Informal, interactive, with pizza

The vision for Gainsborough Café Church came about four years ago, initially because of a need for something fresh and new for young people to come to. Liz Childs tells how that vision has developed along the way.

Some of the teens we were trying to reach already came along to the Gainsborough Methodist Church youth group but they had no other Christian contact. We talked to them about what sort of things they’d like to do and see if they were to get more involved and the result was the Café Church.

The idea was to see a congregation formed in which these young people, mainly 15 to 18-year-olds, could find faith, explore Christian discipleship and worship God and serve the local community. A small group of adults from the main church, who came and supported us, got a lot of out of it as well - and they still do.

Those in the youth group began to build up relationships with other local teenagers, some of them came along and this started to give rise to questions of God and faith. Café Church is informal, interactive and based around food, particularly pizza! At GCC we look at topics that are related to the life experiences of those we are trying to reach, namely young people who are totally unchurched.

We have a regular group of about 20 meeting together every fortnight. It’s interesting that three of the young people have been baptised, made members of the church and now occasionally attend the traditional morning worship at Gainsborough Methodist Church. There are others who would never dream of setting foot inside a church for a service; instead they would see Café Church as their spiritual home.

The good thing we’ve found is that Café Church is much more than a one hour get-together on a Sunday night because the youth group continues in its own right, we have a Bible study every Monday evening and there are various activities at other times. We also operate a drop-in and that generates a lot of crossover in our ministry – some may come in via activities and then come along to Café Church, others are at Café Church and end up getting involved in the wider activities. Christian faith and discipleship is high on the agenda whatever we do; it is not an add-on but at the heart of Café Church and everything else.

Café Church aims to reflect God’s love for all unconditionally, meaning everyone is welcome. It is a time for worship and exploration and is taken seriously by all involved – it is not another youth group!

Gainsborough is a market town in a rural setting but that description can conjure up a false image because this is quite a deprived area where there are not so many ‘nice, middle class, churched people’. Instead it is a place where traditional industries, and employers, fell away - though the area is now designated as a growth town and is set to double in size. At the moment it’s like being a tiny inner-city area in the middle of the countryside.

Café Church is supported by Gainsborough Methodist, which provides the facilities. I oversee it for the majority of the time but a youth leader and a couple of local preachers led it while I was away for a three-month sabbatical. I didn’t want to simply take the reins back when I returned because it’s good for others to be part of that leadership if something is to be truly sustainable.

At the start it really was quite hard to do lead because some of the young people only came for the food we had on offer so they were rather disruptive. It can still be a challenge but the encouragement is that the young people we have now are really looking for something in more depth; they want to engage with it all. Another encouragement is that there always seems to be new people coming along.

Over the past 12 months, we have been looking at the Bible and working our way through from Genesis, using ‘What’s in the Bible’ DVDs and YouTube clips to do so. At the request of the young people themselves, we have increased the worship aspect of the Café and now have live music. We have seen young people come to faith and even though they are in the early stages of their own Christian journeys, they are talking to others about what they’ve found and where they’ve found it. There seems to be a real thirst for understanding of what God is all about.

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