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.

Buckshaw Village Church

Pioneer curate James Gwyn-Thomas is based at St Andrew's, Leyland, and also leads Buckshaw Village Church.

Buckshaw Village, known to many as Buckshaw, only started to be built 10 years ago. It's a huge area between the towns of Chorley and Leyland in Lancashire and is one of the largest sites for urban development in the North West. There's a population of about 10,000 at the moment but that's set to rise by a few thousand more as new housing becomes available.

Buckshaw - scaffoldingIt is being developed on the site of what was the Royal Ordnance Factory, Chorley, and Buckshaw is sandwiched between the M6 and M61 which means that a lot of the residents work in Preston or Manchester because the road links are so good.

Interestingly, there's a huge craving for community because everyone who moves here is new; no-one's grown up together in this place and that means they want to find a community spirit. Many people choose to come to Buckshaw because it was built with that expectation of creating community.

Buckshaw - houseInstead, it can seem a bit strange to newcomers at first because Buckshaw Village is all very manicured and neat, like living permanently in Center Parcs! That's why, when I first came, I spent the first four months just talking to people, finding out more about them and their lives, and listening to what they wanted to see happen here.

Buckshaw Village Church is a church plant from St Andrew's in Leyland and was established in the summer of 2010, with the support of the local Methodist and Anglican congregations in Leyland, Chorley and Euxton. Led by my predecessor, Ken Campbell, a small group of people started meeting together on Sunday mornings. The idea was to make gatherings accessible to everyone, regardless of age, background and any previous experience of 'church'.

Buckshaw - dog walkingWhen I came to Buckshaw, I found that the key thing was to hold everything lightly. We just wanted – and still want – to find ways of church getting involved with what the community is already doing, such as what happens through Buckshaw Village Community Association. It's very important to me that the word 'we' – rather than 'I' – is used when talking about the church here and, as part of that, we now have a church leadership team in place. I'm not on my own in this. Buckshaw Village Church exists for the community and in the community.

Buckshaw - chattingI work quite closely with local Anglican and Methodist ministers because we see Buckshaw as a kingdom priority; and we find it's so important to meet, pray for and support one another. The Methodists are also starting to come into the local primary school where they're running a Messy Church with our support.

Our main meeting of the week is on Sunday mornings in the Buckshaw Community Centre. We don't have a church building but we do hire the community centre room and that's our biggest financial outlay. Shops are being developed and some have already opened, including a café called Cowshed which is where we now run the Alpha Course on Thursday evenings.

Buckshaw - Community CentreBut some of our greatest growth is not through outreach courses like Alpha, but rather, through the relationships that form through times such as our toddler group: Semi-Quavers. Meeting on a Tuesday morning for many parents on the village has proven to be a life line and they greatly appreciate the time we spend together. Relationships, relationships, relationships! It has been great to provide events where we, as a church, can get to know the community. We've had a whiskey night, curry nights, afternoon-teas and hope to have cheese, wine, sausage, coffee and film nights too, all open to the community. As relationships are being built, we are starting to see crossover into our Sunday service as people realise they quite like us and can certainly trust us and that they too are actually quite interested in their own relationship with God!

Buckshaw - audience

It is of course also so important to have our midweek youth groups (sorted) and the recently started growth groups for fellowship and discipleship.

Buckshaw became a Bishop's Mission Order (BMO) because this is quite a big village but not a big enough community to have lots of different types of church. There was a danger that the area would attract all sorts of church plants which could weaken the overall mission. By working with the other local denominations, we said, 'Let's protect this and work together and be strategic for the kingdom'.

Buckshaw - coffeeIt's my first curacy but I already feel that, in future, I'm not going to long for a parish that has a church building because there is something very special about not having one! At the community centre, if people feel comfortable coming through the door for karate or acting class then you already have a head start. But a question is, 'How can we make that space that was sweaty on a Friday night for karate become one where we go to have a really special place of worship? Is it possible?' The answer seems to be, 'yes we can' because we are not limited, we can explore and discover, we can make mistakes as we continue to think about, 'What is the best way to do church in Buckshaw?'

Buckshaw - team

The Point Church

Jules Middleton, Pastoral Assistant at The Point Church, Burgess Hill, tells how it is re-evaluating its role as a fresh expression.

We are at a very interesting stage in the life of The Point because we have been looking again at our vision for the church and really seeking God as to what we do and how we do it.

The church started in 2004 when our vicar, Will Kemp, and his family moved from London and a group of people started meeting in their home. The then Bishop of Horsham, Lindsay Urwin, offered great encouragement and support at a time when the Church of England was really starting to think quite seriously about church planting and 'fresh expressions'.

Bishop Lindsay initially also helped to guide our thinking about the BMO process. This was finalised about 18months ago but it certainly took a lot of time and effort to get it right! It's a five-year Bishop's Mission Order but, if all goes well, we would expect it to be automatically renewed at the end of that period.

