In parts one and two I looked at the first two cities, and in this post want to look at my trip to the north of England, and especially the time in Leeds at Mosaic Church, led by Matt Hatch.
Arriving up at my Stockport base, I has blessed to be able to meet up for lunch in Manchester with Julian Adams, who was right in the middle of the process of actually moving to the city. Later that day he was waiting for confirmation about the house he was moving into!
And the main thing that came from that lunch, besides a great chat and getting to know him a little, was the opening to come to a conference he's speaking at in March that is gathering a number of prophetic people and should teach me, through practical action, everything I had come to learn. So more on that at another time.
My second day in the north was spent up in Leeds, at Mosaic Church, where Matt & Pip Hatch had moved up to a few years before to plant, as they had felt God leading them. I was there to look at, and see first hand, their whole mission group structure. These are their midweek groups that are as much church as their Sunday gathering is.
I learnt a lot more though.
They are a wonderfully warm people, so honouring like I have not really come across. They gave me their best time, all three elders in turn meeting with me, sharing with me, wanting to help. I felt like a royal visitor...their heart for people so evident in their actions towards me. That left a lasting impression!
As a church, borrowed ideas of course from other well established places, they work along the lines of being a community of Growth, of Care and of Mission. And within the mission area, they breakdown into the three P's - People, Passion & Places.
These three form the basis of their mission group structure, though structuring and naming something that in essence best works unstructured, is always a limitation. But for ease of understanding, I'll keep calling them mission groups.
The Places is easiest understood as being geographical within the city - groups built around specific localities. Passion outworks itself in what people enjoy doing - so they have football groups, performing arts, film groups. People means certain groups - so for example there's a group of women that work with ladies in the Red Light district of Leeds. Other groups work with the homeless.
The heart of mission groups is why should a group meet first and then go out and feed the homeless - in other words, doing 'the church bit' and then the 'mission' bit. This is so often how churches function in the UK. But without meaning to it separates 'church' from 'mission' - but they are, and this is the heart of what they are doing in Leeds, one and the same thing! They would say, go out on the streets first, and then do the 'group' with those you've met and gathered with!
As they are bringing this ethos into an already established setting, they are having to over-compensate in their language to challenge the preconceptions that 'church' is defined by a meeting in a hall on a Sunday.
They long for the day their 'church' is counted by how many people attend a midweek group, and not by the Sunday attendance. They long for there to be 500 in their church but only 400 attending on a Sunday.
They are bringing a fresh new look at what it is to be a people of God in a city like Leeds. Far from watering down the gospel, they are challenging the assumptions people now have, making the church far more accessible for the lost than ever before.
Under this structure, they don't really run anything separately, so even their mum's and tots group is actually a mission group and not a 'ministry' of the church. The one exception is their Alpha course (which they are reshaped and call 'Intro'). These people, once coming through the course though, are most likely to form a new mission group anyway, but it is done not entirely as one group to start with and is open to all.
It's important they decentralise - so that they are neither Sunday focused nor leader focused. The central hub of Mosaic is there to resource what's around it and not the other way round.
It's about putting community before a meeting.
Mission also needs to be a friendship group - it's seeing socials as OK, and nothing 'lesser' than a 'normal' meeting. When friendships are there, they also look within the group and breakdown maybe to 3 groups of three with three separate interests.
They want to become a House church without losing the shop front that is their Sunday morning. And I think that this is the perfect balance - Sunday's will always draw people, certainly those 'used' to 'church', and for these visitors, both Christians and non-Christians, to see lots of smaller focus groups working that can link them in is certainly a great thing. Sunday's are there to serve churches and are vital for that - depending on what culture you are in, they have varying importance as well.
So I came away very encouraged, having gone with Pip to one of their Thursday night groups, seeing first hand what goes on. And it was something that Pip said about the meeting night that also most stuck with me. They would, say for September to December, get the diary out and plan the term's group night based on the following: firstly, any birthdays that the group members have go in. Plus any events, like fireworks night (lets say it falls on a Saturday) - this becomes a big focus event to invite people too. So the night they actually meet on will vary from week to week, and only when there is nothing else will they meet on the default night of Thursday. This, maybe more so than anything else, is radically challenging to the perception that 'group' has to happen on the same night of the week (most commonly Wednesday).
In London, where I was at this last weekend, they have two groups that meet on a Sunday afternoon, before their meeting at the theater! But more on that visit in the next entry.
The Sunday visits to Stockport (in the morning) and Matlock in the evening (where Chesterfield were also present), where I spoke at both meetings, were personal catch ups on our own situation and experiences in Russia. We showed the new church DVD here for the first time - have a look on our new website - www.hopechurchstpetersburg.com
So I returned south, to Oxford, encouraged. Leeds had taught me a lot - going the mission group structure in St Petersburg will have its challenges, but we are small enough to get the correct mindset in place early on.