feed. is a fresh expression of church run by skiers and snowboarders – for skiers and snowboarders – in the Canterbury region of New Zealand's South Island. Mike Keith describes the café church with a difference.
Mt Hutt ski area is known to have one of the best mixes of mountain terrain in New Zealand; it's just over an hour's drive from Christchurch and about 35 minutes from the town of Methven.
Feed. is an initiative of All Saints Anglican Church, Methven and it has traditionally taken place on Sunday evenings for nearly 20 weeks from June to October – our winter season. The original vision came from the previous minister, Dave Clancey, and it has now been running for five years; I've only been the minister at All Saints for about nine months so I 'inherited' it as a going concern.
It started because people come to Methven from all around the world to work in the ski/snowboard industry. Some might be Mt Hutt staff, like instructors, or they may work in the hospitality and catering industry. They need to hear about Jesus! The church very much saw a need in its surrounding area and began a fresh expression to engage with that need.
We are now planning to extend feed. over our summer months. Whilst the focus in Methven shifts away from people directly involved in winter snow sports, there remain international workers – as well as locals – who come to see feed. as their spiritual home so this is very encouraging.
In our planning for this season, we broadened our aim to reach not only those associated with the ski industry but also locals and farmers in the surrounding areas. Methven has a core population of about 1,400, which increases significantly in the winter, but we are in a fast-growing area with rich farmland. Many of the farms nearby are converting from sheep to dairy and this is bringing more employment. We have found that some of these people, many of whom are from overseas – particularly the Philippines – are starting to attend feed. One of the reasons they come is simply because it takes place the evening; the morning isn't suitable at all for dairy workers!
The format each week is:
- open with a welcome at 6pm;
- give thanks and eat;
- ask question to fit in with the theme or talk;
- play an audio visual (see our facebook group page for some of the audio visuals – and additional comments about what happens from week to week);
- interview someone – might be a newer person to get to know them or a Christian to give their testimony about what Jesus has done for them;
- the interviewee plays a snowboard race game as a bit of fun
- Bible reading;
- 15-20min Bible talk;
- additional audio visual;
- table discussion;
- coffee and dessert.
We uncompromisingly teach the truth about Jesus from the Bible, his death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sin and the joy of eternal life. We do so in love – in an appropriate and respectful way – giving the opportunity for people to discuss and debate, agree or disagree. Bible reading and teaching is an essential and non-negotiable part of our time together; the format must include this.
There was a break of nearly a year between ministers and, during that time, feed. was lay-run – with visiting speakers each week. The church 'really 'took ownership' of feed. and there is still a lot of lay involvement, particularly in getting everything ready, technical stuff (audio visual), cooking, washing up and packing everything away. It's pretty labour intensive, particularly the cooking, as we average about 30-40 people each week but we have had over 60 people at times.
I am very grateful for the team of helpers we have and for the generosity of our parishioners who donate food, money, and many other things. Without such dedicated lay people, it simply wouldn't happen. It is very much a ministry of our church that gives the opportunity for everyone to be involved.
Each week, there are at least one or two newcomers and, for many, it is their first church experience. Every new person gets a welcome pack containing a gospel and some carefully chosen tracts – as well as a chocolate bar or two! Over time, we welcome in people of all ages, from the early teens right through to the more 'mature aged'.
Another very positive outcome is that the format has proved attractive to a core group of younger people. We currently do not have any ministries at church to cater for them but, as a result of feed's success we have just decided to launch a weekly 'Junior Youth Club' where they can come together in a weekly, afterschool, fellowship group.
I am also a chaplain for Mt Hutt and this is a ministry which very much complements 'feed.' in that I am part of the employment support for employees and guests. This means I actively build relationships with the staff, some of whom also come along to 'feed'. Many of them are also 'locals' so the chaplaincy is a community role which allows me to build connections with people in the immediate area.
I don't really know what people mean when they talk about going 'to the edge' in ministry. For me, it is simply a matter of doing what the church should always be doing, namely 'teaching the truth in love'. If anything is 'on the edge', it is that we look to remove any 'unhelpful', church barriers so that unchurched people – who might feel uncomfortable with the traditions and liturgy of a more 'traditional' church service setting – can feel comfortable when they come.
There are no set prayers or liturgy, no singing and I don't wear my collar – I wear a t-shirt, hoodie and jeans – because it's much more casual and relaxed. We sit around tables, eat, talk, laugh, have fun and are also serious together.
We still have collection but we don't have collection plates – we have a ski boot mounted on a mini ski. If people see feed as their 'spiritual home', they have the chance to financially partner with what we are doing. When I think about it, I suppose many traditional churchgoers would probably see what we do as going 'to the edge.' Some may even think we've fallen off the edge! I'd like to assure them that where the gospel message about Jesus is preached faithfully, God is at work in people's lives. That's what our task as a church is all about isn't it?
We want to reach those not normally reached by traditional churches because 'traditional church' is unattractive to this segment of the community – hence the subtitle under 'feed' is 'Church done differently'.
There certainly is potential for 'feed.' to be 'duplicated' in other places around the world. We'd be very happy to see a multiplication of gospel-centred ministries that follow the same format as feed. In fact, I understand that when the feed logo was developed as feed. (with a full stop), it was done so deliberately so that feed. in other places around the world could be easily identified. We describe ourselves as 'feed.methven' but potentially you could have 'feed.aspen' etc, etc.
The idea was that feed. fresh expressions of church could be planted all around the world. At the moment, as I'm just coming to the end of my first winter season here, I'm just trying to keep things going locally before taking any action in promoting the idea globally – except through the people who come.
Feed. really is a church in its own right. We also run a more traditional morning church in Methven, but it doesn't mean that the people who come in the evening are any different from those who come in the morning; they both get the same spiritual food (my sermons are the same, although adapted to suit the audience). We don't expect people to 'graduate' to traditional church, they are already are 'in church'.
However I must admit that, in many ways, feed. is a 'church growing in maturity' and perhaps – as we mature – we may see it introduce some things you may also expect in a more traditional church setting, like singing for example. Nonetheless, seeing feed. – which attracts the unchurched – also challenges us to think about how we do 'traditional' church so that our morning services are more open and welcoming to newcomers!
It helps us to think through why we do the things we do in relation to the task of reaching the unreached. It seems that the 'traditional' style of church unhelpfully hinders the unchurched, so we need to think differently – without compromising what we are all about, namely the preaching and teaching of the Word of God.