Alistair Birkett is a farmer and lay pioneer leading fresh expressions of church in the Scottish Borders.

Day by day my time is largely spent developing fresh expressions of church whilst running Norham West Mains farm near Berwick upon Tweed. The fresh expressions of church, which are collectively known as Gateways, meet in various different contexts around a monthly cycle.

I am married to Ruth and we have two sons (Sam 23, and Jonah 19). It was after a change in Ruth's family farming business that we moved to the Scottish Borders 10 years ago. I had trained at Moorlands Theological College from 1995-98 and was then involved in leading a community church Cheshire, but we then felt the call to move to this area. Ruth's family had farmed up here for many years and, at the age of 38, I started running this 550-acre arable farm. Our aim was always to make it work alongside some sort of ministry.

Norham West Mains is a reasonably large arable farm, and I use a local agricultural contractor to ease the workload and allow me to develop Gateways.

We had some difficult times when we first came to the Borders, both personally and in trying to discern what we should be doing in ministry – and where. I was working with a local evangelical church for around eight months and I began to feel that I needed to re assess my involvement there. This time then prompted us to ask a lot of questions about what it means to be church in our modern world, and how to minister effectively.

A few years before that the local Church of Scotland minister retired and a locum minister was appointed to serve the rural Parish of Hutton, Fishwick and Paxton. Bill Landale is a visionary guy who has a real understanding of the inherited church model but was exploring the question, 'What else do we do?' He put together a working group to look at future plans because they were down to about 15 people attending and realised that if they didn't engage with the under 50s, the church in this area was completely bust!

Gateways - walk

Facing up to what was a clear missional challenge, that working group carried out an extensive community survey which showed that people in the parish were interested in spiritual things but were not sure about exploring those things within a traditional church model. Those results formed the basis of the Gateways project, starting in January 2011.

Another turning point in the journey came when I attended the North East mission shaped ministry course at Berwick upon Tweed. Sessions also took place with a course based in Tyneside. We knew that Fresh Expressions had been running the mission shaped intro course for a few years, so I took four people along to msm, thinking 'it will be good for them'. I'm sure it was good for them but, in fact, it was I who fell in love with the course! The teaching really helped me in the early days of Gateways because, in our community, we were growing increasingly concerned with inherited, attractional models of church. For years it seemed that I'd been trying to do what we did better instead of asking, 'How do we completely re-form this?'

My role, as project leader, was not to get bums on seats in the local parish church, but was to form a team which would seek to reach families and young people in particular – people who had no formal contact with church at all. The cultural gulf is massive between what happens in a traditional service in the Scottish Borders and a family with kids in their teens!

The Church of Scotland graciously granted us a three year funding package via their Emerging Ministries Fund, and we were tasked to listen, get involved in the community, and begin the journey that has now been going on for over four years. As the work has developed, we have sought to create a fresh expression of church embracing a mixed economy way of working. When we first began Gateways, we were encouraged by the Church of Scotland to be experimental; some things have worked, some have failed but being given permission to fail in an environment of mission is liberating.

There are about 550 people in the parish in total. In terms of population, we live in the 'big village' of Paxton where there is a village hall and a parish church but there is no school and no shop. The smaller of Hutton has a village hall and a church but no other community facility. Fishwick is a hamlet. A new estate has recently been built in Paxton, and although the development only amounts to only around 30 homes, the impact is large in such a dispersed rural area.

We are seeing our Gateways communities develop in different ways with a number of elements, a number of expressions of church life. During 2015 we will see funding from the Church of Scotland Go For It fund tailing off, so we're looking at different grant-making bodies However, we don't want to get into the fundraising trap of trying to find the money to simply exist. Our longer term aim is to be sustainable on a local level, and progress towards this has thus far been very encouraging.

Gateways - quad

The Church of Scotland has been very, very helpful and we still have a close relationship both with the local church, the regional Presbytery, and the team at Go For It. For instance, I recently gave a presentation about Gateways to the local Presbytery which was attended by John Chalmers, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and we're hoping that Gateways will continue to have a close relationship with the Church of Scotland.

