The multimedia fresh expression of church started in December 2011 and has grown beyond all expectations. Elaine Lindridge explains more.

d-church offers a monthly, online, 'service' in real time and its members interact with one another via Facebook, Twitter and a blog to explore spirituality and create community in a digital world.

The original idea came from lay worker Chris Stephens of the Sunderland Methodist Circuit and a team of five of us now oversee its work. Our Facebook page has been 'liked' by 320 people and this gives them regular access to the online monthly service. The largest group of people using this are in the 35-44 age range.

An example of the project's outreach comes from one of the online gatherings. During the time of prayer, 18 people contributed something to the prayer wall, 155 accessed the prayers and at least 215 saw them. On occasion the outreach extends to several hundred people at a time. The most popular post was a quote from John Wesley which was used as a blessing; it reached over 2,636 people virally. The team is particularly delighted to have made contact with several people who are on the edge of church or faith.

d-church logod-church has also become a regular 'meeting' place for some Christians for whom gathered worship is not always easily accessible. While it was always intended to be a virtual meeting, the team have now developed this project in the 'real' world with 'd-church@' gatherings.

Questions as to the meaning of the letter 'd' are frequent and our response is deliberately vague. Does it mean digital? disciple? or even ‘de’ (as in those who once were part of church but are no longer)?

However people see it, we seek to encourage an online community gathering that is a safe place to discuss life and faith. It is for those who profess faith, seek faith and who doubt faith. It's for those who love the church and those who struggle with the church. Wherever you are, you are welcome to comment on the items, make prayer requests etc. We leave the contributions online for others to look at and comment on.

We try to follow the d-church 10 commandments:

  1. do put God as number one 
  2. do remember to worship God and God alone 
  3. do blog about others in a way you would have them blog about you
  4. do treat the feelings of others with kindness (no bad language please)
  5. do walk in honesty, it's the best way to be
  6. do express your thoughts and views even if you think they may challenge the views of others
  7. do respect each other's views 
  8. do remember love is patient (especially if uploads fail)
  9. do blog your own ideas (no copying without permission and also acknowledge source)
  10. do have fun

Redeemer Church, Ajax

Fresh Expressions Canada web manager and church planter Ryan Sim is working on a new approach to church for busy commuters in Ontario, starting with a mobile app and community called Redeem the Commute.

Redeemer Church - cars

Since November 2011 I have been working with the Diocese of Toronto to lead the development of a new church in Ajax, a growing suburb near Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 

We committed to planning, launching and sustaining a community of new disciples appropriately shaped for mission in its context. To understand that context, we spent six months in prayer, research and planning to learn as much as possible about life in Ajax and where the gospel could best take hold. Our temptation would be to implement forms of church we know and love, but that are incompatible with a changing context, or that might attract only those from other churches already following Jesus. This is a brief summary of our missional listening and research methods, and the plan that is forming in response.

We began by commissioning a study of the entire community, with typical age, education, income and other data, but also learned about common values, buying habits and responses to specific statements. This study helped us to locate a suitable home. 

I familiarised myself with the community by walking, driving, shopping and enjoying community spaces, and reading about the history, official plans and news of the community. I interviewed local civic and church leaders, as well as regular residents in more casual conversations.

Redeemer Church - road junctionAfter observing and listening as much as possible, I began to interpret and look for common threads. It quickly became clear that Ajax has an extremely high percentage of young, multi-ethnic families whose adults commute long hours to work.  They spend little time at home, have high demand jobs, and experience stress as a result. They long to reprioritize their lives, but feel stuck.

In times of prayer, I would ask God to reveal needs that were not being served by existing churches in the area. We know the gospel sparks the kind of life transformation and reprioritizing that this group longs to experience, but because of their limited free time at home, it became apparent that any church events, no matter what the time or theme, were unlikely venues for such overcommitted people to learn about Jesus for the first time.

How could we reach commuters with the good news of Jesus Christ, even while on the move? An idea emerged in a moment of inspiration, so we conducted an online survey to test its potential, and decided to go ahead.

Later this year we are launching Redeem the Commute, a mobile app and web site for commuters in our area. Smartphones are everywhere among commuting young professionals, and the commute is often seen as lost time; in need of 'redemption'. To help people redeem that lost time and make positive changes, we'll deliver good quality content that serves the needs of busy, commuting people, beginning with marriage and parenting courses. We'll introduce the Redeemer himself with a Christian Basics course, and then fresh, daily discipleship content for those growing as followers of Jesus.

Our aim is not to start a virtual church, but to bring people together in a dispersed form of cell church. Participants who start a course alone will be encouraged to start or join a discussion group, meeting weekly in places like trains, buses, workplaces and homes. We will 'seed' groups by using area churchgoers, but new groups will be organic and self-organizing, centred around gospel content, and with coaching, oversight and regular visits from staff.

