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.

PPP Messy Church

Emma Major tells how she followed a fresh expressions 'journey' to develop People, Prayers and Potatoes (PPP) Messy Church.

People, Prayers and Potatoes at St Nicolas, Earley, does what it says on the tin – we bring people together once a month at midday for a Bible story, craft, activities, worship and prayer before sharing a jacket potato meal. Since we started four years ago, we've served up over 2,200 jacket potatoes!

I will tell how it developed through the fresh expressions' journey of Listening, Loving and Serving, Building Community, Exploring Discipleship, Church taking shape, Doing it again.


PPP Messy Church - giantAfter completing my training to become a Licensed Lay Minister I spent a year in formation discerning what God wanted me to do at St Nicolas, Earley. Being a mum in the playground at the local primary school it became clear to me that there were many families searching for something 'God shaped'. I was forever being asked things like, 'What do you believe in?', 'Will you pray for me?' I encouraged them to come along to St Nicolas, and for their kids to join the thriving Sunday School, but the majority of the families had never come to church so this was a step too far.

Our standard 10am service at St Nicolas is quite formal so it's just not the right place to bring people into a church environment if they've never known it before. It really wasn't attracting the people who don't have a background in church.

Loving and Serving

Over several months of prayer and conversations with the unchurched families, the concept for People, Prayers and Potatoes evolved. Over the years I've found that God tends to speak to me in images and it was at this stage that I got an image in my mind of people sitting down and eating together, I then wrote what I thought that was all about in terms of exploring faith.

It sounds incredible but, within two weeks, I knew how it was going to work in practical terms and I'd chatted it all through with my vicar, Neil Warwick, who was really supportive. A friend offered to come and cook a jacket potato lunch for whoever was going to turn up and we'd see what happened.

With the help of a few keen teenagers, and two expert cooks, PPP was born as a place where families could come and meet God, many for the first time. Interestingly I only discovered Messy Church, and its resources, after about a year of us running PPP! So I did not have that model in my head and we are not exactly like a Messy Church because there is no set format each month but it gives a verbal shorthand for the type of thing we do.

PPP takes place on Sundays at mid-day. If children are involved in football on Sunday mornings, the matches have finished by then so it seems to be a good time. We don't try to make something that suits everybody because you can't but we keep it very simple with a talk, doing something with the kids, go into the church for some worship and prayer – and, of course, eat together.

Building Community

PPP Messy Church - craftAll we did was ask people we knew from the school and the community to come and join us. We told them that we didn't really know how it was going to look but that we'd have a God story in one way or another and that it would be a type of church. The line was, 'Come and try it. What have you got to lose? We'll feed you lunch!'

I thought no-one was going to come but People, Prayers and Potatoes, as a Messy Church, was popular right from the start and six families turned up for the first one. It was all very informal and unthreatening. Within three months, those initial families had brought friends who also kept coming; and families approaching St Nicolas for baptism came to PPP to explore faith as a family. Now, four years on, we regularly have 50-60 children – and their parents and carers – who worship together. We've got babes in arms, children at every primary school level and four teenagers who are part of the leadership team.

Exploring Discipleship

We have a jacket potatoes rota where the families volunteer to cook lunch for everyone else and we also have a craft team who come up with wonderful ideas every month. PPP is truly a community of families exploring and growing in their faith together. Two years ago I started the 'Mums and More' group to which a dozen mums from PPP belong; this is a group which explores prayer, the Bible and what it means to be a Christian. We also ran a nurture course which fed them further.

I am a person who likes to take the risks and start something new; I want to keep pioneering and you can't do that until you help what you have started to grow to be sustainable. In saying that, PPP is extremely cheap to run with the food costing about £30 and the craft materials no more than £10. It's also interesting that the families who come along now take it in turns to do the jacket potatoes; they say it's their gift to the community of PPP – others might donate some craft resources for use in our activities. That culture of giving is already there.

Church taking shape

PPP Messy Church - EasterWe have never had a huge team but have grown a planning and leadership group of three from the families who call PPP their church. Over the last two years we have had three Messy Church adults' baptisms and we are thrilled that six of the PPP mums will be confirmed in a Messy Confirmation at the start of September 2015. People, Prayers and Potatoes is truly a church in its own right at St Nicolas, Earley.

