Mighty Shed

Irve Davis-Griffiths, youth minister at Uplyme Church, near Lyme Regis, tells of the Mighty Shed youth and creative fresh expression project.

My own journey starts in music, I'm not from a Christian family background and I came to faith in my early 20s in the back of a guitar shop! I was a musician then, and have returned to it now, and it was always the case that 'normal church' never made sense to me because it was so far removed from everything I knew and understood and loved.

Mighty Shed - musicI often struggled to find the Jesus I'd met in the guitar shop when I was in a church; the worlds seemed so far apart. I've been involved youth work and youth ministry training for about 14 years but I've always been more interested in the people 'out there' rather than those on the 'inside'.

I'd been youth minister for Uplyme for about nine years and I'd achieved many goals for the ministry, but the real push came in early 2011 when the church was looking at what we wanted to do with youth ministry and longer-term sustainability. So, after a year of prayer and deliberation, various things led us to look at developing community youth church. The question that kept coming back to me was, 'How are we serving young people who aren't involved in regular church at all?'

Over half my life is spent as a musician and music teacher and I'm very much a networker. I have made the strongest links with people through creative activities and the setting-up of small group youth-work, community youth groups, schools' work and regional rockschool camps for budding musicians. I started to think what a local version of a rock camp would look like in our local context and Mighty Shed was born.

Mighty Shed - insideThe name, Mighty Shed, comes from my home studio, which is housed… in a shed. The Bible says that 'people look at the outside of a person but God looks at the heart' and we know that significant things can come out of something that looks very small and understated, like a shed. In the same way, we believe people are full of potential – we are all mighty sheds!

When we talked to those in our existing youth groups, about 50% of them said they already thought of the respective groups as 'their' church. As a result, we decided to move away from the idea of young people growing up in groups and hoping they would then go on to 'real' church. Instead, we say they are going to grow up in the youth church together and own it as their 'church'. It doesn’t look much different on the surface to your average community youth group in action but the end goal is very different.

The project has two main strands:

Mighty Shed - prayer room1. A community church for young people, made up of two groups – Xplosion (for school years 6-9) and the Big Bang (for school years 10 and upwards). The Big Bang, as the older group, 'owns' and runs the Xplosion younger group; it also has an investment in maintaining itself and the younger group through participation and empowerment which helps to develop young leaders. At the moment, the total turnout is around 35-45 plus 'grown-ups'. Alongside this I have spent a lot of time in primary school work and found it invaluable in investing in local community and young people – particularly if you are looking to set up something for the long-term.

2. The music and creative 'arm' which is Mighty Shed. In turn, this has two main aims as part of its further development:

  • short to medium term. To have events run by young people for young people;
  • longer term. Building up a creative community, exploring faith and encouraging participation in creative activities that 'bless' others. We're trying to build a youth music 'scene'.

Mighty Shed - logoWe've been meeting with a small bunch of young people in a local coffee house to plan, pray and lay the foundations for all of this. In March, we had an amazing launch gig with an internationally renowned musician performing and running workshops. Off the back of that we've set-up Facebook pages and a website and run workshops. We are now planning more gigs that look to raise money for local causes and give creative opportunities for other young people.

Each event so far has been a way of giving back to our wider community – and that's the point; we're not just there to take or be an inward looking group but to bring good things to others. We are looking for relationship building. Our strapline is 'blessing the community through creativity', so all events have to be outward looking in some way – either by serving others or raising money. Next up is a big fundraising gig on the seafront and some rockschool workshops.

The project has a strong ecumenical backing. We have a reference group made up of people from several churches in the area and I report back on activities to the local church leaders' meetings. I've also come up with five indicators of growth to help us track our progress, which is always difficult with new projects, but at least they give us some areas to focus on:

  1. language: are people beginning to develop and own a language of belief?
  2. activities: how are people showing signs of being outward-looking?
  3. community: are there signs of commitment to one another?
  4. spirituality: are there signs of spiritual growth and formation?
  5. empowerment: how are we empowering people to act for themselves?

Mighty Shed - beachIn terms of context, Uplyme and Lyme Regis have a huge population in the summer and a comparatively small one in the winter. There is quite a lot of seasonal work so, if you are a young person, available employment is often through service industries. In general it's a very prosperous area but, like all places, there's more to it if you dig a little deeper.

