Hope Whitby Missional Community

Leigh Coates reports on how a new Missional Community has developed in Whitby.

About five years ago, a group of us wanted to start something new in Whitby – where we all live – so we launched a small cell group and began to explore the idea of missional communities.

Whitby is only 18 miles from Scarborough and 30 miles from Middlesbrough but it's a very, very different sort of place; popular with Goths and alternative cultures because of its links with Dracula author Bram Stoker.

We organised a couple of Christian worship events as outreaches; they were called Restore and we did have a couple of people come to faith as a result. That's great of course, but we felt that overall it wasn't a great success. We wanted to do more and that's when we had a vision of being involved in a regular café-style 'thing'.

My wife, Rebecca, and I approached the owner of what we reckon is the best café in Whitby, Sanders Yard, and they said yes to us doing a pilot Hope Hub event involving music – both mainstream and Christian – and short testimony or talk. The café seats around 50 people but the event was packed and about 70 people came along.

Hope Whitby - Sander's YardThat was in May 2012 and we agreed with the café owner to do the Hope Hubs for a couple of months to see how things worked out; they didn't charge us a penny to do that which was amazing. We tried different things, it petered out a bit, we tried something else; it was all trial and error but the number of people who wanted to be at this event started to build.

We then had another conversation with the owner and said that we'd like to do this long term and she said, 'as long as you make £100 behind the bar, you carry on as you are'. Since then, we have never had to pay a penny for the use of the venue.

Hope Hubs now take place there on Friday evenings twice a month and we usually get around 40-60 people, with an age range from 14 to much, much older…! It's not a service; we describe it as 'Raw, Real, Relevant' because we are working through tough questions about Christianity in a way that's accessible to people of faith or of no faith. I hate Christian things that are cheesy or naff so we do our best to avoid that!

It's our sixth year and we have learned lots of things along the way. The crowd we now have coming along are about one third Christian, one third on the fringes or who have been hurt by church in the past but still call themselves Christians, and one third non-Christians. What started off as five people meeting together has now grown to four different cell groups, huddles, Hope Hub, Hope Rocks, a new youth project called Hyp and many other things.

Hope Whitby - Leigh CoatesI am the Deacon for Mission at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Scarborough, but I don't promote particular churches to those who want to explore their faith in a more traditional setting. I'm always keen just to promote 'church' – wherever that may be or whatever it looks like.

Again that's changed because when we started, as a core team in Whitby, our aim was to put people into churches. Now we're very keen on discipleship, which is the one thing I think many churches have really missed out on.

Hope Whitby is a Missional Community that aims to show Christianity in a way that can be understood by everyone. Hope Rocks events are one way in which we are reaching out, and from that we have seen three baptisms in the sea in a year.

Ebenezer Baptist Church has been amazing because it commissioned me to go and do what we are doing and I can go there for accountability; the pastor and elders have been great. The Re-Fuel band have also been a blessing, performing at many of our events and supporting us to reach out, showing how good and Christian music can be.

As you can imagine, doing something new and different, all of the Whitby team – including me – have come up against some hard times and Ebenezer have been there to help me grow and guide me through some difficult situations. They challenge me but, because our accountability is so high, they never get involved in the day-to-day stuff. They are happy to leave that to the Whitby core team.

Hope Whitby - baptismWe have a leadership of five, including me and Rebecca, but there's no hierarchy. We work together on everything, particularly to ensure that we are not replicating something that is already being done by other churches here. We have no interest in reinventing the wheel!

Thanks to Ebenezer, I have just started to 'officially' work part-time for Hope Whitby but the church at Scarborough is not looking to put a denominational 'sticker' on the Missional Community here. They have been very gracious and open to seeing what God has in store.

Some people may have been disappointed that the community is not intended to become a Baptist Church in Whitby. Hopes were expressed in some areas that it would happen but I said no, it's not about that. It's also not about me going to college to become a minister. What's the point in a pioneer sitting behind a desk? I also work as a tanker driver and I want to continue in that, because I don't want to lose the 'edge' in what I'm doing.

Hope Whitby - postcard

Some churches may have felt threatened when we first came along but we have made it clear that we're not a Sunday church; this is all about building God's kingdom. Hope Whitby Missional Community operates from Monday to Friday with Saturday as a day of rest. Our core Missional Community is drawn from different churches so, on Sundays, we return to them. We do however have some who do not or won't go to church for different reasons; we just love them and try to meet them where they are. At the moment, it's enough that they are being disciples with the cells and seeing outreach in its natural form at the Hope Hub.

In the future, we are exploring the possibility of doing many new things but we are still in prayer about it. It would be easy to get caught up in lots of plans; that's not the way it should be. It's being sensitive to what's developing around you and listening to what God is saying.


Lieutenant Catherine Dodd is leader of The Salvation Army in Cortonwood, South Yorkshire. She tells how their mission to 'go, gather and grow' has developed in the past six months.

I've been in church leadership for the past 10 years and had been serving part-time at Cortonwood since 2010 – alongside being the Officer (Minister) at an established Salvation Army church locally. In October 2013 I was appointed as the full-time leader here and Cortonwood was recognised by The Salvation Army as a new Church plant. We are situated right at the heart of our community, in a neutral venue above the Cortonwood Miners' Welfare Club.

Cortonwood was deeply affected by the miners' strike 30 years ago and the subsequent demise of the UK coal industry. Cortonwood Colliery closed and, as the biggest employer locally, this meant that life was changed forever for most of the families here.  As a miner's daughter, I understand the culture and have a heart for the people of ex-mining communities.

Cortonwood - rainbowIt had been felt for some time that God wanted to do a new thing in the Dearne Valley, and so began the process of discerning the 'what' and 'where'. Since 2010, The Salvation Army had been experimenting with different ministries through the formation of a Dearne Valley Planting Team, which I was blessed to part of. Confirmation soon came that Cortonwood was the place where God wanted us to be.

There was no physical Church presence in Cortonwood – the Methodist Chapel closed a few years back, and the parish church is situated in a neighbouring village, but I always believed that God wanted to build a church here in Cortonwood. Furthermore, I discerned that it was never his intention to plant a Church by parachuting in a group of Christians. He made it clear to me that this new plant was to be formed from people within the community who, for whatever reason, were not engaging with a traditional, attractional model of church. He wanted it to emerge from us 'journeying out' and coming alongside the community, working with them and seeing what would develop – without being prescriptive as to what it would look like or what shape it would be. To have the freedom to be part of that from the very early days, and then go on to lead that, is a great blessing.