Doing it again

I am now in the process of handing over the leadership of People, Prayers and Potatoes – partly in response to the fact that a decline in health means I need to step back from those particular responsibilities. That's OK with me because I never wanted to hold on to the reins too tightly. When you step out to do something, you should create space for others to flourish and I've already been fortunate to see that happen. The leadership team have run three PPP services to great acclaim alongside the clergy worship team. They are gaining confidence in planning the year ahead and it is a joy to see their faith grow as they lead others as they were led. I have no doubt that People, Prayers and Potatoes Messy Church is in extremely safe, motivated and enthusiastic hands!

Messy Church at St Pancras

Ruth Burrows tells how Messy Church continues to transform the ministry of St Pancras, Chichester.

It is amazing to see what God has done at St Pancras since we first launched Messy Church in November 2011. Before then we were really struggling to connect with young families in the area, in fact we would have no children at all in our congregation. Our Messy Church now attracts about 50 adults and 40 children and it has gone up beyond this on occasions!

I lead a team which is involved in prayer, planning and preparation for each of the Messy Church sessions at St Pancras. Students from the University of Chichester also lend a helping hand at our Messy Church, which runs on the first Sunday of the month from 4pm to 5.30pm.

Messy Church St Pancras - handsIt's partly bridge-building, some parents have started to bring their children along to St Pancras services, but I'd say a lot of people think of Messy Church as their church because there is worship, there is biblical input and there is relationship with God and each other.

The story really started in summer 2011, a few months after our Rector, Mark Payne, came to St Pancras. There was a Messy Church presentation going on at another church and Mark suggested that it would be good for someone to go along, find out about it and report back. Of course, he already knew about Messy Church… but he sent me along anyway as I have a nursery school and teaching background. He knew that I would be very enthused and encouraged about the whole thing! He also knew that I'd come back and say it was something we should do.

His response was, 'Great! So, when can we get started then?'

From there, our launch team came together and it was initially made up of people at the core of our church, those in leadership roles and with experience of children. It was quite a small team but, even at that time, it included a couple of students from the University of Chichester. When we got Messy Church off the ground in November 2011, we attracted maybe 10-15 adults and about 10 children.

Messy Church St Pancras - craftSince then, the team has changed and we have had increasing support from students – many of whom have become integrated in the wider life of the church as a result. This has been fantastic to see but right from the start it was emphasised that we didn't want to have a very forthright evangelical approach to outreach through Messy Church. I think some people felt that if you don't 'hit' people hard with the gospel message, then Messy Church is not worth doing. Well, we don't hit people hard with the message; I feel quite passionately about that. However, we do feel that Messy Church is offering an opportunity for many people to discover God's love – maybe for the first time. Messy Church is right for us in our context because it is non-pressurising and really gentle, with much being conveyed through conversations and relationships.

Right from the start we looked on Messy Church as 'church' and, soon after we started, quite a number of those involved took part in a training session with Lucy Moore. This helped to reinforce the ideas that we had been expressing as a team about Messy Church's purpose.

I now lead a team of about 15, eight of whom are students. We also have a couple of people from other churches from various denominations in the mix and that helps to bring different people in; it also saves it from being a St Pancras, Church of England, 'thing'. Also involved is a woman who runs the toddler group in the parish, a couple of like- minded teachers, the university students, and Mark (the Rector) and curate, Chris Styles.

Messy Church St Pancras - Christingle orangeWe meet once a month, a week after we have had a Messy Church so that we can review what happened and learn from things that have gone well or not so well. I normally brainstorm ideas and discuss these with the group but, as time has gone on, what has grown is a confidence from others in coming up with ideas. At first I was doing it all but now it is shared out a lot more. We plan what the next few themes are going to be and talk about particular families that have come to the fore in the last Messy Church session (perhaps through a personal conversation one of us has had) and how we can take these people forward in their next step of faith and discipleship. Our conversations revolve around building on the Bible stories that people have heard and highlight themes such as forgiveness and the person of Jesus.

So we might look at, 'What kind of things are we going to be talking about in the next Messy Church? What can come from this? What sort of conversations might this theme produce?' It's all about thinking ahead and trying to discern how God wants this to develop and what we need to do to join in with Him on it.