There are quite a lot of younger families but also a large, older demographic in the area. People generally are quite socially mobile and there are excellent schools, which means many young people go on to university – but there are a significant number who don't. Some are happy enough to go to church-run things but I hope Mighty Shed activities will be a good experience for those who don't normally cross the threshold of a traditional church. That's why it's so important to be where people are. My hope and dream is that eventually some sort of community will grow from out of where young people gather, out of their passion for music, art, all things creative and from their faith journey – shaped and owned by themselves. It's all very open and not pinned-down at present! There are many challenges ahead, both in sustainability, finances and keeping the heart of the project central.

Mighty Shed - The CobbAt the moment, there is a meeting at least once a week of youth church or Mighty Shed in some form or another. Over time I would like to draw together these two strands so that they can feed each other.

Do people understand fresh expressions? Many people understand it in terms of words but most don't appreciate what it means practically. Church is full of people who know how to do church as it is; I want to tap into a different layer of people who want to do church in a whole new way.

Side Door

Side Door - minibusThe Side Door Youth and Community Church, featured on expressions: the dvd – 2 and once threatened with closure, now attracts more than 150 people – aged between 4 and 95 – every week. Circuit youth co-ordinator Elaine Watkinson explains the turnaround in fortunes.

Side Door is based in the Laceby Road Methodist Church building. Laceby Road ceased to meet in May last year but the community church is open seven days a week, running a variety of different groups on the Nunsthorpe estate.

The changing status of Laceby Road prompted fears that Side Door would also have to call it a day but Grimsby and Cleethorpes Methodist Circuit decided to allow a year's trial from March 2010 to prove that we could become self-sufficient and secure its future. Our members are now responsible for maintaining the building, setting budgets and keeping accounts.

Side Door - RIP

The Circuit has supported us very well and provided oversight of all we have done. The first months of being sole trustees were extremely successful and it has been marvellous to make the most of any opportunities that came our way. Of course we didn't have to wait to get permissions to try something; it was up to us to get on with it! Having the freedom is excellent but we still need an income from the building for it to be worthwhile.

The local YMCA now uses our building once a week and so we have been able to engage with all their young people, we even did a panto with them. Here is a church that is 'being' church, 'being' outreach, affecting the lives of ordinary people on the street. That's why I can find it so difficult when we seem to be continually questioned as to whether we're really 'church' or not. It seems particularly odd when there so many churches which cannot lay claim at all to 'being' outreach or affecting the lives of ordinary people and yet their status is never queried.

Side Door - crossThe situation will be reviewed at the end of March but, at the moment, we continue planning on being here for the foreseeable future because this is a live and going concern.

It's an awesome responsibility, an albatross of a responsibility at times, because the Laceby Road building is a huge, rambling place but is also so right for what we are doing here. I wouldn't say we 'wanted' the building but we do need a base and it's perfect for that. There was a time when we would have fitted in a tent on the lawn outside Laceby Road but there's no chance of that now!

We are very forward looking and intentionally missional because we know this building has got to earn its keep. We are not going to meet that by relying on a membership of 25, many of whom are at university, or short of money, or older in years. We are very reliant on God's grace.

We have a church council and everybody who comes along to The Side Door is, more or less, on the church council and our leadership team. They can't all vote of course but they do all have a say. There are about 35 people who come regularly to worship with us and that's great.

Side Door - floorSide Door started as a project but developed into a church. We had our outreach before we were a church, which is the opposite way round to the way it usually works. It officially remains a Circuit-based outreach more or less owned by the church. Some churches can exist without outreach. We can't. Now the outreach needs the church, they are inseparable.

We are open every day of the week at some point in the day and the breadth of people we are in contact with is staggering because of all sorts of activities. It may be something for children aged five and over, lunch clubs currently attracting people up to the age of 95, and the YMCA crowd which include that missing generation of 30-somethings.

We are still very much focused on reaching young people but others are now being drawn in. There is a community event on a Wednesday lunchtime where those in their 40s, 50s and 60s come along from the local estate to sell items of their personal clothing or belongings in an auction. We were unsure of letting it go ahead at first and we were quite uncomfortable with it but this is something that is very much needed in this area and now we are so glad we said yes because we have been very blessed as a result. All sorts of conversations are now underway that we would never have had without it.

Side Door - poolThose on the estate will, in all probability, not be moving on from there because many will not have that freedom of choice. Those people are now saying to us, 'We want to spend time with you.' The mindset has changed completely. In turn we have to be prepared to cope with ways of thinking or doing things that we may personally find difficult or strange.

There are pressures involved in all of this, of course there are but we all feel called to be there. No-one is here out of duty, we are here out of love. We are as vulnerable as any other church but I'd say the difference is that we are very aware of the need to avoid complacency. There's too much to do and too many people to reach.