I’ve been contemplating network church as a structure for a possible new church here so I thought I’d do some very basic research about other Network Churches around the country. What are their structures, aims and core groups and activities. I see a network church as having a umber of groups which are affiliated each which has slightly different vision but the same aims of undertaking kingdom work of some sort. Some could be about discipleship, some about enjoying an interest in community, some about support and others about social action or community building. What they should all have in common, in my opinion, is that some aspect of God’s transforming power must be evident in them. This could be from as little as conversations that happen naturally after, say, playing football or while knitting, or more specific aims of which transform some aspect of community or society or discuss faith. Each group should be easy and accessible to join and should encourage discipleship in some way. Potentially, these network groups should be more accessible to those on the fringe and unchurched people and an easier way in than a traditional model where centralised worship in the core activity of the church.
One of the beauties of a network model is that it is easily adaptable to different contexts depending on the profile of the people around. There are some below that are rural, some working in deprived areas and some in cities.
So here’s my roundup of the network churches I know about or could easily find information about:
London Network Church is a multicultural church with two congregations. It’s really a cell church rather than what I would call a network church, with the cells linked together They don’t appear to use interests or existing natural networks into communities
West Bromwich Network Church ( website still being developed) is Anglican based with a pioneer minister with funding for the post for at least seven years. It is set in a challenging part of West Brom deanery. He is one day a week chaplain to a YMCA and on the back of that has a café style group for 16-25s. Also there is a gathering place for unchurched people in a school for young families.
There’s a good article on the Share website.
Network Church in Essex is run out of Frinton Gospel Chapel is a network in 4 rural villages, with different things happening in each one. I’m not sure what denomination they are. They are engaging through rural pursuits such as walking (conteplative walks), childrens countryside centre, and café style church. One of the coastal villages looks like it needs a lot of investment.
A short video on the condition of the estate is here and an Anglia News report is here.
The Point in Sussex is an Anglican network church led by Will Kemp. This is Matt Redman’s church. They have sunday morning meetings including stuff for kids and a café style service for youth, Kids activities during the week and youth meeting too. They operate around ‘communities’ which include hang out place for 18-30’s, a walking group, several Bible-based groups, satelite groups which seem to operate like outward looking cells, and a supper group. Also involved in healing on the streets.
Network! in Harpdenden and St. Albans. This also appears to be a cell based church with a Sunday morning gathering, in the charasmatic mould. Not sure if it’s really a network church in my definition.
Exeter Network Church run by Jon Soper (whom I have met and shared a 10th wicket stand of about 30 in the Church Times Cup against Oxford – we lost). It’s core philosophy is that each member of the congregation should be networked through their eveyday lives to the outside. They do have stuff on Sunday’s (two meetings at 4:30 and 7pm) but also have network groups throughout the week, which is the core unit of the church. Each network does something slightly different. Salsa, and Book Club do what it says on the tin. There’s a walking group, a monthly social group, football, surfing, a discipleship group for 18-25s and a support group for “Women of a certain age” and “Women who work for themselves” This does seem to be a true network church. It would be interesting to find out the christian content or vision of each group.
Once a month they have a “ blurred edge” sunday where there is no gathering but each network or individual is encouraged to express the love of Jesus’ in a creative way – it could be as simple as inviting round your neighbour for dinner which you had always intended to do, or praying in the high street etc.
Vineyard Network Church in Birmingham has a network of cells across the city, and two services each Sunday (except on one sunday where there is no service) Cells are Christian in content and exist for prayer, support, study etc. They have a social group which appears to be to encourage relationships between people in the church but as a church they also get involved in outreach social action, such as Foodbank. On community sunday they don’t meet centrally but put on various events across the city which the wider community might want to come to (such as discussion groups, fireworkds, healing on the streets, comedy night etc). Again, is this a true network church or does the term ‘network’ describe the affiliation of the various cells to the centre?
And finally… Emmanuel Network Church in Finchley, London is an Anglican fresh expression – “a different sort of Church which meets in a variety of places” and is hoped it will “become known for making a positive difference through their networks.“ It looks like it has only recently been launched and they have initially been focussing on helping out their local community. Again they hope to be once community that is linked together and which meets in various ways in various places. They define what they want to be as a church which in involved with the world not just during services. . There are two small groups and obviously some sort of central gathering but it is not clear from the website what or where it is!
So, some churches use the term network but are really more like cells and others are true to using the idea that our postmodern social interactions are based on networks rather than geography. Of those above Exeter Network church seems to me to be clearest about what it wants to be and what the purpose of the networking is, and others are in the same mould. I don’t think it’s good to copy any model exactly but it is useful to see a church like Exeter Network Church and apply their thinking into a new situation.