It is wonderful for those of us who have been on the team since day one to witness what God has done. Then we had no children, now we average about 40 children and 50 adults. Our 'problem' is now a very good one to have because we are reaching capacity so our question is, 'How are we to arrange things in future?'

Messy Church St Pancras - starsWe've found it an advantage for Messy Church to take place in our church building because it helps to take away any preconceived ideas about what Christians, and particularly clergy, may be like – but space is now at a premium. However, St Pancras also owns the building next door and our long-term plan is to use that so Messy Church can 'float' between the two sites. At this stage, the people who I have been more personally involved with at Messy Church are de-churched rather than unchurched but we are still at an early stage in the development of this fresh expression.

The good thing is that we don’t have any pressure to get the people who come along into 'normal' church. It's true that, before Messy Church, the average number of children in a service had been zero and now we might have between 5 and 10; that's not the intention of Messy Church but it's certainly been a bi-product! We’ve also had a couple of baptisms come from it, a mother and her children.

Another woman and her two children came for a while, started to come to services at St Pancras, did an Alpha course and then disappeared. She came back for a Messy Church barbecue to tell us she'd done Christianity Explored at a local Baptist Church and had stayed there. She was a bit embarrassed about going somewhere else but we said, 'That's fantastic. It's not about making you come to our church, it's just exciting that you have found this relationship with God'.

Messy Church St Pancras - houseA big challenge is to ensure that we don't get so bogged down in Messy Church's activities that we miss out on the opportunities to create meaningful relationships with those who come along. However, one of our strengths is that Mark or Chris is always free for a chat at Messy Church and that's really important. Normally both of them are there and it's great to have someone who isn't tied in to all that's going on with the art and crafts. It means that the mums and dads and carers don't have to be 'doing' something all the time; instead they'll have someone to have conversations with – and not in a pressurised way. It's also useful for many people to talk to clergy very informally!

I think the next step for us as a team is to explore further how people might start, or continue, their journey with Christ. This is so, so important because it's possible to be very heavily involved in something like Messy Church and yet not feel challenged by it.

As part of this review of the next phase of Messy Church @ St Pancras, I believe we also have to think about everything we do in our 'normal' church services. It's not just a case of asking the difficult questions of our Messy Church, we have to be prepared to do the same thing across the board. To me, that means when we pray, have 'a time of worship' and listen to a sermon or talk, we have to ask, 'What language are we using and what concepts are we drawing on?' We may go on and on about 'blessings' and 'outpouring' but for someone unfamiliar to church life, do they understand what we mean?

Messy Church St Pancras - cakeMessy Church has made me think so much about the people we wouldn't normally reach through traditional church, and those who have been hurt by church in the past. If our language and ways of doing things are a stumbling block to those people, we really need to think again.

E1 Community Church (Cable Street)

It began as an Urban Expression church planting team 15 years ago in London's East End but became E1 Community Church (E1CC) after the merger of three Urban Expression church plants (including Cable Street Community Church). Phil Warburton and Alex Alexander are Baptist ministers who lead the church and they explain more.

Things have changed a great deal since the original Cable Street Community Church was featured on expressions: the dvd – 1. E1CC now covers the south west of the Borough of Tower Hamlets and is based in Shadwell and Stepney.

Originally led by Jim and Juliet Kilpin, we were a small team on a steep learning curve made up of a group of people trying to figure out together how to follow Jesus and love our neighbours.

E1CC parachuteWe remain a small church that struggles in many ways with the seeming chaos of life and messiness of church but there is also a lot of joy along the way and much hope for the future. Today E1CC covers the same geographical area and includes Sunday meetings in the homes of two families from the church and Wednesdays at 6pm in the hall of St Mary's Church on Cable Street. Once a month we have celebrations which are all-age, messy church, café-style, with a meal to finish. We have active children's and youth groups too, who bring us much joy and often speak nuggets of truth to us 'grown-ups'! You will rarely hear a sermon here but we hope, pray and trust that people will hear plenty of what God is saying.