Cortonwood - venueInitially, we did not have a base of our own and so we used various community venues as gathering places, which is something that we still do and are keen to maintain– we didn't want to go down the route of having one place that would be regarded as 'Church'. We have been blessed with the provision of our base at the Miners' Welfare Club, which provides us with office space, a community prayer room and multipurpose room – it's an accessible place where people can come along without it being a traditional Church building, which can sometimes be a barrier to people. We use it for some of our events, but by no means all.

One of the venues that we use is Costa Coffee. We have always had a good relationship with the manager there, and so when we were looking for a venue for worship we made an approach and we were delighted to be allowed to use this space. Since June 2012, we have used Costa as the venue for our now monthly worship event 'The Gathering', where we meet after hours on a Sunday evening. It's an event which is aimed at unchurched people, where there is good coffee, conversation, live music and opportunity to pause for thought.

Cortonwood - choirWe were very keen to have multiple connection points with our church. Some of the activities that we are currently delivering include weekly school's ministry, Toddlersong, food drop-in (with budgeting advice on offer too) and a Community Choir. Since January 2014, a weekly informal and conversational cell group has commenced which we call 'Time & Space', giving people an opportunity to ask the difficult questions as they explore faith. It's beautiful to see how God brings that together. The people are shaping that time of worship themselves through partnering with the Spirit; that's the way it's got to be. We have some powerful prayer times and it's very raw; it's allowing people to 'be' where they are. We have got a lot of needs in this area and some people feel downtrodden; when they start to see their value in the eyes of God, it's quite a special moment.

The key to relevance, is, for me, all about being willing to be experimental and acknowledging that this is a valid form of church. It has to be fluid. Whatever we start, we are not going to put it on tablets of stone and continue with something ad infinitum; we view things in seasons, and we just go with it. I believe this missional community, this fresh expression, is not a 'stepping stone' to traditional church – it is certainly church in its own right; yes it's firmly rooted in Salvationist doctrine but we are not frightened to be quite pioneering in the ways we go and reach out to the community.

Cortonwood - pictureWe want this to a place where people feel safe, welcomed and loved, where we can work out together what it means to be disciples of Jesus today as we serve the community of Cortonwood.

It's wonderful to see individual's lives being changed as God’s work develops. One of the guys, who is coming to food bank, wants to start to get involved in volunteering; we are also establishing a community allotment as a means of creating community, tackling food poverty by growing fresh fruit and veg for our food drop-in and caring for creation, and we are also seeing people from our local community get involved with this.

It's still very early days but it's a wonderfully energising thing to be involved in – you know that when you get up in the morning you are going to see evidence of what God's doing in people's lives. I have always had a heart for the unchurched and a real concern that people need to hear the gospel but can't – or won't – come to established church. At Cortonwood, we are seeing people engaging with our way of being Church who would not otherwise do so. It's so important to come alongside people in relevant ways as part of their community and leave it to God to engineer the conversation. We've seen that happening in all sorts of ways, including through the local school, where I have been involved for the past four years, and have recently taken on the role as School Chaplain. We did a whole school, in-school Messy Nativity and most recently a Messy Easter for all children and their parents.

Cortonwood - canesOur next priorities will be serving people in practical ways by offering 'eating on a budget' (cook 'n' eat) sessions, and setting up as an Employment Plus Centre, where people can come along and receive help in their job searching. It's all part of discerning the current needs within our community and responding accordingly.

In January, Vicky Hughes joined our team as a part-time Community Development Coordinator. Her role is to develop the food bank and get our community allotment up and running. She will also ascertain community needs and put plans in place to ensure that we can, in the name of Jesus, do something to help towards meeting those needs.

Life can seem very busy at times as I seek to balance ministry and family life. As well as leading this church plant, I'm also doing a MA in Aspects of Biblical Interpretation through London School of Theology. Distance learning can be difficult and the 10 hours of study per week can be tricky to fit in but I carry on with what God has set before me; I always find that he gives me the time I need to do what he wants me to do. I never feel overwhelmed in any way, and firmly believe that Cortonwood is where God has called me to be.

Cortonwood - hand creamChurch has got to be accessible for people. We need to be available to our communities, to love them and be prepared to journey with them in an authentic way. When we move away from our perceptions of how church should look and abandon ourselves to the Spirit, then we see God do amazing things. It is a joy to behold. Lord, may your Kingdom come, your will be done in Cortonwood, as it is in heaven.

VentureFX Exeter

Jon Curtis tells how he is working to pull the strands together of his ministry in Exeter.

This is my home city and it was really important for me, and my wife Beth, to stay in a place that we know really well. The VentureFX aim is to reach those who wouldn't ordinarily dream of setting foot inside a traditional church building. I've always known what it's like to be part of a church, but also know how weird the whole thing can seem; I was brought up an Anglican though I later became a Methodist and trained as a lay preacher.

I was accepted as a VentureFX pioneer minister three years ago at selection conference. I've always been part of the punkrock scene here – as well as the area's political and artistic communities. It was a natural fit for me because music has also played a huge part in life and I still tour with a punk band called The Cut Ups. All my friends are involved somehow and we get together toput on shows, book tours, write and publish ideas and art.

VentureFX Exeter - shopsOur particular project in Exeter started in December 2010 so it's a good time to take stock of what has happened since then – and what hasn't happened since then.

At first, we had a year of running discussion groups based around a theological question. We'd call them Average Life Discussions, saying there were so many questions to ask, and so little time to ask them. Those sessions took place every month at The X Centre – a conference venue we hired on the quay. It has all been stimulating and well worth doing but there have been a few failed attempts to try and tie these discussions in with other stuff.

The venue has just been sold so we'll probably have to find somewhere else but we are going to relaunch the discussion groups and see how that works out this time round. The key thing about these discussions, and the reason people tell us they keep coming, is because there is no agenda. Not 'no visible agenda', but actually no agenda. This is not a conversion factory. A guy I know who runs a church had a conversation with a mutual friend. The mutual friend told the church leader that I 'had never forced anything on him', and the leader said 'just wait!' But that's complete rubbish from the church leader! My friend could wait his whole life, and nothing will be forced. There is no agenda. I'm part of a community already, and if anyone ever wants to learn about Jesus, I’m very happy to share what I think I know, but I'm never going to 'reveal' my true colours of evangelism, because I have none!

