St 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.
For 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.
Café 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.
For 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.