By the end of 2013, we hope to see enough groups running and growing in faith that we can gather them all together for a great celebration in worship – our first of many times worshipping together as one community named Redeemer Church.

This is the very early shape of a church plant intentionally focused on the discipleship of a particular people in a particular place and time. It arose after a time of careful research, interpretation, planning, but especially prayer, asking God to reveal needs, and where a new church could help. I trust that through this process of missional listening, interpretation and creative response, God will reveal to missional leaders new people groups and new forms of church for any context, and transform our neighbourhoods, communities and world.

Redeemer Church - rails

(This story was originally published in the ECGI newsletter)

St Ives Café Church

Matt FinchSt Ives Methodist Church, Cambridgeshire, hosts Café Church once a month. Minister Matt Finch explains how the church's new website has also helped to 'open the door' to newcomers.

We recently launched our new site and it is fascinating to see how it is being used. I'm finding that it acts as more of a front door than the church's real front door; I'm getting regular emails from people asking things like, 'how do you come to church?', 'Is it all right to just turn up at church or do I need a special invitation?' The internet allows them to step across the church threshold and allows us to step across the threshold into their world too. In time I hope the website will become a real focal point for what's going on so that it will create a community outside the building.

At St Ives Methodist, the journey has always been about a mixed economy approach. The pressure with that revolves around working with those folk used to established ways of doing things and those who bring in newer idea. I'd like to say that all parts of the church at St Ives are finding renewal in what we are doing but there are always going to be difficult and honest discussions about the best way forward.

St Ives Café Church - teapotFor us at the moment, fresh expressions is about seeing what can be done with a real missional intention in this church setting. Café Church is a case in point; it is now attracting an average of 100 people – sometimes up to 130. For those folks there's no doubt that it's a real blessing; we've got an all-age band together and it's interesting that – apart from me and one other person – the Café planning team is made up entirely of people who weren't in the church three years ago.

Discipleship is developing through those planning meetings because we talk about faith as we look ahead and talk and work things out. We engage with people where they are and try to answer the questions they have.

We don't have to advertise the Café Church at all because it's all about drawing together different networks and making them feel welcome. Email is important and Twitter increasingly, because just one email will be sent around to everyone's personal network of friends. You just have to have the trust and confidence to let the information go out there and be distributed. It's a real joy to see how things develop; someone who has been on the fringes of church and is now café regular recently said, 'I want to be confirmed'. I'm still trying to work out what that would mean in a café context.

St Ives Café Church - globeCafé Church takes place from 10.30am on the 3rd Sunday of the month with tea, coffee and pastries served from 10am. We also offer a podcast from of every service Church for those who would like a taste of all our service without committing themselves to coming.

There is space to talk with others, join in the activities, reflect quietly, sing a song if you like or just read a Sunday newspaper. We know that lots of people want to talk about faith, even want to come to Church, but find a traditional service hard to understand, or boring to sit through, or just plain confusing.

As a church the children stay in every week because we had recognised that a traditional Sunday School wasn't working for us any more. We also understand that weekends are precious times for families to be together so we wanted to create a fun, engaging space where children and young people can feel welcome too.

We provide good quality children's toys and activities in the back corner of the church so, yes, it can be noisy at times but that's the way it is with children. I appreciate that some people can find that difficult but I've also had messages from others saying, 'The reason we have stayed with you is because you don't send our children out.' When they are encountering church for the first time they really don't want their kids to go out to another room with a stranger. They want to be together. I suppose we are making a stand for how families operate these days and changing our way of doing things in order to accommodate those who know nothing of the way that churches traditionally work.

St Ives Café Church - buildingFor those looking for a creative and engaging place to think about God, we have a monthly alternative worship service called Breathe. Some of those who come along have been Christians for many years while others would struggle to identify themselves as Christian and are just looking for a place to reflect on spirituality.

We also have a young adults group known as Phos (Ancient Greek word for light) trying to think through life and faith in the 21st Century. They meet in people's homes to look at various topics, talk about them together and pray. If I'm honest this is struggling a bit but trust that the Holy Spirit will guide us in what is next.

I've now been here for nearly four years and the idea is that St Ives Methodist Church should become a centre of excellence, a place which could inspire and change a whole Circuit. We have run the mission-shaped intro course for instance; we provide café resources for other churches, I meet with leaders and try to offer a central hub where people can find out more about this thing called fresh expressions of church. What does it look like in reality? What does it mean to be a place for waiting on God? We look at these things constantly and we know there is no such thing as a 'quick fix' as we see how God shapes what we do and around those who seem to like the idea of joining us.