VentureFX Exeter - food distributionThe idea is that we would form part of a 'collective'. Everyone who's interested, including a core group of about 10 of us, might get involved in:

  • discussion groups;
  • music promotion;
  • food redistribution and social action. I help to run this regional hub for the Devon and Cornwall Food Association with other volunteers. It's a charity aiming to redistribute waste food from manufacturers or wholesalers to those who need it most;
  • we're just planning a People's Kitchen too.

To me, the food redistribution is one of the strongest examples of the Methodist Church being right at the heart of a much-needed social concern and it is really brilliant when church members just want to be involved alongside other volunteers (aged from 20 to 30) who they would never otherwise meet. There's a growing mutual respect. There's engagement, and joining in with, rather than observation. When someone just wants to 'look in the window' but does not do anything to help; that's not understanding the spirit of the thing I think. I wouldn't want anyone to think that what we do is just a 'ruse' to get people in; it is not to trap them into the beginnings of a church but it does reflect what it truly means to work together in our differences. The punks that I know, just like many Christians I know, don't find doing something for free very hard to understand because there tends to be no money in punk music; they do it for the love of it. It has been really brilliant to see these parallels!

VentureFX - streetI have waited longer than I would have done normally to form this 'collective' because I've made a lot of mistakes and false starts. It's ended up that I've been able to see what core themes grew from the things I was linked to and involved in. This collective is going to have lots of 'spider legs' to it; everything we do is going to be part of that. If a group does emerge, which meets for Communion or prayer or whatever, it will have a shared status with any of the other groups forming part of the collective.

I don't even think of myselfbeing a pioneer, but if anyone is interested, there are several hundreds of people I know in various ways across the city. Maybe there will be a possible cell church grouping but maybe there won't. It's just as important to be involved with the greater number who want to give their time and energy and commitment to something that makes the world a bit easier.

We have set up a management group made up of:

  • three lay people from the Exeter (Coast and Country) Circuit;
  • two Circuit Ministers and VentureFX Coordinator Ian Bell;
  • Ian Adams as my independent mentor, supporting me rather than the scheme. This group meets five to six times a year.

I'm still part of a local church on a Sunday morning and I have some really good friends who understand the different worlds I'm involved in. The support of Methodists locally and nationally in this scheme is amazing, and gives a really great impression to people who previous thought nothing good of the church.

The Marlpit

Katie Miller serves as a Reader with St Michael's Church, Hellesdon, near Norwich, and heads up a lay leadership team serving the Marlpit estate. Now hoping to train as a pioneer minister, Katie tells how the team built relationship with the community from a position of powerlessness.

St Michael's had been involved in this estate for 40 years before its Marlpit base, built by donations from local residents, was closed down in 2007. To me it's very interesting that what could have been the end of something instead became the start of something new because it was then that we truly started to build relationship with those around us.

The Marlpit is a council estate, half of which was built in the 1930s and the other half in the 1960s. It is squeezed between a main road and the River Wensum. We are with the parish across the river so there is a very real sense of it being a unique entity.

We found that not having a permanent church home became a blessing and we made friends precisely because we had no building. There is such a sense here that the church is part of the establishment so it was very helpful to be able to say, 'We are church but we have got nowhere to meet'. Relationships grew from that and it was useful to learn that you can very much build from a position of powerlessness.

Marlpit - housesThere are four of us in the core leadership team, including a couple who came to the estate 20 years ago and lived through various curacies. We recognised that it was important to break the cabal of the four of us so we have gradually built up indigenous leadership from within the community. That's why, when the time comes for me to move on, I will be ready to hand over because that joint – or new – leadership is now in place in all of the areas for which I had personal responsibility.

We have found it important to put two or three possible leaders in place because many people's lives are so chaotic on the Marlpit that it's important to have someone else to stand in the gap if an individual can't make it for whatever reason. In terms of context, this is a place where some people have lived for a very long time with generations of the same family around the corner from each other. There are also people who only stay for a while, people who are 'housed' here rather than live here.

The Marlpit - craft

We are fortunate in that there are public community places on the estate; it has its own primary school, play group, health centre and a couple of shops. It also has two community centres, one of which is set up as an internet café and drop-in sort of place. We have rented rooms in both of those centres and also in the school; we've been everywhere at one stage or another! The toddler group grew to such an extent that it had to move off the estate to a Methodist Church nearby.

We tend to describe ourselves as having six ministries in the Marlpit, one of which happened to be a Sunday morning time of worship. The rest involve all sorts of things, including a mid-day mini service after toddlers' group – something which has all the hallmarks of a church. The mums from that group all care for each other and want others to be part of it.

We set up the Marlpit community choir and we're now asked to do many gigs; it has become a focus of real pride for the estate – not only for the people who take part. The estate really 'owns' it; there’s nothing like making music together to make people feel as if they are part of a community. The choir also has a Facebook page where the members pray for each other. We have 25 people involved and they're not all brilliant singers by any means but when the whole choir is singing together; they really do make a great sound. There must be a message in there for the church! We basically do karaoke and use backing tracks for music from the 1940s to the present day. Bill, one of our leadership team is the choir master. He finds the backing track and we go with it; we did Born to be Wild and something from Queen when the Archdeacon came to visit us!

Marlpit - sheltered housing

We also lead a monthly service in local sheltered housing as part of our ministry here but that's very different. There we do hymns and have a very calm service; we pray for all the residents and we have some little thought or reflection as part of that. It's very gentle but we are welcomed in. In all of this, the parish church is really positive about what's happening here and we have never been stopped from doing what we do in this context; we have just got on with it.

My own background has very much fed into this time. I am an academic palaeontologist (the geology of ocean beds), have been a theatre director and now I'm pioneering. The link is that it's all about storytelling – a good geologist collects data and puts together a story from that; a theatre director is there to let the actors play through creativity and chaos before telling them, 'this is the direction I want you to go in' and pioneering is all about God's story and those whose lives are changed by it.

The Marlpit - choirI have loved what I do here and I'm shocked at the ways in which some people imagine life on a council estate. The fact is that residents here are the same as anyone else; they want to have stable relationships, they want their kids to do well at school etc; I find absolutely nothing different about that.

