It has been a time of great change for Mind the Gap. What started as a project in the Gateshead and Jarrow Methodist Circuit in 2001 became a church in its own right seven years later. Stephen Murray took over the reins as leader in September 2009; he tells us what happened next.
Mind the Gap had been set up to offer support, discipleship and alternative worship for those who were feeling isolated in established church. It also had a missional aim as a cell church initiative to reach people with the Gospel.
We were based in cells and also got together every month to worship, as well as offering regular faith finding courses and seeker events. The idea wasn't to plant a fresh expression of church as such, we just tried to follow what God was doing at the time and respond to that.
It was fantastic to see people being renewed in their faith, discover it for the first time, or grow in maturity and we were so grateful for the backing from people across the Circuit and others in authority who built us up with their support. So much was going on in those early days and it would have been very easy to lose sight of what it was all about, so you have to keep it at the forefront of your mind and your prayers.
Growing leaders and helping people to achieve their potential was something that underpinned everything. Elaine Lindridge was our leader at that time and she helped us through a major transition in 2008 when many members of the Mind the Gap – who were also involved in their own local churches and doing too much as a result – were released to go back to those fellowships.
A relatively few number of people remained but they saw Mind the Gap as their spiritual home and so Mind the Gap became more formally recognised as a church in 2009. I was Elaine's assistant leader three years ago before going on to co-lead it with her; then I took the lead one year ago and Elaine became my coach. Last September I took on full responsibility for overall leadership, planning strategy, and pastoral care, but I am so grateful for that model of encouraging lay and indigenous people and preparing the ground for a leadership change.
We meet at Sheriff Hill Methodist Church's building at 5pm on Sundays, and have midweek cells in various homes. Our Sunday sessions always start with food because we see that as an integral part of our worship. We now have a rota of people who come along and do a buffet tea, or something like that, for us.
Focusing on the importance of building community with food has made a big impact on the life of the church – in fact it became so much part and parcel of who we are that people have said they feel very strange not to be fed if they go to a service anywhere else!
A worship leader will start up at about 5.30pm and we'll go through to 6.30-7. There are no set rules as to what happens but generally there is a speaker or people sharing what has been happening for about 10minutes. At other times we'll use the NOOMA DVDs by Rob Bell to prompt discussion; on other occasions we use songs and projected words.
When we first started, we ran Alpha in that timeslot and that seemed to work very well for us. Now we're starting to think about how we can engage effectively in all-age worship. We are also looking at employing a youth worker just for a Sunday evening as we are a very small church and it’s a very small group of people who do the work.
Mind the Gap became a variation of what church is on a Sunday, and it's what we do in the week during the cell that makes us different. Discipleship in a cell group has stimulated a kind of shifting mindset about what the Church is and what we do in it.
There have been quite a few who have gone through Mind the Gap but others have made roots here. It's interesting to see that people today tend to be committed to God but not so committed to an individual church.
Our numbers can range between 10 and 25 but we will get a core of people here every week. Up to eight kids from the ages of 9-13 also turn up on a Sunday. In all I'd say we probably have regular contact on a Sunday, at least once a month, with about 40 people.
At the moment we have got two cells rather than three. In what is an interesting experiment one cell has divided during its weekly meeting with one half going into a room to do cell material and the other half (about four people) watching an Alpha Express DVD to see how Alpha works in a cell.
Those who have committed to cell have grown a great deal in confidence and are prepared to do more and more things. One example is when a homeless lady came into Mind the Gap having been to the main church in the morning where she had been given a crisis number to ring if she wanted to find a bed for the night. Instead she came to us, shared our food, and sat through a service after which one of our members said she would help to find this lady a bed. People are doing things like that through the growth in fellowship. It's key because it's about not trying to do things on an inappropriate scale, doing things that are right for our normal figures of 18-22 people rather than something more suitable for a church of 80-100.
It's all about being flexible in responding to change and opportunities. When we were a Circuit-wide one-off monthly event, we'd have a worship band and a lot of people would come along. Now we meet every week and usually have one worship leader but that's much more appropriate to the surroundings.
Some of the new opportunities include a family film morning with refreshments on the last Saturday of the month. What we have found is that we don't get as many church people come along to that but we have made contact with about six or seven people we had never met before. The possibility is always there for them to come along on a Sunday as well but we don't force anything, we just want to provide a service in what is a socially deprived area.
It's all relatively small numbers but it feels like it's the right thing to be doing. In 2010 we are also trying to do two to three prayer labyrinths – though in the place of the Good Friday labyrinth this year we decided to do things differently and screen The Miracle Maker animated film. Future plans include hiring the children's pool at the local swimming baths so that the little ones can have fun there. All of these community events are free, we want to be seen to be giving and not taking.
We are also looking forward to our first Mens' Breakfast in July when our speaker will be a man was a local gangster before becoming a Christian and a church leader. The idea is very much to try and engage with men in their 20s and 30s.
In future, I would just like to see the church increase in its vision for the community and get to know more and more people around us. I also pray that those who are already involved in Mind the Gap will be not so much committed to the work of the church for itself but instead be committed to mission and evangelism focusing on friendship.
I'd also like us to grow and take on the cell values, build ourselves up and help others on their journey. The Church has to be missional so we need to set up worship that's different but engaging. Deliberate choices have to be made in what you want to do and that should be to reach people who are not yet Christians. Putting on events for people just like us is not what we're about. One of our values at Mind the Gap is that we don't want to take people from another church fellowship, I sometimes feel a bit sad when I see some congregations growing simply because people are coming from other churches.
In the Church in general, it can seem that your main aim in life is to get money and raise money. What does that mean for us? We lose focus as to what we are all about. At Mind the Gap, we just try to cover costs and trust that God will provide. Yes it's important to be wise with the resources that God has given us but it can't be right if the finances push out all thoughts of reaching people for Christ.