My fourth church isn’t really one of the estates based churches that I am visiting on my sabbatical but I was strongly recommended to see what it was all about, especially as he was using many of the principles Phil Potter advocated when I was his curate in Haydock.
King’s Church was planted some 10 years ago by Darren Johnson, coming out of an intense period of ministry in St Helens he felt called to Warrington to plant a new form of church. He got permission from his denomination (Elim Pentecostal) and told them that he didn’t want money/ people or a building!
He started it in his living room and the first people to come came from the youth work that he had been involved in at St Helens. He described how it grew from the living room to the living room and kitchen and then to the living room & kitchen and stairs and landing!
Given the burnout that he had found in St Helens he tried to encapsulate a vision that was simple but gave the energy to outreach and community. He therefore came up with three simple values to drive the church:
- It’s really important to love God
- It’s really important to love other Christians
- Don’t just talk about mission but do it
The key question that they were looking for in creating a model of church was not whether it was the best but does it grow disciples.
After some months they birthed some cell groups. They then tried to put cell groups together to form Missional Community Groups but due to differing visions this didn’t work. They therefore looked to create Missional Community Groups around areas of interest. The key to the Missional Community Groups was that they practised up/in/out on a regular basis – in other words they had a mixed diet of worship, community and mission.
They have found through trial and error that a Missional Community Group needs to be at least a dozen to ensure that people don’t burn out. When they originally started they could be 5-6 people but they found that they were too small and that people could get burnt out. It ensured that if a group wanted to focus on an estate or a geographical area that there were enough people to come up with missional ideas to be sustainable.
They now have Missional Community Groups with a number of focii. They have a mens one, several family type ones (with various foci), geographical ones etc.
They have also developed a monthly mix to ensure that there is a balance between the different activities that they have. For example, their Missional Community Group for families is made up of three cell groups. They meet twice a month as a Missional Community Group for prayer and worship and food in a group of about thirty. They use their homes and mix adults and children. Sometimes they’re all together, sometimes they have age related activities. Then the three cells meet twice a month. In addition this Missional Community Group supports three toddler groups and they have a ‘drop in’ ikea breakfast each week. Every now and again they run courses such as a parenting course or a marriage course etc. I must admit looking at the list that this one is involved in it appears a little heavy. the Men’s Missional Community Group looked a little more doable with meeting in Starbucks twice a month and having a monthly missional activity.
The Missional Community Groups are supported by the functions of the church to ensure that they are resourced and equipped to fulfil their mission. This means that they take priority in how things are done and what resources are produced.
On top of the Missional Community Groups they also have Huddle groups which are aimed to grow people in their walk with Jesus. They use sets of questions around faith, character and skills and meet together monthly for about an hour. Currently, they have filtered down the Huddle groups; so they started with the core team and then they created huddles with Missional Community Group leaders and then they worked with cell leaders.
One of their aims is to build a structured side to church as well as a spontaneous side to encourage a mix. A spontaneous side might be to go fishing with friends and invite church and non church friends with you.
The results for them have been impressive with about 500 people in their clusters and about 230 on a sunday. One of the interesting things is Darren’s view of membership. He loves that people are connected in any way to the church but membership is defined as those involved in Up/In/Out – i.e. that they are involved in the worshipping life of the church, the community life of the church and involved in mission.
The Up/In/Out is part of the Life Shapes that were pioneered by St Thomas Crookes and are used to build their leaders. Although they don’t do a formal course they use it in training and in talks and mentoring of leaders in the church.
Just before I met with Darren I had lunch with two old friends who used to be in my old church of St Mark’s, Haydock but are now part of Kings Church. They were keen participants of the church and were able to say how massively relational and encouraging the church was.
Overall God has used Darren to build an impressive church – a church that has reached out to the communities around them and are actively involved in many different aspects. That isn’t afraid to take risks and admit mistakes and even withdraw if necessary (they had been involved in a Rugby club that kept saying no to ideas put forward – but then they noticed that they had taken the ideas and used them themselves – so they withdrew).
Note: By the way if you read my Bradford trip or tried to and couldn’t I had problems in that it published too early! It is now online here: Becoming Jesus Shaped in Bradford