Five Tips for pioneers 2: Hang Out.

friends sticomLast week I posted my five tips for new pioneers, which has come out of our first five years working here. Here they are in short:

  1. Pray a lot.
  2. Hang Out.
  3. Find a team and form alliances.
  4. Make a five year plan don’t expect to stick to it.
  5. Expect opposition.

2 Time hanging out with people (doing nothing in particular) is not time wasted. 

When we arrived here we didn’t know anyone, and I didn’t have anything in my diary apart from a few clergy meetings here and there. Where to start? The obvious thing we needed to do was to get to know some people. So we joined the groups and associations that were already running on the development, and we were intentional about getting to know others (for example, by hanging out in public spaces, and by following up initial meetings with an invitation to coffee or dinner or something), and we formed groups where people of like interests could join together.

During the first 12 months, we didn’t start anything ‘churchy’, but just sent time hanging out. I spent quite a lot of time playing at the playpark making conversation, or simply walking around or sitting in the coffee shop once it opened, getting to know people. What we found is that none of those relationships were wasted. When we did start groups, people came and we’re willing to join in, because they already knew us. And when we started worship, a few people joined us too. Others, who may not have joined us in anything, got back in touch when they wanted a wedding or baptism or something like that, and this gave us the opportunity to rekindle the relationship.

We’ve learnt that nothing happens without good relationships. Nothing was wasted and that time gave us a decent standing in the community and a good starting point with many.

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Five Tips for pioneers 1: Pray.


1. Pray a lot. We can’t do this in our own power 

Any sort of Church growth is by the Spirit of God. Using a gardening analogy, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:6

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow

Most of us, as Christians, know this, but when we get down to it we can find all sorts of excuses not to pray, thinking that if we just do the right things, growth with come. Every person who comes to faith does so by the power of God.

There is also a well-known saying in pioneering (which comes from former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams) that:

mission is finding out what God is doing and joining in.

God is already on the move as we’d do best to find out where. We can never hope to know where or how God is moving unless we pray, listen to God’s voice, and keep our eyes open looking for signs of his work.

So if you are just starting out in a pioneering situation, my advice to you is pray a lot. We prayed some, but I wish we’d prayed some more. Pray alone, pray with your team, pray at home, pray in different places!



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Five Tips for new Pioneers

quote ideas tips advice out of the box thinkingAfter being in post for five years, here are five pieces of advice to new pioneers starting out. They are not rocket science but useful to remember.

In no particular order here they are. I’ll expand on each in future blog posts.

  1.  Pray a lot. We can’t do this in our own power
  2. Time hanging out with people (doing nothing in particular) is not time wasted.
  3. Find a team and form alliances.
  4. Five year plans are useful but don’t expect to stick to them.
  5.  Expect opposition from somewhere, even from unexpected places


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Five year Update!

Berrywood church bannerIt is now nearly five years since we moved to the St Crispin’s new housing development, along with our baby boy, our young cat, and our hopes to establish a worshipping community from the residents here. We knew no-one so we had to rely on God’s grace to see who He would bring us. Five years on, our baby boy is now a school boy, he has gained a little sister, (now aged three), and the cat, who is older but no more wise, has been joined by four chickens.

More crucially, God has been answering our prayers to bring people to him. After beginning by creating community activities through which we could build relationships, a small group of us started worshipping together on a Sunday afternoon in an informal cafe-style gathering in May 2012, initially once per month. Now we meet four times per month and when there is a fifth Sunday, we do something different together. We are still relatively small – if everyone was there at the same time we’d have about 35 regulars, including 15 children. Being honest, five years ago I might have hoped for the numbers to be higher by this point, but we rejoice that of our 20 adults, about half have either come to faith, or are on the journey, and others have grown in faith immensely since they joined us. Beyond the regulars, we have a large network of people from the community with whom we have good relationships, though our community activities for mums, dads, men, and children, as well as our through our seeker-friendly groups. We constantly pray that these relationships will bear fruit too.