Alex Alexander was called to lead the church alongside Phil in July 2009. Along with other churches in Tower Hamlets, we have set up a Mission House initiative to encourage and enable people with a heart for the inner city to live and minister here. Four local churches are part of the Mission House at the moment and each church has a volunteer who joins in with the life of the church and the local community. Rachel Fergusson joined us a year ago as part of this initiative and it is great working with a team of people passionate about the community and church of Shadwell and Stepney.

E1CC gardenWhat are we about? E1 Community Church have five key distinctives. We are a Jesus-centred church; worshipping and following Jesus together in our daily lives. We are a church at the edge, seeking to be a church of people who have too little rather than have too much and of those who often feel marginalized by society and sometimes by the church. We are made up of people who live in the local neighbourhood and our worship, discipleship and decision-making aim to be relevant to the area in which we live. We aim to be multi-voiced in order to discover together what God might be saying to us. We believe passionately in being people of peace and we try to work at this both within church and within our community.

Each year we have a focus on a particular topic and we work on getting funds together for a charity specialising in that particular field. This year we are focusing on the Olympics to highlight issues of justice, inequality, disability and human trafficking. We are using the Baptist Missionary Society's Undefeated resources.

We are also involved with other churches in Tower Hamlets to run a winter Night Shelter and Foodbank based in various locations through Tower Hamlets, as well as youth and children's work both within church and in our neighbourhood. We are really excited about what God is doing in Tower Hamlets and we want to continue to join in with bringing his kingdom here!


Melanie Prince, a team vicar in the Vale of Glamorgan, tells how a mission shaped ministry course inspired the launch of a monthly Messy Church called SPLAT.

SPLAT - smileI did msm South Wales in 2009-2010. It was timely for us to do it as Llantwit Major Benefice has nine churches, three clergy and three Readers! It gave us the kick start to do things, providing a reason to stop delaying and get on with it.

We started a Messy Church fairly early on in the course. This happened because the churchwardens came and said,

We used to have a thriving church with families. How do we get families back in again?

Their approach coincided with us having started msm and it meant we had some ideas to pull on.

SPLAT - boxIn a new atmosphere of optimism, I started the Messy Church at St James' Wick, which I ran for its first 18 months before handing it over.

SPLAT continues to prosper and monthly all-age worship in church now attracts a good number of people as well. The fresh expression has been successful in itself but it has also had an impact on the main church.

River Community Church

River Community Church - Steve KellySteve Kelly, of River Community Church, is Assistant Rural Dean in Telford Deanery and fresh expressions advisor in the Diocese of Lichfield. He would never have described himself as a pioneer.

My wife Maggie and I have always had a sense of adventure and we like to travel light. That means we've always been willing to 'get up and go' wherever God leads us. After hearing a calling from God in 2003, I left my career in the car industry to train to be a vicar. I have always had a heart for evangelism and outreach and after my training as a curate had been completed in 2008, Bishop Alan Smith approached me with an idea for my first post.

He asked me if he would be interested in drawing on fresh expressions' methodology to explore the possibilities of a church plant in Telford. My main brief was to reach those who weren't connecting with the established church.

My exposure to fresh expressions had been churches doing it on the side. Most of these were expressions of outreach from churches seeking to engage in mission and outreach. The opportunity in Telford was to grow a new church in a new community and it wouldn't be part of any existing church.

I was given a blank sheet of paper to engage with a community of 150 houses that would increase to over 3,500 in the next few years.

River Community Church - tableIn 2008, we moved to Telford and became part of the community. Initially there wasn't a place within the community people could gather – no pubs, no cafes – so we worked with others in the development of a community garden. We slowly began to build relationships with others who also had a heart for community. The garden provided a place for people to meet each other and we ran a series of outdoor family events for those in the neighbourhood.

In Christmas 2008 the neighbours asked if we could organise something called 'carols on the green'. It was an informal outdoor carol service which over 100 people came to. After the popularity of the event, we ran a 'taster event' in the local school and asked people for their views about the timing and style of a community worship event. It was decided that a café-style event at the local primary school would be most welcomed.

A hybrid of café church, Messy Church and charismatic church, we were delighted that people came. It started quite small but that monthly event has remained as an enduring feature of what we do.

River Community Church - bannerJust over a year later, River Community Church was officially launched in June 2010. It is a church community which has a real mixture of people at its heart. The church has drawn some who already have a strong faith, some who have come to faith, some who have returned to their childhood faith and some who have seen what's happened and are thinking about the next step.