I don't feel what I'm doing is more 'worthy' or 'radical' because of my location or context. We should be helping the poor, people who require committed support in order to give them the backing they need. We shouldn't be judging them.

Hot Chocolate

Charis Robertson is the Acting Director of Hot Chocolate Trust in Dundee. She tells how the city centre youth work organisation is seeing the signs of a developing church community.

Hot Chocolate started in 2001 in the heart of Dundee. There is a shopping mall built around The Steeple Church in the city centre and, in front of the church, is a grassy area which became a meeting place for young people from the 'alternative' culture (ie. those dressed in black with piercings and tattoos and skateboards and thrash metal music etc).

At that time, there was a young woman on placement as a part-time youth worker with The Steeple who was looking outside the church, saying,

There is a community inside the walls of the church and there is a community outside the walls.

Hot Chocolate - outside churchShe went out with a small group of volunteers and they had no agenda other than to go and meet young people on that grassy area. Within a few months, there were quite a few significant relationships developing. We are called Hot Chocolate simply because that's what the volunteers took out with them and the young people themselves started calling the encounters, Hot Chocolate. The name just stuck.

Then we started to ask the young people, 'If you had a bit of space in the church building, what would you do with it?' The answer was that they wanted some rehearsal space, a place they could just crash out and be themselves, and so we ended up with some thrash metal bands come to rehearse in the sanctuary of the church!

Since the outset, it has been the young people who have made the decisions about how, when and what happens. These roots remain totally foundational to who we are and the way we operate today.

It all grew very organically and was very relationally-based. We became an independent charity in 2004 and we now have six paid staff (two of whom are full time) and around 35 youth work volunteers each year. We work with about 300 young people in the course of a year and do lots of things, including group work and one-to-one sessions but we don't preach at them or do anything that would be seen as typically 'churchy' in any way. Instead we get alongside to support them and are always asking the question, 'What do you want to do?' We've got good facilities, including a sports room, kitchen and chill-out room so we have the space to accommodate lots of different types of activities.

Many of the young people are from difficult family contexts and some have been in and out of young offender institutes. The young people we encounter hear from so many sources that they are bad, stupid, worthless, and will amount to nothing. Giving as much of the responsibility and ownership of Hot Chocolate to the young people as possible has resulted in a deep commitment and respect for both the place and the relationships around it. Creating a space that is truly owned by the young people has been vital to this. They most commonly describe it as their 'home', where they can make their own cup of tea, hang their art on the wall, and find a place of belonging. Hot Chocolate is not here to do things for young people or to provide a service for young people, but instead to grow a community with young people. That actually makes all the difference. 

Hot Chocolate - group

We've found too that language can also play a huge part in unhelpful power dynamics, and Hot Chocolate works hard to be thoughtful about this. For example: we are not a service. We do not have clients, customers or service users. We are a community, and the young people are young people. We do not have staff and volunteers, we have team. We do not try to fix the young people but walk alongside them, open to learning as much from them as they might from us.

Our approach is not that of a typical church based youth work organisation. We don't do God slots, but we share our lives, and those of the team who have faith share our faith when the time is right. A lot of the young folk are interested in spirituality and it is not difficult to get spiritual conversations at all.

As time has gone on, some of the young folk have found faith. That has often coincided with them coming onto team and experiencing a more explicitly Christian part of the community. As the former young people find that sense of belonging amongst the team, it opens up all sorts of questions. One young person started coming when he was 13 or 14, became a Christian along the way and is now one of our key volunteers. Not all of the team are Christians, but all are open to exploring and all feel that the Christian ethos is very important. We also often attract team members who are disillusioned with mainstream church – especially artists and social activists especially who feel they haven't found their place. 

Hot Chocolate - feet

What they tend to describe as their 'church' time is when we're sitting around the dinner table together, three times a week. Before opening for any youth work session, the team has a meal together and shares some sort of devotion – and that's where they find belonging and faith. We want to develop specifically around that time, and help grow an indigenous Christian leadership. We feel uneasy about importing worship resources that are not appropriate to our context so we have started writing worship and prayers of our own. In a way, everything that has happened so far in the way of church community is completely accidental, and so tends to be quite different to intentional church planting models and approaches. (This is not a bad thing, it is just different).

Hot Chocolate has never been about getting the young people into church on a Sunday morning and it wasn't even about starting a youth project. It was simply about building relationships and seeing what might emerge, motivated by the love of God. It seems that every couple of months we stop and say, 'What are you up to now God? It's changing again!' We know we are very strong on belonging, on community and activism; we are not necessarily great at discipleship but we are learning.

Hot Chocolate experiments: not recklessly, but without anxiety of failure. There is a strong culture of reflection, vulnerability and learning together, even when we have made mistakes.

Hot Chocolate - logoWe've learned a lot about the God of mission. It's God's mission to transform the lives of the young people and not ours. God is already at work doing this, and so our job is to get alongside him, not the other way around. This has been a liberating, challenging realisation.

In terms of challenges, when you work for a charity, finance is always going to be a challenge but we do have support from various agencies, including the Church of Scotland's Go For It Fund which aims to encourage creative ways of working which develop the life and mission of the local church and are transformative for both communities and congregations. We have had some major staffing changes in the team in the past couple of years too, but we have just appointed a new director to start in January so we are looking forward to starting the new year with a leader who is very missional-minded, someone to help us grow this amazing community together.


A waterfront café in Ipswich has become home to a community of people keen to develop faith and friendship. One of LINK's organisers, Roger Eyre, explains more.

I wasn't around at the beginning – about four years ago – but LINK founders Dan Jolley and Scott Huntly had a vision to do some sort of cafe project. They wanted to reach out into the community and be very relationship and community focused, providing a place where non-Christians would feel very welcome.

I got involved when Heart for Ipswich contacted me. This group aims to link Christians from many different churches to work together more closely to help meet the social and spiritual needs of the people of Ipswich. It is run on a voluntary basis by a small team of lay people. Heart For Ipswich got in touch to tell me about this new café project idea. My vision had been about putting music into cafés and using it as a way of outreach. In spite of living in the same town, I didn't know the other guys at all so it was important to hear from an organisation who had an overview of everything that was happening. We spent three or four months getting to know each other; we became friends and spent a lot of time together after which it became clear that we very much wanted to develop a Christian project based on relationship.