The Point - crossIn the early days of The Point, it was very much 'café church' and low key in its style, focusing mainly on families and young children. What happened over the years was that a lot of what we were seen to be doing focused on a Sunday morning gathering with modern, contemporary worship. The result was as more and more people came, we struggled to maintain our original vision to reach the unchurched, and the majority of those we were reaching were 'de-churched' and some transferring from other churches.

It was time for us to review what had gone before and look ahead to something new by asking 'what have we got now?' and 'what are we going to do next?'. To do this, we went through a twelve month vision process in 2012/13 which included a whole church questionnaire, a prayer week and input from members of the church.

I also started ministry training in September 2013 at the South East Institute of Theological Education (SEITE) and this, in conjunction with the vision process, has really fed into my role as Pastoral Assistant at The Point, particularly in the area of exploring how we can be more intentionally missional in our approach.

As part of finding more ways to reach people who wouldn't set foot across the threshold of the church, we now run 'Church in a Pub' which meets every quarter at The Woolpack in Burgess Hill.

The Point - pubIt started in July last year at the invitation of the landlord who was really keen for The Woolpack to be seen as a community pub. We had over 50 people come to that first session. It's all very informal and we have a Church in a Pub team to coordinate the interviews or testimonies, songs from a small worship band and a thought for the day. It's early days but response has been very positive so far and we're looking at whether it could go into different places or roll out to other pubs in the area.

One of our existing projects is 'The Sanctuary'. It's much more than a parent and toddlers group, it's a place where a mum with pre-school kids can come and be 'pampered' a little. They can relax, have a chat, maybe have a hand massage, that type of thing – and a few dads enjoy coming along too!

The Sanctuary meets on Monday mornings in term-time at Hurstpierpoint Village Centre and it aims to be a really welcoming place to build friendships and community in that area. We are really excited about something growing from that, for those who might want to explore faith issues because people would find it a very big leap to go from The Sanctuary into what we would recognise as a church setting. There are some really interesting conversations going on at the moment about how that might happen and we look forward to seeing it become a reality.

The Point - treeAll in all, it feels like a very exciting time at The Point because we have regained our focus as to what and who we're doing it for! We want to be a transforming presence throughout mid Sussex and part of that involves pioneering authentic communities of Christians to reach out to those around them. We've been thinking a lot about context in recent months and being relevant to that context is vital – though it does throw up some challenges.

The vision process helped many of us to realise that we needed to be doing something different for the Kingdom but we reach about 300 people in the Sunday morning gathering at St Paul's Catholic College, Burgess Hill, and we have to ask if we will alienate many of those by taking a new direction? How do we release something new? How do we remain true to what God wants of us and help others to catch that vision too?

They're not easy questions to answer and much of it will only become clearer as time goes by. For now, we are looking to God to help us in this fresh expression as we reimagine what it means to be church in today's world.

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.

Play and Praise

Lay pioneer minister Di Woolridge has seen numbers steadily increase at a weekly 'play and praise' worship service for the under 5s. She now believes the community is developing into a fresh expression.

Three years ago I was employed part-time as a pioneer minister at St Lawrence's, Gnosall, to look at connecting with children, young people and their families who are not attracted to traditional church.

One of my first objectives was to look at the contact made through baptisms – of which we had a good number each year – but we were not seeing any on-going link with these families. We developed a structured approach to baptism preparation through three evening sessions where we explore God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit and I talk about the events and groups we offer to children to help them in their Christian journey.

Play and Praise - tablesIt was at the first of these preparation sessions when I mentioned our children's groups which, at the time, catered for youngsters of school age; I was really challenged when one of the mums then said, 'So, I have my child baptised and the next time I bring her back is when she is five?' From that I realised we needed to do something, so I launched Play and Praise on Thursday afternoons in church. From the start I made it clear that this is not a playgroup, but a worship service.

In terms of format, we have between 30-40 minutes of worship before the children get on with some art and craft activities associated with the theme of the service. It is quite structured in that it follows a traditional church pattern of liturgy, we usually have:

  • opening prayer;
  • song, usually with accompaniment from the children on instruments, bells or drums that we provide;
  • prayer, where we light a candle;
  • a couple of songs, usually in the New Wine style of children's worship with actions where possible;
  • bible story;
  • a couple more songs;
  • blessing;
  • we also now have a collection, interestingly that was something that came from the parents who asked if they could give;
  • interactive grace, usually the Messy Church grace;
  • notices and time to remember people's birthdays followed by arts and crafts while mums have a well earned tea break!

