As part of my quest to discover how churches help folk to move from being Contacts to being Inquirers, during the summer of 2015 I met with YYY ministers and attended services and other events at ZZZ churches in the Baptist Family. I also took time to reflect on 29 years of ministry serving four churches and creating a church plant and including also many experiences of outreach and evangelism in ecumenical and para-church contexts. I have included many specific insights from these conversations and reflections at different points in my article, ‘Taking Every Opportunity’ which also included a summary of generalisations.
I learned much more than I have recorded below from the different ministers and churches but for me these were the highlights. I am very grateful to everybody for their generous welcome, hospitality and wisdom. However the sole responsibility for the interpretation of those discussions and observations rests with me.
Rev Lindsay Caplen – South Woodham Evangelical Church
SWEC have built up a community around a monthly Saturday afternoon Messy Church and are involved with a café church style congregation elsewhere.
Ordinary church is not the activity of the Sunday Service, or even the sum of all the midweek activities, but rather the community drawn together by sharing those events. So Messy Church is not a 2 hour activity but rather the community brought together by those events. SWEC is benefiting enormously from running Messy Church. The small team organising is helped by a very large number of people contributing in different ways, who themselves benefit from their involvement. Messy ‘Church’ is not merely the event which lasts from 4-6 pm, nor even everything including many spiritual conversations which happens during preparation from 10 am and clearing up afterwards. Messy Church is rather the community which involves leaders, helpers and guests, adults and children.
They also have a programme of evangelistic and pre-evangelistic events.
Rev Simon Roberton – Stock Baptist Church
Stock BC have used Christianity Explored, Mind the Gap and the LICC Frontline materials. As minister who has become well known in a village setting Simon finds conversations arise naturally.
Hope Café at Harlow Baptist Church first Wednesday every month 7.30-9 pm – Rev Tony Mayes
Building on a weekly coffee morning and toddler group but also drawing in folk with a variety of needs including some some homeless. With excellent publicity materials and a very friendly welcome with simple refreshments around tables building relationships with Christian music videos projected on the wall. Short discussion starter video from www.relevantmagazine.com/rtv introducing 10-15 minutes of relaxed unstructured discussion.
Café Extra at Burnham-on-Crouch Baptist Church, 10-12.30 first Sunday in the month – Rev Tony Jones
Taking the place of the weekly morning service, a very relaxed time of refreshments including croissants and muffins, sitting around tables with newspapers available. A very warm welcome from regular members. Come and go as you please. Church notice sheet and other literature on each table. Three short self-contained talks with PowerPoint during the time, encouraging relevant discussion around the tables. Café Extra has welcomed new faces on most occasions with one becoming a church member and others now attending ordinary services. This is a lovely approach to drawing in folk who wouldn’t usually come to an ordinary service, including visiting holidaymakers. Tony has said they spend around £50 each time on the refreshments, newspapers and quality coffee – all money well spent.
Rev Sue Johnston Great Sampford Baptist Church
A tiny church in a small village releasing their minister to be the “parish priest” to whole community going to where people are, e.g. as school governor, in local pub etc. So outreach e.g. with groups of ladies just chatting. Weekly Coffee Morning and weekly Toddler Group. The Church building itself is a witness if open to and used by the community (e.g. Great Sampford Singers)
Two Sundays a month, service laid out in Café format, eating and drinking throughout the morning. Sometimes sermon or Bible study or discussion with children drawing. Communion services sometimes also over Sunday lunch time including a meal. Café church format for Christmas Eve.
Simon Heard and Rev Lynsey Heslegrave – Colchester Baptist Church
Open Door drop-in Mon Wed Fri Sat café welcoming passers-by and folk with various needs, running for 30 years, with Bible Study Tuesday lunchtimes. Building up relationships and trust by listening and talking. The church now runs “Sundays at 1.” Free meal, singing, testimony, talk with some interaction 25-30 minutes. Now effectively a separate congregation.
Toddler Group holds “Little Lambs” seasonal services with Messy Church 3-4 times a year as well.
Caroline and David Gould – Wilburton Community Baptist Church
This is a truly inspiring example of adventurous outreach by a tiny church in a small village with no minister and minimal budget. Over the last five years Caroline and David together with the Church Secretary and a committed core have developed a vision statement with the goal of putting the church in the centre of the community. With a name change to Wilburton Community Baptist Church and strapline “serving the community faithfully” they run Sunday services in café layout and run weekly café church and monthly messy church. They also host periodic Saturday coffee mornings fundraising for local good causes.
