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11 May 2011

Doing church differently

Doing church differently

Some would say doing church differently has been tried and tested the world over, but through its Fresh Expressions programme, the Diocese of Liverpool has been pioneering churches with a difference and seeing encouraging results. 

The initiative, a way of getting church out of the building and into communities, has been responsible for the birth of ground breaking projects running with numerous communities in Liverpool and surrounding area. We caught up with Phil Potter from the Liverpool diocese to tell us more.

"I was the vicar of a church in Haydock, Chesire and was able to move the church through its transition over 15 years through renewal, re-ordering the building, restructuring to a cell church model, resourcing and re-inventing in partnership with other local churches," says Phil. "We got to try everything in mission - and the church grew to having four services on a Sunday."

Despite the numbers in church however, Phil knew that the rest of the community didn't really know what was on offer.

Says Phil: "You can have 1,000 people in church but still have 10,000 people on your doorstep that don't get it and aren't there. From these experiences I was increasingly aware what church wasn't giving to people outside."

In response he began a café church project with members of another parish where the church building was used a lot by the community. "They had lots of connections with people who were un-churched," says Phil. The project was then able to develop a café, building in smaller elements of church such as a 'thought for the day'. 

"Gradually as these groups developed the spiritual temperature increased and there was need to have more elements of worship and prayer," adds Phil.  

Working with those in the work place has also been a growth area in developing new types of church. Riverforce was a small group format of church that was held with Christians in the Merseyside Police Force. Groups began multiplying as more people joined, and with the backing of the Deputy Chief Constable in Merseyside the groups became well established.

"He was keen to encourage others in the force that needed support in their roles and agreed to have small groups," says Phil.

As a result of the success, a new initiative working with those in their workplaces called River in the City is being developed at the moment, and Fresh Expressions hope this will start in the L1 central area of Liverpool.

Fresh Expressions was also able to re-start a previous church plant that had been established in a school, and by using a classroom format for children and parents not normally in church, attendance grew. 

"The church was developed with prayer stations in a school context, where children and families could take part based on a theme. The format also used the 'circle time' used in school for any active worship that people wanted to do," says Phil.

In the end the sessions were so popular that parents were asking for more - in particular for help in parenting. "We started running evenings where we had parents and a meal together and then ran a parenting course, providing church in a culture that parents were familiar with," he says.

For Phil, the key to the success of Fresh Expressions has been tapping into people's skills and allowing them to use them to provide alternative forms of church.

"God has shaped his people to have a natural passion that can then connect them missionally. There may be no youth ministry in your church but you could start a project…[where] you are in contact with people connected to young people and a youth mission could start from there. You have to look for where the passion is and what doors are naturally opening."

For more information on Fresh Expressions go to www.liverpool.anglican.org