You may remember that this project was started with five years of funding from the Diocese and the Church Commissioners. At the end of this time, a new plan would have to be developed. As it is, many of our regulars have started giving, which means we can cover many of our weekly costs ourselves. These include charges for room hire, the salary for a part time children’s worker, as well as for resources and expenses. It was always unlikely that a church plant from scratch would be entirely self-sufficient after only five years, able to pay it’s way in the Church of England as well as covering it’s own ministries. So over the last couple of years, I’ve been working with the diocese and others to work out how to bring Berrywood Church to its next phase of life.

St Crispin’s new-build is located within the geographical parish of Duston, with it’s two churches, St. Luke’s, the ancient village church, and St Francis, a 1960’s church plant with an ageing congregation. The parish as a whole is ripe for mission. Due to retirements, this gave us an opportunity to reimagine the Anglican setup in this part of Northampton.

From the end of April 2015, Berrywood has no longer been a pioneer project working separately from the parish, but under the leadership of a new Rector (overall team leader), we have joined with the existing churches. At the same time I became Team Vicar with responsibility for Berrywood Church. The Duston Team Ministry will now have three churches, two full-time ministers and one part-time (still to be appointed), and we will be able to think missionally about the whole area.

The new Rector has experience of leading a multi-church team, and has successfully overseen the development of fresh expressions in previous parishes. She also has a heart for helping people to engage in Bible study and she longs for people to come to faith. I am confident that we can work well together to impact the whole parish. The hope is that from Berrywood, we can release some missional thinking to the rest of the parish, and that we can all benefit from resourcing mission as one team, rather than three smallish churches.

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Walking Church on Good Friday

An article written for the diocesan magazine about our Good Friday walk in the woods.


Walking Church

A few years ago I came across an idea for combining walking and church, being pioneered in North London by Wood Green Mennonite Church.The concept is to get into the outdoors to help people engage with God in the fresh air, and the hope was that this form of Church might become attractive to those who don’t like to be sat still in a cold building. It is still a complete service, with liturgy, readings, prayers and a talk but these take place at various stops on the walk, allowing plenty of time in between for worshippers to ponder what had been said, discuss it with others, or simply to catch up! I had the opportunity to try out a shortened version of their Walking Church at the Greenbelt Festival in 2012, a write-up of which can be found in another article on my blog.

As with all good ideas, I started to think as to whether this could be adapted to be useful in our setting.

We are a small church, grown out of relationships in a new-build community. With the exception of one, all of our members have children under five. Walking Church as they ran it simply wasn’t going to work, but a Strolling church, where people were free to bring their pushchairs and move at a toddlers pace, might. Was there a way we could adapt it to fit the needs of adults and pre-schoolers?

Since then we have run a variation of Walking Church on four occasions, the most successful being on Good Friday both in 2013 and 2014. The idea of stopping at various points and reflecting lends itself well to Good Friday, as people have for many years by using the Stations of the Cross. We decided on an hours walk (at toddler pace) in the local woods with six stops. At each we would take one aspect of the easter story, read a passage, share a thought, and say a prayer. The Way of the Cross material in Common Worship’s Lent resources was very useful, as was the use of Resurrection Eggs at each station to engage the children. We rounded it off with a trip to the coffee shop.

In church, it is often a struggle to get toddlers and preschooler to sit down, be quiet and engage with something. Often all little boys want to do is to run and jump and generally make a noise. Having church outside lends itself to this. It really didn’t matter that our boys were running around with dirty sticks or picking up snails. We were in the woods, that is what they are supposed to do! We have also used scavenger hunts, egg hunts, a photo competition (using smart phones), and bubble prayers which they loved too.

This seems to be a form of church that people found it relatively easy to invite others to. On the first Good Friday well we had, many of our regulars came and brought friends. Going for a walk is something that many people do on a Bank Holiday anyway, so going on a nice walk at the same time as marking the season (whilst also avoiding having to sit through a church service) was, apparently, quite appealing. At another of our walks, the husband of a member, who would not usually come near a conventional church service, felt able to cycle round the woods as we were doing our Walking Worship. He joined us in the coffee shop afterwards, so he didn’t feel he was entirely excluded.

If you would like to know more about the original Walking church, check out their website or read this article on the Fresh Expressions website.