Link - crowdAt first we thought it might be a stepping stone for people moving on to church but we quickly realised that the sort of church our community now called LINK would be prepared to go to didn't really exist. For a handful of people I'd say that LINK is their only contact with Christians and they consider it as a place where you can discuss all sorts of things; however they probably wouldn't describe it as church.

We are not trying to do church in a café as such but two people have come to faith through a journey which included LINK. There are others who have definitely made enquiries and are searching. The good thing is that LINK has reached deep into people's lives and relationships have been sustained over three years.

The experience brought by people to the team is very important. There's a wide variety, such as people who have led youth work in churches and a teacher – while I've done a lot of music events and gigging. Some of us have been brought up in church and had a very purposeful vision for what we are doing; namely reaching people who felt they could not walk into a church building and also providing a place for Christians who had been hurt by church in the past. They still had belief but did not want to be part of religion.

We started to form connections with people and things have just grown organically. We usually plan no more than 2-3 meetings ahead and our LINK nights are primarily music-focused with opportunities for discussion. One of the key things that we have is unity across denominations in the team and those that attend. This is also how we draw our governance, from a group of wiser Christians from different church traditions. They are also people who have held a lot of responsibility either in church or in business.

LINK - building

LINK is widely known in Christian circles in the town. We did operate weekly for about two and a half years but there is only so much a small team can do. We now run from 7pm to 9pm on the first Monday of the month, at Coffeelink café on the Ipswich Waterfront. It has been quite a roller coaster ride along the way. People will turn up at any time between 7 and 7.30pm, then we have some light music or it may be a full gig night. Otherwise we might have a talk or some sort of 'interview' with different contributors. We also do practical stuff as well; a local charity might come in and give a talk on their work or a particular challenge they're facing and we will give them some ideas. The networking side of things is important as well. There is always more than one thing going on; we don’t want to just put on music events.

We were also looking at ways of anonymously requesting prayer or asking questions. We'd seen the Post It idea done many times in other organisations when people come up with ideas by sticking the notes all over a wall so we did it at LINK and it was a great way for people to find out more or ask for support without putting themselves in the spotlight. 

We have had about 50-60 people, on a few occasions nearly 100 people turn up. Now we have anywhere between 10 and 50 depending on the night; we had a massive peak of initial interest, then things tailed off before climbing back again to reach the plateau where we are now.

Our age range is anywhere between 18 and 60-65 though primarily it's people in their 20s and 30s. It's a blessing to us but we don't pitch it for a particular age group. We don't particularly want under-18s to come because most churches are well equipped with groups for that age.

LINK - guitarWe are right in town next to the new University Campus Suffolk. We now have pioneer minister Tim Yau working with us, the only ordained person on the team, and we're hoping he will be able to get to know people at the university and develop contacts.

Apart from Tim, we are all lay people with full-time jobs. We have all held, or hold, responsibility within church but not as a pastor or elder. LINK is not led by ordained leadership and we do not affiliate to any one Christian denomination.

I know lots of people who lead but they are not paid pastors; they have full time jobs and they still do church and that's a great model. If someone has worked recently then they are 'real', they understand the current job market and the pain and the politics of work. I think that's a good thing and should be encouraged.

One of the biggest things for the future is for churches to learn to put aside differences and work together. In some cases they have to be prepared to sacrifice their own personal goals for a joint goal. Sadly there are some people who still want to do their own thing; they want to have their church brand on it and not work across churches.

But when you are prepared to take a risk together it can lead to wonderful things. We had a community waterfront festival in Ipswich near the beginning of LINK, three years ago, when we wanted to make LINK known a little more. We thought, 'Why don't we go there and take our lounge out to the people instead of waiting for them to come to us?' So we took our sofas, a lamp, table, and boxes of pizza and cake down to the waterfront. It was great.

The café where we meet is run by a guy who is from a Muslim background who is open-minded about faith and providing a forum for its exploration. He lets us use the venue for free and he only gets coffee money out of it. The important thing is to find people who can broker these sorts of relationships with people in the community; we need these people because they are catalysts for change.

LINK - logo

The Valley Network

Levi SantanaLevi Santana is a pioneer ordinand at St Mellitus College. He also leads a small missional community in High Wycombe called The Valley Network.

I have been in the area for seven years as youth worker at St Birinus and St John's Church, High Wycombe. When I started thinking about getting involved in a fresh expression, the Diocese of Oxford was very keen to see how a local person could start a local ministry via the mixed mode training and stay locally for curacy.

As a result, since starting The Valley, we have had a lot of support from the Deanery which has made our work possible. They give us lots of freedom and even help pay my salary, showing their commitment to pioneer ministry. When I am ordained in 2013, I will also be able to do my curacy here which secures the next four years in the life of the Network.

When I sensed a feeling that God was calling me into pioneer ministry I had to ask myself,

What is God saying? What is the need? What does High Wycombe need as a fresh expression of church?

We decided to focus on people who live in and around the town centre in what is an Urban Priority Area and also students.

We have almost doubled our numbers since Christmas and at the moment we have around 40 people involved in our network which meets in local coffee shops for discussion groups and Bible study, and in a local Anglican church that lets us use their building for worship events. We also meet in homes, and much of our work is based at the local YMCA and University where I am a chaplain.

There is a mix of people, some were already Christians when they joined us and some are completely unchurched (although a number are dechurched).

They come from all backgrounds and nationalities – including white British, Brazilians, and West Indians. I come from a Brazilian background and one thing that's very much on my heart is the international community, I would love to see more racial interaction. I think people from an ethnic background might have felt more comfortable about coming in to the group because I look 'different' and don't fit the traditional image of a church minister. The average age of those coming along is about 25 but we have some older and younger people in the mix – we also have a few people with small children.

It all started because St Birinus and St John's had been involved in the work of the YMCA locally for a number of years. Suddenly the person that led that work left and I found myself in charge. So we went into the YMCA and offered to continue to run the games evening.

We then decided to do something on a Sunday evening and we invited the guys from the YMCA and young adults within the network of the church. It was a hit so we started welcoming people into the church building. By January 2011, we had 25-30 people coming twice a month.

The Valley Network - planning

It was trial and error, we didn't know what to do next but then we started to throw some worship into the mix. In the end, we did it for six months and reflected that we were trying to do too much, we couldn't do worship with non- Christians and couldn't disciple Christians by just doing social activities.