The “sanctuary” is permanently attractively and imaginatively set up in café layout, including two sofas, chairs around tables and tea/coffee making facilities as well as the musical instruments (apart from Christmas when they need to fit in 100+ chairs). Weekly Toddler Group meets in the back hall. The church host an annual barbecue for the village serving 200 and are involved in all the local activities. They emphasised the need for the premises to be in good condition, and the benefits of an attractive notice board in their High Street location.
Rev Martin Hills and Rev Leesa McKay (evangelist) Central Baptist Church Chelmsford
The vision statement of CBC has been changed to read “Equipping God’s people to make a difference wherever they are.” The challenge is to see every member serving and witnessing to Jesus wherever they find themselves, in particular beyond church-run activities.
Leesa’s programme Wellsprings is now administrated by BUGB and she is working on a follow-up course based on creative and craft activities. She also pioneered the Life Size Advent Calendar. When you have a good conversation starter it is important to then have Christians on hand to have the conversations.
Rev June Love – Gunton Baptist Church
Gunton’s Sunday Morning service could be described as “Café Church Lite”. Half sit in rows of chairs. The other half is laid out on tables which work particularly well for families and children. Refreshments are served throughout. There are many aspects of the work at Gunton which would be inspiring and enlightening to all of us.
Rev Steve Tinning and Rev Emma Nash – Leigh Road Baptist Church
Oasis Café on the high street, welcoming and inclusive for 15 years. To help build community better the family room has been turned into a “Coffee Room”. It is the venue for a Craft Club, an open coffee club Drop In, a Reader Group (promoting well-being “Make friends with a book”). It has also been the venue for midweek morning and evening Alpha Courses. These have led on to a life and faith discussion group. Suspended meal and suspended coffees (you pay in order that they can be given free to another customer) have worked well. In helping others in this and other activities the donors encounter Christ.
Rev Jim Mullin – Haddenham Baptist Church
The church runs all-age family services first Sunday in the month, using BMS materials and puppets.
Weekly Ark is a very popular structured play session for Toddlers. Smaller weekly Jellytots drop in for mums, all creating community. Week Holiday Club in the summer and Halloween Light Factory. “So help me” weekly craft group. Other events e.g. coach trip to Sheringham. Opportunities arise for pastoral and “meaning of life” conversations.
Fifth Sunday morning café-style church with Nooma DVDs.
Nic Boyns – Cherry Hinton Baptist Church
A small church with all its activities in its one hall while its Family Centre is being rebuilt.
Weekly Toddler Group “Messy Play” includes a Bible story and Christian songs. “Messy Bible” combines Bible Study for mums with craft activities for children and has been running for 25 years, long before “Messy Church” was invented. Hosting Community Choir led by Nic also makes good inroads into the community.
Tim Lovejoy – Mission and Community Development Worker Fulmerston Christian Fellowship
Tim’s focus is on building community especially with young families through two weekly Toddler Groups, a Coffee Morning, a weekly Zumba class and the monthly local Residents Group (mostly of older people). An independent charity overseen by the church runs a Family and Community project facilitating events and activities. In all of these the prayer is that conversations will develop and there will be stepping stones to further involvement.
Three Sundays a month they hold a morning service, once a month followed by a shared lunch. On the other Sundays four times a year they have Sunday afternoon 2 hour Messy Church with 40-60 attending. For other 8 Sundays afternoon 1 hour “Slice of Church” with cake, attended by a few families.
All around the Eastern Baptist Associating there are churches doing exciting new things. In other contexts some would describe these as “pioneering” activities. I prefer to describe them as “adventurous outreach”, ordinary churches doing extra-ordinary mission. This is cutting-edge mission being undertaken often by smaller churches on small budgets – forms of outreach which almost any church could attempt although many as yet do not.
Two kinds of project are proving remarkably effective. Café Church takes a number of forms. It could be an otherwise unremarkable Sunday service with sung worship, prayers and a sermon, except that everyone is seated around tables instead of in rows and in some cases refreshments are available throughout. For others café church happens midweek and the spiritual content is principally discussion, sometimes prompted by a short talk or video. Messy Church is built around all-age art and craft activities sometimes but not necessarily including sung worship or teaching.
It is vital to recognise that Café Church and Messy Church are not weekly or monthly activities of one or two hours, any more than church is a weekly Sunday hymn, prayer, sermon sandwich. Church is not what we do but who we are. Church is not activity but community. Café Church and Messy Church are communities experiencing and exploring faith together drawn together around refreshment or around arts and crafts. Particularly significant, these are contexts which not-yet-Christians find accessible in which conversations about Jesus can arise naturally.