Café Lite

A fresh expression of church meets in Droxford village hall, Hampshire on the third Sunday of the month. Launched in September 2011, it now attracts up to 100 people to its informal sessions. Rev Stuart Holt explains how it has developed.

As Rector here I was very fortunate that my parish released me from services in Droxford, Exton, Meonstoke and Corhampton twice a month so that I could be involved with mission events on the ground. I felt that it was time to stop talking about mission and actually do some!

Retired priests Canon Anthony Hulbert, Canon Marion Mort and the Ven Barrie Hammett are helping to lead services and offer pastoral support to regular worshippers in our four churches while I'm fronting Café Lite and a puppet ministry in schools.

We decided to set these things up for a year and see how we got on. It all started in September; it's really encouraging to see that new people are coming in and they're bringing their friends with them. We've never seen these people before. Things are developing too because some of them are now wanting to be baptised and have their babies baptised.

Café Lite - mother and babyMy other project is a Sunday morning puppet show at Meonstoke Infant School on the last Sunday of the month, called Puppets and Praise. This means that I now have two fresh expressions of church in these ancient, rural benefices.

Café Lite runs on the third Sunday of the month in Droxford Village Hall and we have most of the Sunday newspapers, bacon rolls, worship and chat. No money came from church funds to support the café church or the puppet shows. Instead we have made them self-supporting with private individuals funding different components so – for instance – someone has sponsored the bread for a year, somebody else has paid for the bacon and another person buys all the papers.

I thought it important to offer excellence which is why we've also got a professional Gaggia coffee machine for all those 'flat whites' we have to prepare! The numbers at Café Lite have reached 96 which is quite something for a tiny little parish of 1600 people in the middle of Hampshire.

When deciding what resources to use, I finally went for what was around when I came to faith in 1967, Norman Warren's Journey into Life – mainly because it's very clear and simple. I ended up buying 100 copies from the States. Again, for worship, I had previously used Youth Praise and I use it again now because it really deals with key issues of faith; I found that it was as powerful now as it had been all those years ago.

We started from the beginning with the music because it's for the dechurched as well as the unchurched. I know it can seem strange to many people involved in fresh expressions that we would focus on worship and singing at such an early stage in the life of this community but the people really wanted the music to express some strong messages about God and Christianity. It doesn't seem to be offputting because we're drawing in a huge cross section of people, including those from a local social housing estate, an equine horse healer and an international tea taster from Twinings teas.

Café Lite - guitarsWe also have those recovering from drug and alcohol addictions at a nearby rehab centre. They are accompanied by a staff member and it's great to see them there. We are now also actively involved in Christians Against Poverty and have CAP money coaches there.

Almost as soon as we started in the hall, I was asked, 'What is your strategy for these people?' My answer was, and is, 'Preach the gospel and be open to the Holy Spirit. That's it.'

Our immediate challenge is that the hall is licensed for 120 people and we have already got up to 96 coming along; if everybody in the Café Lite community turned up we would be over the 120. It's a wonderful challenge to have because we had no idea how it was going to go or if anybody would turn up at all. We're also having fantastic conversations. People have asked if I could do a wedding blessing for them because they got married in a register office but would love a blessing; others have asked about preparing for baptism for themselves or their children.

Again, when it became clear that people had taken up the idea of Café Lite, I was asked what my strategy was going to be for discipleship. I said the answer was definitely not to make them go on some sort of organized course; people wouldn't want that – especially as they had never been to church anywhere before and had actually turned up because we offered them a bacon sandwich! We are now developing a nurture course to help them tackle some key issues in a way that's relevant to them.

Puppets in Praise runs from 9.30am to 10.30am in the hall at Meonstoke School. It is something that's definitely encouraging people to take that step into Café Lite. Families are invited to watch and participate in the event with parents then being able to do follow-up work in the classrooms with the children. We have had 75 coming along to that. When I did a pilot for the show last year, I asked four of the young people to download new worship songs to their iPods and learn them over the summer so they could help with the singing.

Café Lite - singing

We also have lots of children at Café Lite, usually around 29. It was suggested that we should 'do' something for the children as a separate entity but I said we needed to ban the words 'ought', 'must' or 'should' in our Christian lives and that I didn't want Café Lite to be turned into a Sunday school in the village hall. It's a church in its own right.

Interestingly some people got very indignant about seeing kids with i-Phones at Café Lite. It doesn't bother me because that's what kids do, they text each other. What was wonderful was the fact that they were actually texting, 'I'm at Café Lite, it's brilliant.' Another girl filmed it on her phone and sent it to a friend to say how good it was.