Right from the start, the leadership team have been excited by a 'kingdom vision', a vision of the growth, transformation and healing that comes when God's love and power begin to touch people's lives. We have tried to keep the church community focused on incarnational mission. Whilst some aspects of church life are 'attractional' by their very nature, we have continually emphasised the need to be outward-looking, bringing blessing to our neighbours and the local community.

River Community Church - coupleLike Paul, we believe that God is able to do much more than we can dare to ask or imagine. As we have prayed about this, we have been inspired by the vision in Ezekiel chapter 47. In this prophetic vision, the River flows out from the place of worship (the temple) and out into the desert. We read that trees spring up on the banks of the River. These trees remind us of the vision we have of our church – rooted, flourishing and fruitful. We believe that this is also vision of what God can do today – in Telford! The River speaks of the life and power of the Holy Spirit. So we have given our church the name River Community Church. It expresses our desire to be a church OF the River, a community BY the River, a people IN the River… and that's what we're praying for!


GraceSpace in Bradford is 'a church for people who don't go to church'. Pioneer minister Colin Blake explains how the community has developed and why eating together is so important to them.

GraceSpace started life in 2007 when the then-minister Andy Bowerman was appointed as a Pioneer Minister, by the Bishop of Bradford. Eventually he and his wife Ali set up the Vicars Café in Saltaire as part of the vision to create a community in the Aire Valley.

The Café, which continues to operate today, provides a safe 'third space' where people can enjoy its hospitality and atmosphere while building relationships and sharing God with those who are interested in knowing more.

GraceSpace - groupWhen Andy and Ali moved to Dorset, the Café became a social enterprise with a board of management and a project manager running it day by day. My wife Katy and I moved here two years ago. I have been in ministry for 27 years and, at 59, I am probably one of the oldest 'pioneer ministers' in CofE history!

It was an interesting start because we arrived having no idea what the project was for or how to take it forward. It was actually very difficult to get hold on it because it meant different things to different people. It was also difficult because there was a four month gap between Andy leaving in July and me arriving in November. The community dissipated to the extent that only about six or seven people turned up at the licensing service to represent GraceSpace.

Many people associated with the community travelled from all over the place in those early years because they related to Andy and Ali very strongly. That was wonderful but it was clear from the time we came on the scene that those people weren't actually relating to each other in the same sort of way. As a result we decided to draw our horns in and not get involved in lots of missional activities initially; instead we wanted to help people to get to know each other.

GraceSpace - girlsMine is a five year appointment and we knew it was vital to get those strong building blocks of community in place right from the start. As a result we moved a lot of events away from Vicars Café and hosted them in our own home. We are fortunate in having a large dining room, kitchen and living room so we began to meet together as a group around meals. Food and drink became the staple of what we were doing and when people eat together, somehow there is a little heaven in the ordinary.

The number has now grown to 25 with many people coming who have either been bruised by church in the past or with no past experience of church at all. They range from families with teenage or adult children through to people in their 50s and 60s. We also have about 10 younger children, aged from two to 12, coming along with their parents. Some came as a result of personal invitation from a friend though many have turned up as a result of the information and publicity we put out through our website.

We believe in operating with a light touch. We don't have an 'official' structure, such as a PCC, but we all meet together every three months for a Summit meeting at which we decide the priorities for the next quarter.

GraceSpace - full englishA real turning point came when GraceSpace came up with the idea of having a different meal theme for each Sunday in the month. On the first Sunday we have Breakfast when people turn up at 10am to help us cook breakfast together; we will then organise a spiritual thought or reflection at some stage while we're eating. The whole thing can run for about three hours as people often want to stick around and discuss things.

The second Sunday is Lunch. This starts at 12.30 and people bring different foods around a theme so we might have a Chinese meal or what we call 'Yorkshire food' which means three types of curry! Everyone takes part; we don't offer separate things for different ages. The children particularly like it when there's a fifth Sunday in the month because that's when they choose what the adults have to do on that day and tell us what the spiritual element is going to be.