When we started Play and Praise, we had five children and three parents come along. Three years on, we are averaging around 18 children and 12 adults but we envisage numbers will build up again as we go through the autumn. We have about 30 children on the books in all. Some come every week without fail; most come three out of every four weeks and others come occasionally.

Play and Praise - handsThis summer was amazing in that we peaked at 26 children and 18 adults each week; we don't stop for school holidays at all because it's a worship service. Other services in the church don't stop simply because it isn't term time and I have insisted that we keep going too so Play and Praise meets 50 weeks a year. The only times we miss are Maundy Thursday (when all the ministers are at the Cathedral though we do hold a special event on Good Friday for families – including the Play and Praise families) and the week between Christmas and New Year.

Many churches only offer something like Play and Praise during term time but people appreciate the regularity and look forward to it as one of the highlights of the week. I'd say it's really important to look at how such things are set up in the first place and what the intention and the values are. We are only a small village of about 300-400 families. We have found we no longer need to advertise Play and Praise any more because families tell others about it and the health visitor, and others such as the local preschool, refer people to us.

We have just had eight of our Play and Praise church start school but others will certainly come to fill the gap. In the past, we – as a church – developed close links with the school and thankfully this is continuing with a ministry team there and areas of reflection throughout the school. The pupils also now come across to the church for services, prayer stations, events etc.

Play and Praise - crafts

I've got a good team to help with it all now. I now alternate the running of Play and Praise with the rector, Mark Bridgen, and others from the Sunday congregations are involved on a rota basis. It has brought in people we weren't expecting; some of our 7.45am said communion folk, for instance, have come along to help and that's wonderful.

We have a Facebook Play and Praise page and it's great to see how the mums connect with that all the time, commenting on what has been happening and even asking each other to pray for particular situations or illnesses in their families. Other developments which have come out of Play and Praise are Yummy Mummies – a monthly coffee morning and discussion group for young mums where we use table talk to stimulate discussion; a monthly support group for mums with anxiety issues; and we have recently started a house group for those who want to look a bit deeper at the Christian faith for themselves.

Play and Praise is a growing, Christian community and I would say it is now maturing into a fresh expression. It's connecting with the children – and their parents – and they are all moving on in their journey of faith and starting to do what any other Christian community would do. They have the DNA as to what Christian living is all about. It's all about trying to serve in ways that can be understood and are appropriate for people who haven't previously been involved in church.

The Springfield Project

Early in the 1990s, St Christopher's, Springfield, Birmingham, experienced a period of renewal and growth. A small group of mums thought that this excitement within the church should make a difference to the surrounding community. They take up the story.

As with so many churches, a commitment to serve was translated initially into the setting up of a stay-and-play session for local parents. What makes St Christopher's different, though, is that the local parish is predominantly Muslim and other-faith.

The stay-and-play group met in someone's home and numbers were so small that the venture was nearly closed after a year. By 2010, however, what is now The Springfield Project had become the primary mission arm of the church.

It provides a professional nursery, family support work and after-schools clubs linking in with local statutory provision from health workers, midwives and social services. Each week, a purpose-built children's centre and adjoining interlinked church host dozens of local families, the majority of which are Muslim, Hindu and Sikh.

Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch talk of the need for 'proximity space' as we engage with other cultures. The Springfield's Project's practical vision of service provides a good example of church holding the ring as a very public place of encounter between Christians and those of other faiths.

The project has blurred the dichotomy between 'evangelism' and 'social action'Its strapline of 'God's love in the community', a message that was emblazoned on a banner in the hall, points to an appreciation that the majority of the local community actually recognise a belief in God.

Although Tony Blair's press secretary, Alastair Campbell, may have said that they 'do not do God', most of our neighbours do in fact do God! They are not a a clean slate, on which the church can write answers to questions about eternal destiny. For many in our neighbourhood, God's purposes, moral questions and prayer already figure highly.

This means that for the significant numbers of Christians working in The Springfield Project, their faith is very public. There are regular prayer meetings, information is given about Christian festivals and beliefs, and there are staff days away to affirm and talk through the Christian value-base and how it ought to drive our services. All of these are available for, and discussed with, our non-Christian staff and our users.

The church's determination to see the Christian faith distinctively shape its outreach in a multi-faith context has not led to inter-religious tension and suspicion. Rather, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus have respected the church all the more.

We have been seen to be serious about our spirituality, to pray, read the Bible and be confident Christians. Muslim staff have said that they feel more comfortable, being people of faith themselves in an often threatening, secularising age.

For St Christopher's members, then, church does not stop when the vicar dismisses the congregation with a blessing on a Sunday morning. Monday through Saturday, there is prayer and worship around and alongside very practical provision for our local community.

We have had the privilege of praying with and for those of other faiths as we have openly shared our lives, while always rejecting the manipulative exploitation of vulnerable users of our services.

