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Going to where the church isn't

Conversations in a pub, an arts cafe - Chris Duffett shares two examples of pioneering that are making a difference 

As adviser for the Pioneer Collective I reckon that I can only advise out of what I do; advice without experience can become dry old theory. I must admit that I love being a practitioner and have always desired to be a bit of a front runner with the good news, looking for new ways that others can ‘get it.’

Chris DuffettThis role I have with the Pioneer Collective is no exception. I long that our Baptist family would embrace more new ways of being and doing Church. Church for those who don’t know what church is. In doing so it doesn’t mean old ways of doing church are wrong, it simply means new ways are desperately needed for the sake of the majority of people in the UK who have yet to hear what Jesus is all about.

I want to share with you two examples of pioneering that I seek to do where I live and where I serve as city centre chaplain.

Firstly in my role as chaplain in the city centre of Peterborough: this started four years ago as a position working with the Churches Together in Central Peterborough as a day a week job. It has now developed to be part of Light Project Peterborough and there are around 14 of us who serve on the team every Friday in different ways.

A couple of years back I looked for a place of peace (Matthew 10, Luke 10) where we would be welcome and also have a place to meet people.

Since then a few of us have met most Friday mornings at one of the Wetherspoon pubs in the city centre. In the pub we have done a variety of activities: using the Jesus Deck, offering free tea and coffee, having someone there to listen (with a sign that says ‘I will listen’) and my favourite activity, painting.

I sit and paint and engage with people through the simple watercolours that I do. Sometimes they mean something to someone through the words or symbolism, sometimes the pictures turn out to be prophetic as they speak in ways that I couldn’t have imagined.

Through these regular activities we have also been able to invite different bands into the pub to perform music and at Christmas time had the carol singers! All these activities have been a brilliant way of meeting strangers who have become friends who we hope may become disciples.

I long that our Baptist family would embrace more new ways of being and doing Church. Church for those who don’t know what church is. 

Recently I have noticed that there are some good indicators that what we are doing is making some difference. Firstly, amongst the regulars and staff when we have been asked to ‘keep an eye’ on different people who frequent the pub. This was seen recently when a relationship broke down between two regulars and we were asked to look out for the man whose partner had left him. One of the team regularly checks up on him and listens to how he is doing. A short while back he wouldn’t engage with us other than pleasantries, now he looks for an opportunity to talk and ask for prayer.

Another encouragement has been that one of the managers met with me and asked if I could help marry him and his new girlfriend. We have met up a couple of times to talk about getting married and the shape of the service.

Another man looks out for me regularly and I sit with him over a cuppa listening to how he is doing. He has had the most extraordinary life and I have encouraged him to write down some of the stories to help others. This interaction all started when I painted a picture for him that contained the phase ‘everlasting life…’ he pondered the picture and spoke of his experiences of ‘dying’ after a horrific accident and having met someone who he had felt was Jesus. Despite such a dramatic experience many years later he had yet to work out whether the Christian faith had any relevance for him. Why? He didn’t know any Christians and had never met any, until he met us down the pub one Friday morning.

These are some small indicators of our presence as a team making some connection with those we are looking to serve. Most importantly is that we have gone where Church isn’t. As we listen to those around us, serve them, share stories of faith and seek to build community our hope is that we may make disciples.

Lighthouse cafe250The other example of pioneering I do is a weekly café called Lighthouse. This is in a rural context and is run out of a disused Baptist chapel in Great Gransden. 

A year ago the old back school hall was full of junk and rubbish. We cleared it out and ran a few arty type events some concerts and also ran a week’s art café.

This was so well used and liked we now open up one day a week and have transformed the old back hall into a good café meeting space.

We are also planning some other concerts. What we’re not doing is starting with church, but rather looking to build community, share stories of faith, help people become disciples and then, hopefully, see a church grow out of the new group of disciples!

Creating space for community and conversations, getting to know people is a softly softly approach to pioneering. I must admit I am loving it and would love to serve others more and more locally through the cafe and the arts.

If you would like to visit me in Great Gransden or Peterborough and experience first hand what I do, well you would be most welcome. Please do email me and I will send the Pioneer Collective dates for 2015.


Baptist minister and evangelist Chris Duffett is a former President of the Baptist Union of Great Britain. He is an advisor to the Pioneer Collective, which has a vision of releasing 400 Baptist pioneers over the next five years. More ideas can be found on his blog

Baptist Times, 27/01/2015
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