We took time to take stock and to pray and decided that we should concentrate on the unchurched and dechurched rather than Christians wanting to do something a little differently.

We started meeting in a local coffee shop, firstly inviting people from the games night. We don't use any set material but I always make it clear that I'm a Christian though people have to be free to share their opinion – whatever it is. We always start with people talking about the lowlight and the highlight of the past week. One of the girls who comes to the group is going through a sex change process so she came in and said,

The highlight of my week is that I'm going to be a boy.

She had a letter for an appointment in London to see a specialist and what struck me was that she felt confident she could share that letter first with us.

I realised then that this community was effective. We had all sorts of plans for events to reach out to students but what God was calling us to do was simply to respect them and value them and give time. As a result we have seen that group develop into a little family.

Alongside our discussion group we also identified a need for us to gather Christians together in a similar sort of setting in order to go deeper into the Bible and mission. We launched a Bible study that starts 90 minutes before the discussion group. The study is basically for Christian students and some of them stay on for the group, some of them don't.

We had also seen the development of a mums and tots cell group. From October this year we are going to open it up to the public and we hope to run it in one of the churches.

Recently we have decided to link up with Frog and Amy Orr-Ewing who are planting the Latimer Minster church in Beaconsfield; this helps to put our network within a wider group of missional communities. When I knew they were moving into the area, we met up to talk about it all because there's no point in us doing something similar or being five miles apart with no relationship. By linking up with Latimer Minster, The Valley Network will use their charity number and bank accounts and public liability insurance – all of which means that we are very independent but also accountable.

It became quite a big thing to explain over and over again what The Valley Network was all about whereas, at Latimer Minster, the church's DNA is missional and it's easier for us to be understood. They will also release things quickly into the mission aspect of the work and I think it will be a good relationship based on friendship, not structure.

We are also still linked with St Birinus and St John's as they have been very supportive of our work over the years and because we are expected to meet traditional criteria and to obey deanery and parish boundaries though, in practice, we don't function in them.

The Valley has no income from any other source other than its members, but we need more resources to fulfil the vision God has given us. For this reason we are trying to find 100 people who will pledge to raise or donate £100 over a year. This will give us £10,000 that we will use to fund our ministry, run our conferences and events, and pay for our running and administration cost.

We have a high number of musicians and artists in the community so we are exploring different styles of worship and recording some of the songs we are writing. Our first CD/EP will be ready soon and our intention is to sell our music to fund some of the work.

The Valley Network - logoFrom October our hope is to have two Sundays a month where we meet for fellowship for a meal and Communion because I think that's where we truly become a fresh expression of church. At the moment we are clusters of mission but we haven't shared Communion together many times.

There is a lot going on but everything is done very relationally and we have seen a few young people being released into leadership which has been particularly exciting – two of them will give about 20 hours from September!

This autumn will see us host our first Missional Church Conference when we hope to engage local church leaders in conversation about reaching young adults. Debbie Orriss, Frog and Amy Orr-Ewing and Steven Cockram will talk at the October event about how churches can explore different ways of doing things within their contexts. We want to demystify missional communities and fresh expressions to church leaders and to encourage churches not to feel threatened by us because we are not sheep stealing.

It's all very exciting but there are many questions too. How can we honour the opportunities that the Holy Spirit is giving us without spreading ourselves too thinly? What are the real areas of priority and how can we make the most of them?

Under the Canopy

Youth and community development worker Dan Evans tells how a fresh expression of church aimed at 18 to 30-year-olds is providing 'shelter and a place of diversity' in Mumbles, Swansea.

We have got a good mix of people; some of them have grown up in church or been 'burned' by church in some way and others have had no experience of it at all. It is primarily for the 18 to 30s though we do get people coming along who are a little older than that!

Under the Canopy - smileI'd say that the wider church tends to be very good with children's work and young teens but seems to be haemorrhaging people in the young adults age range. We now have a regular core group of about 20 but we can have up to 60 coming along for music nights, mostly 'post'-students in their late 20s and early 30s from the Mumbles area.

I oversee all the youth activities offered by Linden Church so Under the Canopy is only part of what I do. I lead it but I'm always looking for other people to get on board; it can be a struggle and a drain at times.

I'm trying to develop a team and there are two or three of us who are fully committed to this at the moment. Thankfully there is a real understanding from the church, and people are very supportive of it, but it's difficult to get individuals to take it a stage further and help in running it.

Under the Canopy - Red CaféThe name, 'Canopy', first came about because we thought of it in connection with the Rainforest as a place of refuge. We meet on Sunday evenings at the community Red Café – run by Linden Church – but we developed four very different approaches to our Sunday gatherings, saying that all these styles of Sunday come 'Under the Canopy'. They are:

  • branch 1 – Transmission (alternative/creative prayer and meditation)
  • branch 2 – Headspace (discussion and debate over current affairs)
  • branch 3 – Sustenance (a good hearty feast)
  • branch 4 – Unplugged (the best live acoustic music)

Under the Canopy is building and developing because it's fairly organic. It all started when we launched music nights on the last Sunday of the month. We then wanted to develop the faith side of things so we came up with so-called Headspace nights when we have panel discussions on major topics. At our most recent Headspace we looked at the Benefits System and Government reforms. We have people with different views on the panel to look at things from a Christian perspective. In the past we've looked at 'Is the Bible really true?' and 'Does Love Win?'

Under the Canopy - eatingI have done a theology course and it was when I was looking at the Early Church that I realised the importance of eating together as a community. So we introduced Sustenance, a meal on the third Sunday of the month. Around 15 people come along to that; we do some slow food and spend a lot of time being in relationship with each other.

We have tried all sorts of things when looking at prayer and meditation for 'Transmission' Sundays. At one point we tried something called Nine – this centred on nine different Bible verses with a theme. We then asked nine different people to present those verses as creatively as they could in five minutes.

Looking ahead, I don't want to be too forceful in what I want people to get out of it. I'm happy if they just want to come and be together but if this is church for some people, I'm more than happy with that as well. My hope in the next year is for it to continue to develop and that people will support us, grow and come to faith.