St Christopher's is not ignoring the very real differences that exist between faiths. It is paying attention to context so that our engagement with the community is able to respond to some of the vital connections and similarities that exist.

On any given day, St Christopher's and The Springfield Project are vibrant hubs of conversation, service, interaction and prayer between Christians and those of other faiths: good news in an age of inter-religious bad news!


Playtime at Philadelphia is for mums of children under 5 in Sheffield that has evolved out of a flourishing mother and toddler ministry of a large church.

St Thomas' Philadelphia has three well-established Playtime groups meeting on different days of the week. Due to their popularity, the larger numbers mean that opportunities for prayer and discussion with those interested in finding out more about the Christian faith is limited.

In January 2009, Space4Me was begun as a joint venture between Playtime and Restore (the church's ministry to vulnerable people). Space4Me is aimed at women who are interested in exploring more about God but struggle to 'fit' into a usual church setting. Meeting weekly in term time, those with children are able to drop them at the crèche provided and enjoy an hour and a half exploring self-esteem through spirituality together. It is deliberately kept small to enable friendships to deepen and discussions to take place.

After an opening prayer, the group eat lunch together. This is followed by a craft activity on a theme relating to self-identity/esteem (through card-making, treasure box, jewellery-making, clay, photo frames) and chat. The group then turns to sharing time with the offer of prayer for those who would like it. To finish, there is 15 minutes of gentle input on a Christian theme relating to how God sees and values them. Mums and their children meet up once a term to have celebration time together.

The Plant Church

The Plant Church, Park Langley, is a mission initiative of the Diocese of Rochester and was granted a Bishop's Mission Order in 2009. After the original minister moved on, David Rue was appointed its new pastor-teacher in September 2011.

The Plant Church started five years ago as a church plant from Christ Church, Bromley. We meet on Sunday mornings in the function room of the Park Langley Tennis Club and currently have about 30 regulars. Our aim as a church is to make Jesus known in Park Langley. This is a huge challenge and keeps us depending upon God's Word and on prayer to build up the body so that we can win the lost to Christ.

Plant Church - groupOur most active channel of outreach over the last five years has been our Wednesday morning mums and toddlers group, known as Sparklers. Through this group we've seen one person become a Christian, and many have heard the gospel and now have weekly contact with Christians.

In an attempt to make Sundays more accessible for families from the local community, we have held a number of all age services and have been encouraged to see new people popping in each week. We have just finished a Christianity Explored course, and are now seeking to faithfully follow up the three people who attended.

Plant Church - barSunday mornings, midweek bible study groups and prayer meetings continue to be encouraging times. In particular, there has been a growing number coming to our prayer meeting and an encouraging spirit of prayer. A recent move to smaller bible study groups has helped the congregation to deepen bonds of fellowship and has increased opportunities to serve one another through prayer, bible study and hospitality. We have also been spurred on in our evangelism by Simon Manchester's resource, Six Steps to Talking About Jesus.

Our challenge in Park Langley is to keep the great commission of Matthew 28 at the heart of everything we do. This reminds us that we are to be disciples making disciples. To this end our message has been to preach Christ, our prayer: that the Father will raise up harvesters and our confidence: that Jesus will build his church.


Sally Gaze describes the Alpha course she ran with seven young mums from four villages in her Norfolk benefice as

the easiest ever.

They were all very alike and gelled very quickly,

she says. The women were drawn from local mother and toddler groups and were not previously churchgoers. The Alpha course developed into a daytime cell church, one of several forming part of the ‘mixed economy’ of the Tas Valley benefice, of which Sally is team rector.

In this group we had shared and prayed… we had struggled to engage with the Bible over the noise of ten toddlers and we had changed and grown,

Sally says.

They had also begun to think about mission. Three of the women, each from different villages, had the idea of putting on something for toddlers at church, specifically a music group. As their Alpha course helped them to bond and grow into a church relationship with one another, these three formed a team to organise a children’s service supported by their fellow cell members.

With Sally they visited a neighbouring benefice’s children’s service,

and got the bug of it,

Sally says. A monthly service for toddlers, 4All, is held at 4 o’clock on Sundays including around 40 minutes of ‘lively, child-focused worship’, followed by high tea for the children and tea and cake for the adults.

Young women with a life stage in common discovered church together, then went on to share their new life of faith with others

Initially, 4All was planned by Sally with input from the women. These roles have now been reversed, with the women planning and Sally helping out.

Very importantly, they invite people,

Sally says.

They deliver 30 invitations personally and look after the refreshments.

They also pray for those who attend, many of whom were not previously churchgoers.

4All is a bridge. It has done a lot to help build community in the village.

Two years after studying the Bible together and growing in discipleship, the cell has undertaken the Alpha course again, this time running it for a new set of participants.

Young women with a life stage in common discovered church together, then went on to share their new life of faith with others.