The third Sunday is Tea or 'Creativitea' at which we bring along cakes and biscuits and make big crafts together from 3pm. I'm a regional co-ordinator for Messy Church but we don't have enough space to run a Messy Church. However, Creativitea is a variation on the theme because we do have a celebration, activity and food as part of the mix. The adults are keen to join and they are happy to join in with cut and paste but generally they want to make things that will last, something with a purpose.

GraceSpace - ideasThe fourth Sunday is based around supper time at about 6pm. It is called Ikon; this is more reflective and allows people to share what comes out of that time together. Typically they will have bread, soup, pate and cheese at that one.

We also offer Explore sessions during the week on either Tuesday or Wednesday nights. These are cell-church-like in structure but are really about Bible application rather than Bible study, giving the opportunity for a much more interactive approach. Coming from a charismatic, evangelical background myself this has been quite a learning curve for me too because it's all about giving people the freedom to have different opinions. It's no good saying, 'this is the only answer to this passage'. Instead I approach it as, 'I know what I think this passage is about but tell me, what do you think?' It's about trying to step back, not telling people what to think but allowing them to grow.

At the end of November 2011 I was diagnosed with temporal arteritis which meant that all the arteries in my body were inflamed. I have been having treatment for that and hope to be back at work in January but I have been very encouraged to see what has happened at GraceSpace while I've been out of action. The people have been brilliant, offering their homes and their skills to keep things moving along.

GraceSpace - teaThis illness has prompted the devolving, training, encouraging and mentoring of new people into leadership. For this fresh expression to develop we want to create another network of community, a second GraceSpace. For that, we need leaders, though we have also taken a long, hard look at our purpose in all of this. It can't just be to build community. How do we look outside and make a difference?

We have started to look at how we might do that by volunteering elsewhere. Perhaps we could give our support to a community or local Christian project rather than start one ourselves? We are just working out how that might be done because we are a fairly eclectic bunch and people travel from all over Bradford to come to us.

GraceSpace - logo

I have a line manager who offers me pastoral care while the Archdeacon of Bradford provides practical oversight of the project. I work alongside all the other local churches and I believe that my age has greatly helped me in building links with them; I'm clearly not a whizzkid and people seemed to have responded to that because I don't come over as threatening in any way. I'm also not seen as suggesting that GraceSpace has got it right and they've got it wrong. Far from it. We all need each other. Part of my time is spent as adviser on fresh expressions of church to the Bishop and I am a regular at wider diocesan meetings as well as being very much involved with the local churches in our area. Indeed I lead the marriage preparation course team for the local URC.

It's all part and parcel of trying to serve other churches in what we do here at GraceSpace. If we can let them know of the things that have gone well – and our failures too – we are helping them in their own mission. All we can do is be honest that we are working out our faith in fear and trembling and trust God for the rest.

United Media Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Springfield Church

Will Cookson is minister of a 'church that was a fresh expression before the term was invented'. He tells how important it is for fresh expressions of church to keep on reinventing themselves.

Watch Will Cookson and Sue Bosley discuss multiplication not duplication (transcript available on the update Oct12 link to the right).

Springfield Church was originally set up by Holy Trinity Wallington in 1992 to reach out to the community. In 2002 it became what is known as an Extra-Parochial Place (EPP) in Southwark Diocese which meant we had no 'official' parish and no church building. Our two key objectives were, and are, mission and worship and we now have about 400 people of whom about 40% are under the age of 18.

Springfield's two congregations meet in different places in Wallington on Sundays at 10.30am. The larger one gets together at Wallington High School for Girls while our second is the Springfield@Roundshaw cafe church which meets at St Paul's church on the Roundshaw estate.

Springfield Church - café church

The thing about a fresh expression is that over time it can become regularised in the way it does things so it has to re-discover itself. To an extent, when I came here almost 10 years ago that was what had happened to Springfield; it had got set in its ways. The thing that cried out to me was to go to a cell church model because everything has to be relational if it's going to 'speak' to people outside inherited church.

We are doing this through a whole series of different things, such as a Christian club at a local school (Xplore), Messy Church in the same venue (Footsteps), parent and toddler group transformed into Messy Church format, as well as cell groups and various ministries – such as an English conversation class – planted in the community. When we were asked by the vicar at Roundshaw estate to plant a new congregation in that area, we sent out 25 people and now average about 40 at the café church. Most of those who have joined come from the estate itself.