Under the Canopy - mugsOur seafront base at the Red Café is great because the building has been run as a community project by Linden Church Trust since 2001 so lots of people – young people in particular – use it for all sorts of activities. Partnership is very important in that Linden Church is strongly linked in with churches around Swansea. I also meet up with others involved in youth work and we support each other, which is vital. The work is demanding and we all need to be reminded we're not in it on our own'

Mighty Shed

Irve Davis-Griffiths, youth minister at Uplyme Church, near Lyme Regis, tells of the Mighty Shed youth and creative fresh expression project.

My own journey starts in music, I'm not from a Christian family background and I came to faith in my early 20s in the back of a guitar shop! I was a musician then, and have returned to it now, and it was always the case that 'normal church' never made sense to me because it was so far removed from everything I knew and understood and loved.

Mighty Shed - musicI often struggled to find the Jesus I'd met in the guitar shop when I was in a church; the worlds seemed so far apart. I've been involved youth work and youth ministry training for about 14 years but I've always been more interested in the people 'out there' rather than those on the 'inside'.

I'd been youth minister for Uplyme for about nine years and I'd achieved many goals for the ministry, but the real push came in early 2011 when the church was looking at what we wanted to do with youth ministry and longer-term sustainability. So, after a year of prayer and deliberation, various things led us to look at developing community youth church. The question that kept coming back to me was, 'How are we serving young people who aren't involved in regular church at all?'

Over half my life is spent as a musician and music teacher and I'm very much a networker. I have made the strongest links with people through creative activities and the setting-up of small group youth-work, community youth groups, schools' work and regional rockschool camps for budding musicians. I started to think what a local version of a rock camp would look like in our local context and Mighty Shed was born.

Mighty Shed - insideThe name, Mighty Shed, comes from my home studio, which is housed… in a shed. The Bible says that 'people look at the outside of a person but God looks at the heart' and we know that significant things can come out of something that looks very small and understated, like a shed. In the same way, we believe people are full of potential – we are all mighty sheds!

When we talked to those in our existing youth groups, about 50% of them said they already thought of the respective groups as 'their' church. As a result, we decided to move away from the idea of young people growing up in groups and hoping they would then go on to 'real' church. Instead, we say they are going to grow up in the youth church together and own it as their 'church'. It doesn’t look much different on the surface to your average community youth group in action but the end goal is very different.

The project has two main strands:

Mighty Shed - prayer room1. A community church for young people, made up of two groups – Xplosion (for school years 6-9) and the Big Bang (for school years 10 and upwards). The Big Bang, as the older group, 'owns' and runs the Xplosion younger group; it also has an investment in maintaining itself and the younger group through participation and empowerment which helps to develop young leaders. At the moment, the total turnout is around 35-45 plus 'grown-ups'. Alongside this I have spent a lot of time in primary school work and found it invaluable in investing in local community and young people – particularly if you are looking to set up something for the long-term.

2. The music and creative 'arm' which is Mighty Shed. In turn, this has two main aims as part of its further development:

  • short to medium term. To have events run by young people for young people;
  • longer term. Building up a creative community, exploring faith and encouraging participation in creative activities that 'bless' others. We're trying to build a youth music 'scene'.

Mighty Shed - logoWe've been meeting with a small bunch of young people in a local coffee house to plan, pray and lay the foundations for all of this. In March, we had an amazing launch gig with an internationally renowned musician performing and running workshops. Off the back of that we've set-up Facebook pages and a website and run workshops. We are now planning more gigs that look to raise money for local causes and give creative opportunities for other young people.

Each event so far has been a way of giving back to our wider community – and that's the point; we're not just there to take or be an inward looking group but to bring good things to others. We are looking for relationship building. Our strapline is 'blessing the community through creativity', so all events have to be outward looking in some way – either by serving others or raising money. Next up is a big fundraising gig on the seafront and some rockschool workshops.

The project has a strong ecumenical backing. We have a reference group made up of people from several churches in the area and I report back on activities to the local church leaders' meetings. I've also come up with five indicators of growth to help us track our progress, which is always difficult with new projects, but at least they give us some areas to focus on:

  1. language: are people beginning to develop and own a language of belief?
  2. activities: how are people showing signs of being outward-looking?
  3. community: are there signs of commitment to one another?
  4. spirituality: are there signs of spiritual growth and formation?
  5. empowerment: how are we empowering people to act for themselves?

Mighty Shed - beachIn terms of context, Uplyme and Lyme Regis have a huge population in the summer and a comparatively small one in the winter. There is quite a lot of seasonal work so, if you are a young person, available employment is often through service industries. In general it's a very prosperous area but, like all places, there's more to it if you dig a little deeper.

There are quite a lot of younger families but also a large, older demographic in the area. People generally are quite socially mobile and there are excellent schools, which means many young people go on to university – but there are a significant number who don't. Some are happy enough to go to church-run things but I hope Mighty Shed activities will be a good experience for those who don't normally cross the threshold of a traditional church. That's why it's so important to be where people are. My hope and dream is that eventually some sort of community will grow from out of where young people gather, out of their passion for music, art, all things creative and from their faith journey – shaped and owned by themselves. It's all very open and not pinned-down at present! There are many challenges ahead, both in sustainability, finances and keeping the heart of the project central.

Mighty Shed - The CobbAt the moment, there is a meeting at least once a week of youth church or Mighty Shed in some form or another. Over time I would like to draw together these two strands so that they can feed each other.

Do people understand fresh expressions? Many people understand it in terms of words but most don't appreciate what it means practically. Church is full of people who know how to do church as it is; I want to tap into a different layer of people who want to do church in a whole new way.

Songs of Rage

Songs of Rage - John PeddieSongs of Rage is a community, passionate about Christ, focused on serving the alternative music culture. Its founder, John Peddie, explains how it started and his hopes for its development as a fresh expression of church.

We call ourselves the 'Messiah's Misfits' and we aim to serve the alternative music community in the Aldershot, Camberley, Farnborough and Guildford area whilst providing an opportunity for people to explore and express the Christian faith. We are not a band!

The name Songs of Rage doesn't perhaps sit easily alongside other church titles and we like that, because we're a church for people without a church, with a focus for the people not reached or perhaps not interested by the 'normal' church. It was initially used as a play on Songs of Praise, but the rage in Songs of Rage is about identifying with injustice, pain, hurt and suffering on a personal and global scale that cries out to God for change.

Alternative music is often criticised for being too angry, it asks tough questions of society and individuals, but in general, it leaves the listener searching for answers. Songs of Rage identifies with the source of the anger and believes that answers can be found in Christ.

