In September 2009, Tim Haughton (Minister of Discipleship at St. Paul’s Bloor Street, Toronto) travelled to the UK to explore Fresh Expressions of Church. He is blogging about his experiences here.
My trusty SatNav (invaluable when it takes all your concentration to stay on the left hand side of the road) led me down into central Sheffield and the DQ dance club — to the home of a 6 year old church plant from Christ Church Fulwood – named Christ Church Central (CCC) – “A Church for those who don’t go to church”.
Sheffield’s core has been revitalized in recent history – with some 7000 people moving into the neighbourhood located in high-rise flats. I was anxious to see how they were connecting with their community – as much of Toronto would have a similar demographic.
A large WELCOME sign beckoned me in along with the smell of stale beer and vomit. As I made my way onto the dance floor my shoes stuck to the floor – the residue of the night before. What had only 18 hours ago been a happening ‘house’ scene in Sheffield was now transformed into a fresh expression of church. The screams of the dancers, replaced with the screams of some 40 children running to and fro from the refreshments station located at the bar.
My University roommate had attended the church for 3 years – so let the pastors know I was coming – and very quickly the greeters led me to speak with the lead pastor – a man with a clear vision to be a biblical presence in the heart of the city – “to be faithful to the gospel & relevant to the culture”. After a brief conversation he introduced me to others within the community and moved away to begin the service.
A worship team (guitar, piano, drums, flute, and vocalists) led us in a mix of contemporary and traditional worship music – the worship leader being unapologetic about the Christianese – did a masterful job articulating / explaining / translating in a culturally relevant way.
A testimony of a woman’s journey to faith and her beginning a woman’s ministry at CCC proceeded the children crossing the road for children’s ministry – and then the preacher got up to speak. I was surprised in a night club setting – to hear a 2 point exegetical sermon on the John 15 “I am the vine” statement of Jesus.
For a culturally relevant church plant in a night club I was surprised by what I saw – the only real difference I saw between what they were doing and perhaps an informal church service in a church building – was just that – the building.
Was I missing something??
At the end of the service I sat down with one of the members – “Steve” – and straight up he asked me as an outside observer what I thought. I was honest – I thought what they were doing was great – but I couldn’t see much difference between what they were doing and an informal church service – except that it was in a night club – (which certainly is quite a radical step)
“Steve” articulated the same two foci of the pastor – biblical faithfulness and cultural relevance – and admitted sometimes they aired to one side over the other. But as we continued to talk I began to understand the service content in light of where their growth was coming from. The Christian’s at CCC were engaged in networks of relationships – (friends, work, hobbies etc.) – and were inviting their friends – Christian and non-Christian alike to experience CCC . Growth was happening through both people looking for a church community and conversion. And what great growth!! 6 years into the plant – the 50 people involved as the initial seed from the parent church – had now ballooned into 200 people spread over 2 services.
As we continued in conversation however “Steve” bemoaned the reality that they weren’t doing more with the community around them. They had 2-3 people in their community involved with DQ night club – including one of the DJ’s – but had not yet made inroads into that community. A Somalian community had grown up around them – and again no inroads had been made.
I asked “Steve” why he and his wife had come – ‘here we are needed’ he said – the community he had come from had loads of money, resources, and when he got involved he felt like they were doing him a favor – instead at CCC he was needed – he could use his gifts and desire to minister to others in great ways – you could tell he owned and believed in what they were doing at DQ.
“It’s just too bloody hard”
When I asked one of the pastors about their connections with the flats around them – this was the response I got – followed by – “perhaps we should again reconsider it”.
Another said – the people in flats pay for their security – a key for the front door – for each individual floor – and each individual door. Members in the buildings, inhibited by the cultural reservation of the British and the prevailing influence of secularism – were not making connections with their neighbours.
My old University Roommate said CCC was the best church he had ever been a part of. And I could see why he said this. It is a great church – great teaching – happening children’s ministry – homeless outreach – depth of community – “Church on a bus”
– but the night club almost seemed out of place –
What was I to make of this???
Was this a fresh expression of church that had lost its original vision? “Steve” seemed to be in this vain –“ we need the fresh ideas that started this place” – he said.
Is this a community that has been blessed by God in one area – and has followed that leading – as Christians are engaging with their neighbours in evangelism – you can’t argue with 300% growth in 6 years.
As I walked outside to get some fresh air – and a break from the aroma of stale beer and vomit – I noticed another aroma lingering with me. The sweet smell of worshipping with at community in mission – just perhaps not the original mission they began with.
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