Gateways has become constituted as its own church through OSCR (Office of Scottish Charity Regulator) and the key to what we do is serving and developing and growing our different gatherings of people. Gateways started as a 'bolt-on' ministry to the local parish church but, as things moved on, we believed it important to take a step forward as a church in our own right. The Rural Ministries organisation, which also gives us some funding, helped us with the basic framework of a constitution and we then drew on The Church of Scotland statement of belief before taking it to the Scottish charity regulator.

There is no formal link to the Church of Scotland in terms of constitution but four of our five trustees are elders of the local parish church!

We like to run with ideas that we can get people to facilitate. so our young people, for example, suggested that we get involved in Comic Relief. We started by asking the question, 'Would Jesus wear a red nose?' That prompted great discussions and the young people then went on to organise and run coffee morning for Comic Relief. Looking back at the very different areas of Christian ministry I've known, Gateways is the smallest, most fledgling thing I've been involved in, but probably the most exciting!

In our small, rural parish we very much see Gateways as being the local church with two congregations. My wife and I also worship in traditional, inherited church – not only because we believe that's the right thing to do, but also because it reflects a genuine sense of mixed economy in our ministry.

Our monthly Gateways Gatherings take place at 3.30pm on a Sunday afternoon and is aimed at families with young children, food is always a really important element, we always eat together, read Scripture, pray, worship, and have some sort of craft activity linked to the theme. The Gatherings alternate between Hutton and Paxton village halls.

Gateways - sack race

Gateways Fellowship is an opportunity to further the discipleship journey. It began in January 2015 at Paxton village hall and it takes place monthly, at 11.15am on Sunday. Although still focussed around the family, the Fellowship is aimed less at younger children. In terms of style, it's like café church but instead of serving lattes and flat whites, we serve steak sandwiches! The format includes more teaching, questioning and small group discussions.

I'm excited to see that the people coming along to Gateways Gatherings are predominately unchurched, I'd say around 60%. The remainder are de-churched or those fed up with the way church has been, as well as those who are genuinely embracing mixed economy and are also involved in other church contexts.  So far, with the Fellowship, I'd say it's attracting more of the de-churched because it's the most 'church-like' thing that we do. Not everybody that goes to the Gathering would go to the Fellowship.

We also have a fortnightly Discipleship Group in people's homes. We have developed a core team from a discipleship group of 10-12 people; all of whom help to share the load and widen the vision. If everyone comes to the Discipleship Group, we have about 15 people in total and around 6 of them would say that for them the Tuesday Discipleship group is their church.

Developing indigenous leadership takes time but, as we continue in the fifth year of Gateways, we have got to get beyond the stage of, 'If Ali and Ruth don't do it, it won't happen'. Our core team are fantastic, but we haven't made a big thing of who they are and we haven't used a Sunday gathering to introduce them to everyone else; we've deliberately kept it all very low key. I believe that's the right policy because, as has been said to me, 'In many other churches we wouldn't be allowed to give the hymn books out, never mind be on the leadership team!'

Gateways - building

We are regularly forced to reflect theologically, dynamically, on what's happening here. People ask us what Gateways will look like in future. I don't know but we've got to the point of knowing what we wouldn't want to look like! The aim is to be fleet footed and be flexible enough to go in different directions, according to where the Holy Spirit guides us – and all of this is to happen under our three values of hope, creativity and inclusivity.

Word is spreading about Gateways, and I am increasingly being asked to lead infant dedication services and wedding ceremonies. That, in a way, I see as a real sign that we are becoming the church in the village.

I'm not an ordained Church of Scotland minister, but I worked with Bill Landale, as the local minister to do an infant baptism recently; we both just commit to making it work. When there was a baptism in the River Tweed, we both went out and took a shoulder each – again we were committed to working together for the kingdom!

There are always challenges and ours centre on developing local leadership and our long term financial sustainability. I'm only contracted part-time to lead Gateways and on occasion it all seems too much, but God has blessed us, and brought the Core Team together; all of this is nothing to do with our own abilities or strengths, it's all to do with him. I try to keep that in the front of my mind whether sowing seeds of faith or grain.

Wichenford Café Church

Carma Wetherall describes how a fresh expression of church has started in the parish of Wichenford, Worcestershire.

Wichenford has over 250 households and a number of working farms spread across a distance of more than three miles. Its shop, post office, bakery and school closed some time ago and the only pub is two miles away from the main housing area.