We have a huge focus on relationships and building events and ministries that reinforce and complement each other. To my mind, too many Messy Churches have focused on trying to get the numbers in and getting the event done efficiently. We concentrate on the relationships that people can make there and – as a result – have seen friendships growing, families joining us for other events, parents getting involved to help and some becoming part of Sunday congregations, cell groups and taking part in Alpha courses. The social events organised by those different cell groups look to encourage community and it may take one, two or three years for people to get involved to that level – but that's OK, it all takes time.

Springfield Church - smile

The common problem for many churches is that they have some great ministries but they are stand-alone and don't benefit from the relational overlap. So, for example, children come to Xplore on Mondays after school with their families invited to our monthly Messy Church. Those in Year Six are given invitations to our youth outreach The Mix, again every month, at a local community centre. The larger-scale events we put on are never officially advertised; we prefer to use word of mouth and ask people and families if they'd like to come along. Feast in the Field attracts about 600 people as a community event with laser quest, assault courses, Scalextric and face painting among other things. We also take up to 600 people to the cinema at Christmas. If we advertised I am sure that we could get larger crowds in but we would lose out on relationship building. We find that the more that we overlap and inter-connect what we do, the more that people are interested and able to take the next step in their faith journey.

Springfield Church - sharingThe Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, will be visiting Springfield Church to help us celebrate our 20th anniversary next year by preaching and presiding at our Sunday morning service on 18 March. It's a wonderful recognition that churches such as ours are now integral parts of the Church of England and no longer an oddity! The Archbishop's visit is a practical sign of his enthusiasm for this mixed economy and a huge encouragement for us.

Springfield has always been a different sort of church. We were a fresh expression before the term was invented! The thing with many fresh expressions is that as their communities mature then it's all too easy for them to revert to 'normal' church mode.

We really emphasise to our leaders that the focus shouldn't be on the task but on the people they're seeking to serve and reach for Christ. This has led to a real depth of community with a very high level of participation; about 80% of our congregation is involved in something.

The important thing for anyone involved in a fresh expression to remember is that we're here to reach the unchurched. The disenchanted Christian and dechurched Christian will also come our way but keeping that outward focus is vital if we're going to continue in our true calling.

All Saints Wingerworth

All Saints Wingerworth - fontAre people coming to faith through Messy Church? Do they really become members of the wider Church as a result? Revd Dr Jo White, Rector of All Saints’ Church, Wingerworth, tells how they responded to those questions through Messy Confirmations.

At the end of January we held a Messy Church with a difference. Five children took Communion for the first time, two people affirmed their faith, two were baptised and then joined eight more to be confirmed while a further person was received into the CofE!

We had been talking with people about this service and encouraging adults to take responsibility for their faith in a variety of ways for a while but how did it all start?

Someone said they'd like to be baptized, and that set us thinking. We know that for adults the Church of England likes baptism to be linked with confirmation, but how would that work in this context? We'd held a Messy Baptism for a new baby to one of our existing families last year – so how about a Messy Confirmation?

The idea took off big time – as did the questions, 'Will I have to come to church on Sundays in future 'cos I work that day as my husband's at home to look after the children and so I can't do it.' 'Me too – I feel a fraud as I only come here and not to 'proper' church – it's just it reminds me of when I was a child and that was a terrible time for me.'

All Saints Wingerworth - BishopThe comments just kept on coming… 'I want to get confirmed here, even though I live two hours away – I was brought up here and my family still live here, but above all these are the people who make me feel I belong.' 'I heard my brother's getting confirmed, so I'd love to do it with him.' 'This is the time for me and God. I do really want to come, I really feel 2011 needs to be a year when I reconnect with the church and my faith, too much has come between us of late.' 'I was confirmed as a kid, but I don't remember it, I wish I could do it with you.' 'Well I'm Catholic, but this is really my church now.'

So we spoke about Communion. What should we do about the bread and wine? We've never 'done' Communion before. When would you like to take it, at the confirmation service itself or shall we get together a few days later? Let's go for it! What about the kids? (In this church you have to be baptised and over seven years old) Hence we started preparing them too!