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Challenges of Church Planting

Hugo Charteris at Christ Church Newcastle makes some obvious but very real observations about church planting:

Downsides to Church Planting

At Christ Church we are committed to being a church (network of churches) that plant churches. I’m a fan. Yet let’s be honest there are downsides.

1. No people

If you’re used to attending a church of 500, then 100 will feel very small. If 100 is normal, then 20 will feel small. Indeed, you may be wondering, ‘what on earth do we think we’re doing, this doesn’t feel like real church at all’.  I know that feeling well having planted CC Heaton with 13, and CC Fenham with 9.

2. No building

If you’ve got the money then you can buy. Yet typically most new churches will need to rent. Certainly that’s what we’ve done and will need to do in the future. Which means hard work setting things up and down every week.  Yet more significantly it means not having a sense of place or belonging.

3. No money

If you start a new church then invariably money will be an issue. For us it meant that I didn’t take a salary for four years. That’s not an option for others, so each new plant presents a significant challenge. And will continue to do so as we plan for the future.

4. No structures

If you’re someone who likes structure then church planting will probably be difficult for you. No longer can you say, ‘But it’s always been done like this before’, because everything is new and the slate clean. Even the time that you gather is up for grabs.

5. High cost

This is less about money and more about the personal cost. There are friends you’ll no longer see, activities no longer available to you. For a Sunday to run you’ll have to do more than just one task (a good thing!), and some things will just not be as good as they used to be (like the music).

Of course none of the above is bad.  What’s more the nature of Christian discipleship is to ‘deny, take up and follow’. Nevertheless, given you belong to a church that aims to plant churches it’s worth knowing something of the downsides. Yet there are upsides. Which I’ll come to next time.

Some of the practical challenges for us have been getting used to lugging things around in your car every week, wondering whether we can afford to meet on another Sunday of the month (room hire charges), encouraging people to give and lead, challenges over where to meet. Of course, all these are put into perspective when you have a successful service, when someone new turns up and enjoys it, and more importantly when people respond in ways big and small to the gospel.

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photoAnother local minister put me onto this book about Jesus’ greatest commandments, The Art of Neighboring, by American ministers Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon. Imagine if a network of churches across the city were engaged in actively pursuing the best for the neighbours on their street, what sort of impact that might have on the city.

It’s a simple book with a straight-forward premise, but one that is useful to remind ourselves of. When asked by one of the teachers of the day which of God’s commandments was the greatest, Jesus gave this answer which silenced them.

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt 22:37-40)

The question, “but who is my neighbour?” is a good one. If we are supposed to love our neighbours, who are they? In one sense everyone is our neighbour – people of different nationalities, creeds, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, and ages. This is true, but sometimes an answer like this is not practically useful to those wanting to live out a life of “loving their neighbours”. If we are to love everyone, where specifically do we start?

This is where Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon’s book, The Art of Neighbouring, can come in useful. Looking at American suburban society in particular (the book is not limited to this setting but is primarily written from this point of view), they saw that, in fact, people often don’t know those who live immediately around them. I think this is true in the UK too, especially in new-build developments which don’t have a lot of history or long-term residents. Their answer to “where do you start?” is to look at other residents of your area.

They begin by asking you to think of the people who live immediately around you. Can you picture them? Beyond that, what kind of relationship do you have with them? Do you know their names? What sort of person are they? What do they like doing or talking about? Do you know what their desires or concerns are? With this in mind, Runyon and Pathak saw the great potential for impacting community cohesion, security, and general welfare of society for the better, simply if Christians took this command seriously with their literal neighbours. The idea is not to set out with a mission to convert them, but simply to share something of God’s kingdom-goodness with the world by creating loving and peaceful communities. Think about it, how much of your town would be impacted if every member of your church made a commitment to get to know, befriend, and be involved in the lives of those who live around them? I also have no doubt that a side-effect of this will be to open up opportunities for people to find out about and discover faith. When people are confronted with God’s goodness, some will respond.

It is an easy read, with that one central point running through it, and full of suggestions of how to out the greatest commandments into practice, but as always, it will need some adjustment to the individual context. It is a simple premise which, if a number of churches in one city commit to, could have a big impact.

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