St Laurence's, Wichenford, is one of 14 churches in the Worcestershire West Rural Team, an outstandingly beautiful part of the English countryside with the River Teme flowing through the middle and the Malvern Hills to the south.

It is part of the Martley benefice, which consists of three parishes and five churches. The vicar of the group is David Sherwin, and he is assisted by non-stipendiary minister Jennifer Whittaker and curate Rich Tweedy.

Wichenford Café Church - buildingThe 12th century St Laurence's Church stands alongside a country lane, surrounded by fields, with the village's Memorial Hall opposite. The nave is fully pewed and can seat 120 at a squeeze – which is often needed for baptisms, weddings and funerals. Villagers love the building and will turn out for big family occasions and special services, especially at Christmas, but there is a definite disconnect otherwise; many just don't 'do' church.

Ten years ago, regular worshippers numbered 20 or so; today on a normal Sunday we are fortunate to see 10. Rich, as our new curate, suggested that a monthly, 90-minute, café church would offer the opportunity to demonstrate God's love by serving our community and, in particular, offer a relaxed and accessible place where we could share faith and the word.

Two generous cash donations enabled us to hire the Village (Memorial) Hall and buy provisions for two Sundays. We were given an industrial coffee machine, borrowed some café tablecloths, gave out invitations by hand and began in February this year.

Café church now takes place every 3rd Sunday of the month in the hall. We open at 10am to provide good quality coffee and tea with bacon butties and then give people an opportunity to sit around the tables to read the Sunday newspapers or just socialise.

After about 10.30am there is an opportunity to ask the vicar to give a Christian perspective on a couple of news items, sing a couple of worship songs, hear a bit of a talk and share in some prayers.

Wichenford Café Church - tablesOn the first morning, a small team assembled to set everything up – only to discover that we had no frying pans for cooking the bacon. Following a quick run home, that problem was solved and by 10am – with food and drink available – the hall gradually filled. The stalwarts of our regular congregation came, mainly to see what it was all about, but we welcomed some new faces too and all stayed – except one who left as soon as he had eaten his bacon buttie! Overall, it was an encouraging beginning  though a regular worshipper said, 'How will this get them to come to church?'

A month later, word had spread and many more new faces appeared – with fewer of the stalwarts. A number of children came too. In April, we greeted more new people and it was obvious that some of the previous newcomers had returned. In June we welcomed 42 adults and 10 children, including some teenage volunteers to help with the worship.

Six months on and there is a real buzz in the community about café church. The numbers attending are holding up, volunteers have come forward to help with the catering and the overall community response is encouraging. Indeed, someone I met tending a grave in the churchyard recently said, 'We just love café church'. I can only say, 'Alleluia, Amen!'


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.

Easton Methodist Church

If the doors of the imposing Grade II listed Easton Methodist Church were kept closed, passers-by on the local high street would miss all that goes on inside throughout the week.

So, says minister Chris Briggs,

We have the doors open.

That way, the residents of Easton, a semi-rural town on the Portland peninsula, can know that the church is there for them, whether it is open for a service on Sundays or a coffee morning during the week.

An event on Friday mornings has integrated the church’s offering of both community and gentle evangelism since early 2005. A café opens for one and a half hours from ten o’clock in an alcove in the large church premises. It serves speciality drinks and simple food at waited tables laid with cloths and flowers. Background music is Christian, but – Chris says – this probably helps to create ambience more than carrying a deep message.

Because we are waiting on people, they are greeted, and so are gathered up in a welcome,

Chris explains.

We try to make it obvious – there is a big banner outside reading ‘Café Church’.

The idea is to indicate that elements of both ‘church’ and ‘café’ are present at the same time.

‘We have the doors open’ – that way, people can know that the church is there for them

Those who visit Café Church come from a variety of churches on the island and from none. Up to a quarter of those attending can be from no church.

Team members sit at the café tables ready to chat and talk, and Christian literature is on each table, including perhaps a short printed liturgy for one of the ‘God slots’ which punctuate the morning.

Everyone quietens and listens,

says Chris.

The idea is to provide food for thought.

Alongside the café is a chapel area created by use of screens. Within is a candle gate, a prayer board and an open Bible.

Spontaneously people go off in twos and threes and pray for one another,

says Chris.