Needless to say, everyone who came to this service did know it would be different and longer! The key pressures came from balancing the need of the Bishop to follow the 'law' of the Church of England and our wish to make the service accessible and understandable for the majority of the Messy Church congregation who are either children or have none or little experience of 'formal' church. How do you make such a huge formal service needing loads of preparation and 'serious' thinking accessible to all of us at our different stages in our faith journeys?

All Saints Wingerworth - prayerAt the rehearsal we realised that only one person knew what 'the peace' was. Things that church regulars take for granted, prayers that they know by heart, are unknown territory for most Messy Churchers and could easily divide the congregation in a service – which is exactly what we do NOT want in Messy Church.

We pared the service requirements to the bone, chose the shortest Communion Prayer and then added opening and closing prayers that were in everyday but in very meaningful language; trying hard to keep the theology of the occasion without dumbing down or making it so simple it was meaningless. We wanted this to be a memorable time for all those involved – in a good sense!

The service sheet, more of a book really, included absolutely every word and instruction. But it did mean that everyone could take a full part on an even footing. We made sure that there was a regular churchgoer you could follow if you got lost at the front of church and said so in the 'Welcome'.

We moved everything we could out of the 'service' section – like the prayers – and into the 'activity' section that comes first; trying to shorten the service without losing any of its meaning or worship elements. The children brought forward, as they often do, a collage of all our prayers written on paper cut-outs of our hands and glued as feathers on a dove. Come, Holy Spirit!

All Saints Wingerworth - song sheetsWe chose songs that we often have at Messy Church and included some simple new ones either with a tune already known or that we’d introduced at other services in recent weeks.

A few weeks before Messy Church, Rt Revd Humphrey Southern – the Bishop of Repton – asked everyone being confirmed or otherwise involved to write a few lines about themselves and he wrote a few for them. On the day he arrived in good time to join in with all of Messy Church, including the activities in the first element of our Messy service, and chatted with everyone including the candidates all together. This set good practical examples of relationships which passed on to the service itself.

We began the service in the same way as usual, casually, with no 'procession' – and me, as minister, in my 'home' clothes. To save time, the Bishop was robed from the start, and I popped mine on during the first song. There were two Welcomes, first one from myself and then one after the first song, from the Bishop. I gave the practical details whilst the Bishop reinforced the views that all are welcome, there's not one way to 'do' church, and we all worship a living God in our own ways at our own levels. In other words – we may have a bishop, we may be dressed differently, the service may be longer BUT it's still the Messy Church we all know and love.

Bishop Humphrey's address talked about faith being in different layers and each one has value in itself – you don't have to wait 'til you get to the middle to get the gift. He'd brought 'Posh Pass the Parcels' which had a gift under each layer, just like our faith, so wherever we are faith has value and each layer brings surprise.

All Saints Wingerworth - cakeThe taking of Communion was done kneeling or standing at the altar rail. We decided not to use sidespeople to indicate when to come up but to leave it open. In the event I (as the Rector) acted as maître d' in the sanctuary while the Bishop gave bread to everyone and two lay assistants gave the wine. In this way I was able to 'introduce' the Bishop to young children by name and tell him a little about those who were not taking Communion but had come up for a blessing, and just about everyone did come to the rail. His prayers of blessing were then made by name and were very specific for that person. The sight of him walking on his knees to give blessings at that rail to the many children squeezed alongside each other will stay with me for a long while.

So 75 minutes later (it's usually a 20-minute church service element) we went to eat our buffet tea together that our wonderful cooks had prepared. Something for everyone and a large celebratory cake with coloured icing that the Bishop cut – a final sharing. We're still smiling at the experience and wondering when we can do it all over again.

A key component in bringing all of this about was that 18 months ago, with the help of a diocesan mission grant, we created a new post here – Connecting with Families Co-ordinator (CFC): and that person has since been accredited by the Diocese as a Lay Minister in Fresh Expressions after completing the mission shaped ministry course.

Early discipling, encouragement and support takes dedication, time and vision!

Now we need to create something for those now recently confirmed or otherwise involved who are thirsty for more but still don't want or can't make Sunday services or more 'formal' church. At the moment we're thinking of late evening weeknight services, including Communion sometimes. Suggestions for inclusion welcome.