Some people also come along to regular gig nights at The White Horse pub in Droxford when I and the Rev Andy Bridgen play music from the 60s and 70s as The Rockin' Revs. We always invite people to Café Lite from there!

The churches here have been serving this stretch of the Meon Valley for hundreds of years and we are glad that Café Lite and Puppets in Praise are also helping to meet the spiritual needs of those around us. I've no idea what will happen or who will come week by week but I want us to take some risks in spreading the gospel.


KidsAlive325 - John MarrowJohn Marrow is a Church Army evangelist working in Guildford. He works with local schools and runs an after school midweek fresh expression of church for families in three different locations across the diocese.

We started in January 2006 at Emmanuel Church, Stoughton, because we wanted to reach those families we don't normally get to see at all. In this area of Guildford we have so many football groups involving hundreds of kids on Sunday morning: 'traditional' church times are completely unsuitable for them.

I had visited Kidz Klub in Liverpool and, for years, I had been considering whether a similar thing would be appropriate in our own context. KidsAlive325 is different in that, instead of bussing the kids in, we invite whole families to what is 'after-school church'.

KidsAlive325 - friendshipDo people think of it as a church? I think it's a mix. Some people, when they first come, see it as a club while others decide to come along because they don't see traditional church as meeting the needs of their children. A further group would see it very much as 'their' church because a standard setting is very alien and strange to them.

KidsAlive325 is now operating in three different places: Emmanuel Church, Stoughton, Guildford; St Andrews, Oxshott where it runs in the side chapel of a parish church; and Heatherside Church, Camberley where it is set up in a local school. In Oxshott, non-churchgoers make up about 70% of those who come along; in Camberley they are all non-churchgoers.

A team of volunteers helps to make the whole thing happen – 60% of my puppeteers for instance are retired folk. At Emmanuel I have Year 5 and 6 kids help with the technical stuff like the PA system and they love that. We simply couldn't run KidsAlive325 without this sort of teamwork – particularly as the service runs every week during term time so that demands a lot in the way of commitment. It really is a joint effort; a couple of weeks before one series has finished we'll be thinking about the theme for the next one; we'll then write our materials on that theme and get the three groups together to paint all the backdrops we need.

KidsAlive325 - clownOne of our previous themes was Godzworkus Circus and I was Jonno the clown. When I first did that, the kids realised that I didn't actually mind being a fool for Jesus. We want the children to know that it doesn't mean that you're boring if you go to church; we can be full of life and have fun.

It's all about building relationship, both within the teams and in the community. People are generally happy to get involved and, through that, we can get to know the families who come along. I just really enjoy getting to know the children, their parents, their families and obviously the staff and the people involved in the school as well.

KidsAlive325 - puppetsIt has now got to the stage at Emmanuel where we're thinking along the lines of 'what's the next step?' I work closely with the staff team there and a major question at the moment centres on the Year 6 boys who think KidsAlive325 is now 'too young' for them.

There are no easy answers to this sort of question but it's important that the traditional churches involved in this fresh expression of church are very much involved in its development. I make it very clear during KidsAlive325 that there is a very strong relationship with the local church and that means a lot. The vicar of Camberley is there every week and he is very much part of that relationship building process with that community. In this way he has been available to pick up pastoral concerns and baptism enquiries from the people he meets at KidsAlive325. They are connecting with him and the wonderful thing is that he, in turn, is now thinking about possible ways in which a baptism could take place at the after school service rather than in church.

KidsAlive325 - emergencyAt Emmanuel we have already celebrated a baptism from one of our KidsAlive325 families. This was a major step forward because, years ago, that particular family had been 'turned away' from a church and they had real bitterness about the institution of church and all that it stood for.

KidsAlive325 is not 'my' ministry as such – or Church Army's. It's got to be the church's ministry and the church's mission. It's about working alongside the local church in a real mixed economy way.

When I first started KidsAlive325, some people said it would be just like Messy Church and that we'd soon have them right across the country. The way things have worked out so far I'd say that KidsAlive325 could almost be seen as a follow-on stage from Messy Church because we don't incorporate a service or time of time of worship into a wider programme of activity; instead we are the service. Another difference is that the children and families who come will be given refreshments as soon as they arrive and they are welcome to bring a picnic tea to eat afterwards but food isn't part and parcel of what we do.

Sessions run from 3pm to 5pm. Younger children will arrive from 3pm, the service starts at 3.45 for a half hour slot and they can then hang around until 5 if they want. That's a vital time for us to follow up on people and we have a pastoral team to help those who want to find out more about faith issues, or anything else related to what we're doing and why we're doing it!