Sometimes the chapel area is well used, sometimes we wonder whether anyone has been in there at all, but there is usually evidence that someone has.

Lighting candles and pinning notes on a prayer board can be a non-threatening way of offering prayer. Both churchgoers and non-churchgoers use the chapel area. 

Chris describes Café Church as containing

elements of church in itself. For many it is a time of fellowship,

he says.

Once in the doors, people find a warm and welcoming community, while the Christian element, though obvious, is not heavy.

By drawing its separate offerings of coffee mornings and church services together in one weekly ‘Café Church’, up to 40 local people are finding that the doors of the church are open for them.

Feltwell Chapel

When Matt Finch became co-minister of ten Norfolk Methodist chapels in 2002, he inherited a fortnightly Bible study among the largely elderly congregation of Feltwell Chapel. It was well attended by six members of the church and several others from neighbouring villages.

Matt describes the 15 members of Feltwell as having

a passion to do things differently.

The Bible studies provided helpful fellowship, but while undertaking a CPAS course on evangelism, 'Lost for Words', Matt became aware of a deep dissatisfaction among the chapel members. The course helped highlight the despondency people felt about the state of their church.

They asked, 'What can we do with this?'

he says.

'We can't do a mission course and not change.' There were lots of mumblings about church not being right.

What needs to change? 'We can't do a mission course and not change'

Matt took a big sheet of paper to a Bible study and brainstormed with the chapel members how they would like church to look in the future. He typed up the results, brought them along to the next meeting and presented the chapel members with a clear picture of their 'desire to be connected'.

They were there every Sunday but never connected,

he says.

They wanted to know who sat in church with one another.

At that time a building project was under discussion. Now it was scaled down – bar essential changes such as disabled access – in favour of instituting a new way of being together on Sunday mornings.

Feltwell Chapel - membersSuch was the enthusiasm that the new model of church began the very next Sunday with each member offering to take responsibility for certain elements. They each agreed to play their part in arranging coffee before the service, to sit around tables and to have an interactive sermon and shared prayer time. To meet all needs, traditional services happen on occasion, still around the café tables.

'They were saying they had always had baptisms and communion but not community. Now they are sharing each others' lives.'

Because I wasn't there every week it was hard, but a real understanding developed,

Matt says.

They were saying they had always had baptisms and communion but not community. Now they are sharing each others' lives. Some of the members pray together regularly, and they are in pastoral circles in which they each take responsibility for one another.

This recognition of a congregation's responsibility to care for one another without reliance on the minister is especially important in a rural setting where clergy are spread over several locations. A key lay worker has also undertaken a commitment to Feltwell to assist when the ministers are unavailable.

Matt describes the chapel as still

a long way from being truly missional,

but since its changes in 2005 several non-churchgoers have become interested. A baptism family was so 'blown away' by how the chapel had changed that the parents now want to marry at Feltwell and even, if possible, have a café style wedding.

Matt puts down Feltwell's growing success in building community to a new freedom on the part of chapel members to question and disagree with the preacher, and to a new involvement with one another.

They weren't happy with what happened on Sundays, but they still wanted to worship on Sunday mornings,

he says.

Feltwell's worship is culturally specific, but the underlying principle is of something that connected with them and helped them to love one another.

Threshold Church

In 1996 GP Pete Atkins and his wife, Kath, planted a new church called Threshold, with a vision to strengthen church in the villages of their home county, Lincolnshire.

Operating along the cell church format, Threshold grew and in 2006 separated into four separate congregations. Three were based in a different village and one in inner city Lincoln. There is a bi-monthly meeting of all four.

The congregations draw members from 15 local neighbourhoods and range in size from 20 to 100 members, who gather together in village halls and Lincoln YMCA.

But for Pete and Kath, this is not the end of ten years' work. They have given each congregation the challenge of multiplying further through prayer and planning. 

We are vision driven,

Pete says.

The vision has always been to establish church in the rural situation, with a focus on neighbourhood planting rather than network planting.

Pete believes that the success of Threshold lies in discovering and training new leaders.

The key thing is that by the grace of God we have managed to multiply leadership,

he says.

They have given each congregation the challenge of multiplying further through prayer and planning

Those who have perhaps led a cell have also been on a 'Mission-shaped leadership' training course [now developed into mission shaped ministry]. Leaders meet together bi-monthly and in between are supported by regular contact with the main leaders of Threshold. The Atkins' own role has moved to supporting the main leaders, who in turn support cell leaders.

