisy, we had to stand on chairs to be heard and seen.

Numbers now average about 45. This feels much more comfortable for the size of building we're meeting in – especially when we are being active. Many aspects have been very encouraging. Friends have invited others; we are building relationships within the community; and Christians who worship in different places are catching up with each other and working together (especially in the kitchen).

At our Palm Sunday Messy Church, we invited people to the Good Friday Family Service which was in a similar format. We started off by making Hot Cross buns and then baked them during the service, which meant we had a very sociable time afterwards! The service also brought different congregations together and we involved a small teenage after-school group in leading it.

Tudeley Messy Church - group with cakeAs we knew that not everybody would be there on Easter Sunday we included the celebration of the Resurrection as part of that Good Friday service. There was a wonderful sense of having gone through Holy Week and to Easter with our Messy Church newcomers. We had linked things together for them in the previous Messy Church sessions by following the accounts of Creation, Noah and God’s promise, and then God’s Promise showing itself in the death and resurrection of Christ. A rainbow poster we made on our second session carried the theme through.

For Messy Church at Pentecost, we built a church with cake including gingerbread people to show that the Church is about the people – not the building itself. We then ate it!

Most people who came to the first Messy Church have been to a subsequent one and we've welcomed others too. The social aspect seems to be one of the most important to people – nobody's ever in a hurry to leave. We're very much looking forward to seeing what happens next.