We have been called 'Punk Church', but we are not a church exclusively for 'punks' or any other individual stream in the alternative community. We have simply tried to understand the roots of the culture we are in and use language that identifies with that.

Songs of Rage, which we say is 'where music and faith meet', has a number of members from churches across Aldershot and Camberley. We are closely supported by Holy Trinity, Aldershot, to which we have accountability.

We help out at gigs at the West End Centre in Aldershot, wearing 'Messiah's Misfits' T-shirts. The phrase comes from 'The Message' translation of 1 Corinthians 4:

It seems to me that God has put us who bear his message on stage in a theatre in which no one wants to buy a ticket. We're something everyone stands around and stares at, like an accident in the street. We're the Messiah's Misfits. You might be well-thought of by others, but we're mostly kicked around.'

Songs of Rage - CephasIt all goes back to about 1998 when I was in a Christian punk band called Cephas and we used to tour alternative music venues across the country. It was all a bit of a shock when it came to an end in 2003 because I thought it was a ministry I'd be a part of, in some way, for life. God gave me a vision of a lot of people throwing their shoes at a stage (a compliment at American punk shows) and dancing barefoot on the sticky floor of some music venue and all I could think of was, 'take your shoes off, the place you are standing on is holy ground'.

I was advised to get some training. That advice made me feel very low because I knew that my particular character would find it difficult to stick with a three or four year rigid training course. Instead I wanted to be out there exploring my personal calling and ministry in a way that was relevant to my situation and past experience.

My vicar at the time asked me to consider becoming a youth worker, which I did. I loved my time in that role but I just felt that working at the church was a kind of 'babysitting' service for the already churched. Not that there is anything wrong with that, it's just I knew someone else could do the job better than I could, so when my three years were coming to an end, the vicar suggested creating a new role for me to go out into the community. I was very excited about that. The following night my mum had a dream that I had changed my job and she described the message of the dream was 'it's now or never'. I told my boss and we were both excited because it seemed obvious that God was calling me on into something new.

That meant some big changes in my life – such as going into a meeting as the church's official youth worker and coming out without a job or a house. There was certainly a moment when I thought, 'What have I done?' because I had absolutely loved my job but I knew that God was telling me 'it's now or never… remember that vision I gave you?'

The first phrase I came up with to describe what I felt was the next step was 'punk church'. Unfortunately that description confused a lot of people and I think in a lot of ways it confused me too. At that point I was still learning about fresh expressions of church and I wasn't yet clear about what that meant or how to go about it. I had to de-baggage 26 years of church teaching and the way church 'has to be'.

I spent some time at the 24-7 prayer room in Calgary, Canada and also talked to various people and permission-givers in the diocese. As a result I, and others who wanted to be part of this vision, knew that we had to go out and meet people and listen to them in order to take a step forward. There were a few false starts…

St Michael's Church in Camberley kindly offered us some meeting space; that was good because it was the closest church to one of the area's main rock venues but it wasn't so good in that the young people who came along wanted something that was up and running and had a shape to it. They weren't so keen on developing that shape and we found ourselves struggling around that. Again we found ourselves 'babysitting' and decided to close the doors until we had grasped our vision.

Songs of Rage - West End CentreThe breakthrough came when a group of us went to the West End Centre in Aldershot. We took them doughnuts and offered to clean up their car park. We had friends there from our days in the band and they knew our beliefs because we had never held back on our faith at gigs. The challenge however was to gain trust from the staff; they needed to know that we didn't intend to shout about Christianity from the rooftops but instead were simply there to serve and love them in whatever way that meant something to them. That process took about two years and I'm sure, even now, we have our doubters.

Now we are established as regulars at the Centre to serve the staff, the bands and the audience. The point is that it's not about flying in and flying out of a place, as it was when I was in a band. We are here for the long haul and it takes a long time to re-establish friendships and develop new ones. There are still big questions of course. We are still trying to work out what Songs of Rage is all about and how we develop the growing, very positive, relationships.

We have created a local fanzine which contains gig and music reviews and with that there's a 'message' section in which we take a lyric and write a piece on it, designed as a conversation starter. What's great about the fanzine is that we now have gig goers writing for it and wanting to work alongside us as part of the fanzine team. We also put together a self-funded 10-track CD of the best local bands and gave out 500 of them free of charge because we wanted to show that Songs of Rage was supporting the alternative music scene and being a positive influence within it.  It also helped to promote traffic through our Songs of Rage website. Everything that we do has to be of benefit to the alternative music scene. We are guests at the West End Centre and they are running a business at the end of the day. The worst thing that could happen would be if people were put off from turning up to a show because some religious bloke is going to start ranting at them.

There are now staff members who sometimes ask us for prayer and several people who have turned to Christ after coming into contact with Songs of Rage.

Songs of Rage - Messiah's Misfits

The church often talks about 'creating community' but a community already exists at the West End Centre and in the alternative music scene. We are not going to try and recreate it in a patronising way and we don't aim to put gigs on or have our own venue. These things already exist and are exciting, creative and authentic. Our role as SOR is to say 'isn't this great – it has God's fingerprints all over it, let us show you. To gain the influence we must first gain trust and this takes time. Some people find this frustrating as they feel we must be 'doing' something. I tell them that we just need to 'be'. My belief is that we need to be organic in our working; that by being involved in the day today leads you to the natural next step. There is no big plan as to what SOR will look like at the West End Centre in a year's time – we are simply loving people and music and praying God does something!

My wife and I have recently had our first child, a daughter and we took her to meet everyone at the Centre before we took her to our home church. Why? Because they are our family now, our people, and it felt good and right and natural to introduce her to them first. What this 'church' will look like we don't know yet but as people gather, we will work it out together with God's help.

We used to have a Songs of Rage meeting on a Tuesday night for supporters but it came to an end because of work pressure on the vicar leading it and general questioning of its purpose. Don't get me wrong, the group was great – I love everyone in it, but it was taking up too much energy and diverting us from our ministry to be part of the alternative music scene.

It was interesting that as we went to churches to tell them of Songs of Rage, we got a lot of enthusiasm from people in their 40s and 50s who wanted to pray for us and help us but couldn't connect at all with that alternative culture. We were also attracting many disaffected people from traditional church and a lot of energy was being spent on comforting them; it was a difficult time because I had to remind myself, and others, that our particular ministry is not about that at all.