All our developments are consistent with our original vision of seeing the kingdom of God re-established in the villages,

says Pete.

The leadership communicates this vision through preaching, through a slogan and by holding welcome evenings for newcomers to the villages.

Moments of multiplication, such as the division into four congregations, become opportunities to revisit the original purpose of the church.

By keeping in mind at every stage what they originally set out to do, the Atkins and the members of Threshold are achieving their aim of multiplying church.

Fenland Community Church

Fenland Community Church - groupWhen Edward and Marilyn Kerr, with the support of Plumbline Ministries, planted Fenland Community Church in their Cambridgeshire town, they had no idea who they would meet.

Their new congregation of a small number of people who had moved from another church held an outreach week on a bus in the town centre. Among those who came were two women with learning disabilities in their thirties.

Drawn to this church community, the women also began attending a long-standing youth group led by the Kerrs. However, it was clear that this was not the best place for them.

We began to ask, what can we do for them?

Edward says.

At around the same time, two years into the plant, members began to leave. As the church collapsed, the number of learning disabled people showing an interest increased. They began meeting with the Kerrs, with the permission of their carers and residential home managers.

Up to 35 people, including carers, now meet three Sundays a month in a local scout hall, while the Kerrs open their home once a month for a prayer meeting. In addition, they take monthly meetings in six residential care homes where either a proportion or all of the residents take part, depending on the size of the home.

'Are we meeting their needs? If not, how can we?'

All this is very different from the Kerrs' original vision of evangelising their local community through events and a house church gathering.

We had to give way on a Fenland wide church with 'normal' people,

Edward says.

At first it was a struggle because we were just managing these people, not knowing what to do. We have had support from Causeway Prospects, and have adapted some of their material for our groups. However, much of our material for Sundays is 'home-grown'. It was about five years in that I realised, okay God, this is right, and we're not looking for 'normal' people now.

In fact, Edward and Marilyn, despite their struggle, have never said 'no' to the way Fenland Community Church has developed, their main concern being 'how'.

Even now we're still asking those questions,

Edward says.

Are we meeting their needs? If not, how can we? Within obvious limits no idea is excluded!

He tells the story of one man who has attended Fenland Community Church since its early days in 1996.

'Within obvious limits no idea is excluded!'

By nature he's quite diffident,

Edward says,

but he has blossomed over the years. He's now able to take responsibility for handing out percussion instruments and the flags we use in worship. He often volunteers to pray for people or to start the service. Every now and then he is prophetic, though sometimes he's a bit mumbly and we have to ask him to say it again!

Another young man with Downs Syndrome, who rarely talks and can sign only badly, is

wonderfully sensitive with flags, waving them over the congregation in a way that's very prophetic and moving.

What does the future hold? The Kerrs are fully committed to exploring ways of sharing Jesus with people with a learning disability, involving them in church life, using whatever works rather than whatever is traditional.

Sunday 4:6

6 - hallA year into Mandy Wright's job as Deanery Evangelist with a group of 21 rural Anglican churches in Devon, it occurred to her that if anyone wanted to attend church as a result of her evangelism, a Sunday service would likely put them off.

I thought, I've got to do something to appeal to people right outside church,

she says.

She hired the village hall for a new monthly meeting advertised as a friendly, non-judgmental space in which to bring questions and enjoy food and drink.

The first meeting, held at 6pm on a fourth Sunday in a month in 2004, attracted 33 people, more than four times the usual attendance of any local church service. Quite a few of those were churchgoers, but a good few were others known to Mandy through her work among the largely elderly community.

That first evening was spent getting to know each other, finding out where we were on our spiritual journeys,

she recalls.

Although numbers fell by half on the second meeting of Sunday 4:6, over the next half year more and more unchurched people began to realise that this was a place where their questions and thoughts could find a safe hearing.

'Fresh expressions are not clear-cut; they are pretty messy'

Another half year later and local churchgoers were catching on.

Starving Christians began to come gradually,

Mandy says.

They were wanting more worship and slowly the seekers were leaving by the back door. Now the numbers are up, but they are all churchgoers.

At the beginning of 2006, a vision evening was held, at which the group of 25 defined its first year of existence as one in which community was built, but expressed the desire that the second year focus on worship.

I had promised from the start that Sunday 4:6 would be theirs,

Mandy says.

It is meeting a huge need for Christians to explore their faith more deeply; lifelong churchgoers have discovered faith perhaps for the first time. But it's not my original vision. I want to work with those outside the church.

She is now developing a core team from within Sunday 4:6 to take over its leadership and hopes to find new outlets for her ministry to seekers from the local communities.

Fresh expressions are not clear-cut; they are pretty messy. Even the good news ones have questions,

she says. Following the transformation of what began as a seeker group and developed into a fellowship of Christians, Mandy is now asking which is more important: reaching the unchurched or feeding 'the needy churched'?

Rural fresh expressions

The Arthur Rank Centre maintains a list of examples of rural fresh expressions of church (mostly from this site and from Country Way magazine), as well as resources for those exploring fresh expressions of church in a rural context.

You can find the rural page on the Arthur Rank Centre website.

If you know of other rural stories or have other information, please contact Simon Martin, Training and Resources Officer for the Arthur Rank Centre on

You can also submit your rural story to us for consideration to feature on our website.

Gainsborough Café Church

The vision for Gainsborough Café Church came about four years ago, initially because of a need for something fresh and new for young people to come to. Circuit Mission Enabler, and Café Church minister, Liz Childs tells how that vision has developed along the way.

Some of the teens we were trying to reach already came along to the Gainsborough Methodist Church youth group but they had no other Christian contact. We talked to them about what sort of things they'd like to do and see if they were to get more involved and the result was the Café Church.

The idea was to see a congregation formed in which these young people, mainly 15 to 18-year-olds, could find faith, explore Christian discipleship and worship God and serve the local community. A small group of adults from the main church, who came and supported us, got a lot of out of it as well – and they still do.

Those in the youth group began to build up relationships with other local teenagers, some of them came along and this started to give rise to questions of God and faith. Café Church is informal, interactive and based around food, particularly pizza! At GCC we look at topics that are related to the life experiences of those we are trying to reach, namely young people who are totally unchurched.

We have a regular group of about 20 meeting together every fortnight. It's interesting that three of the young people have been baptised, made members of the church and now occasionally attend the traditional morning worship at Gainsborough Methodist Church. There are others who would never dream of setting foot inside a church for a service; instead they would see Café Church as their spiritual home.

The good thing we've found is that Café Church is much more than a one hour get-together on a Sunday night because the youth group continues in its own right, we have a Bible study every Monday evening and there are various activities at other times. We also operate a drop-in and that generates a lot of crossover in our ministry – some may come in via activities and then come along to Café Church, others are at Café Church and end up getting involved in the wider activities. Christian faith and discipleship is high on the agenda whatever we do; it is not an add-on but at the heart of Café Church and everything else.

Café Church aims to reflect God's love for all unconditionally, meaning everyone is welcome. It is a time for worship and exploration and is taken seriously by all involved – it is not another youth group!

Gainsborough is a market town in a rural setting but that description can conjure up a false image because this is quite a deprived area where there are not so many 'nice, middle class, churched people'. Instead it is a place where traditional industries, and employers, fell away – though the area is now designated as a growth town and is set to double in size. At the moment it's like being a tiny inner-city area in the middle of the countryside.

Café Church is supported by Gainsborough Methodist which provides the facilities. I oversee it for the majority of the time but a youth leader and a couple of local preachers led it while I was away for a three-month sabbatical. I didn't want to simply take the reins back when I returned because it's good for others to be part of that leadership if something is to be truly sustainable.

At the start it really was quite hard to do lead because some of the young people only came for the food we had on offer so they were rather disruptive. It can still be a challenge but the encouragement is that the young people we have now are really looking for something in more depth; they want to engage with it all. Another encouragement is that there always seems to be new people coming along.

Over the past 12 months, we have been looking at the Bible and working our way through from Genesis, using 'What's in the Bible' DVDs and YouTube clips to do so. At the request of the young people themselves, we have increased the worship aspect of the Café and now have live music. We have seen young people come to faith and even though they are in the early stages of their own Christian journeys, they are talking to others about what they've found and where they've found it. There seems to be a real thirst for understanding of what God is all about.