East Worthing Café Church

Monday, 26 December, 2011

John BealesIn 2009 a group of Christians hired East Worthing Community Centre for 'a couple of weeks' to trial a café church. Now, over two years on, and an average of 50 people attend East Worthing Café Church every week. Leader John Beales explains more.

It all started when I was on the leadership team at a Christian Fellowship in nearby Sompting. Driving past East Worthing Community Centre one day, I felt that God gave me a 'nudge' about using the venue. The hall at the Centre had previously been used by another church in the town but they had moved to different premises and the space had not been used by a church for some while.

East Worthing Café Church - signI had been Elim trained and was previously an elder at Elim Christian Fellowship in Worthing for three years so I knew the area and people. My wife and I had no plans to start up a church at all but every time I went by the Centre it was as if God was saying, 'go on'. Right from the start, when we were beginning to pray about it, I spoke to all the church leaders in that part of Worthing and involved them in our thinking and plans. They were very supportive of us starting something there.

As we are not a denominational church we are very much entrenched in the fraternal team for the south of the town. It's not like I'm a lone ranger in this because some of these people have known me for a very long time! We may join up with something in Assemblies of God but we are open to what God wants us to do and there is no intention of treading on other people's toes.

The result of our prayers was that I got together a few friends I knew and we hired the hall for a couple of weeks to see how things went. Today East Worthing Café Church is running every Sunday – apart from five Sundays in the year when the karate club gets the first shout on the hall!

East Worthing Café Church - cake

People come in for their coffee and cake and then we do what many would see as our 'religious thing' at the start of the service by lighting a candle. It's a bit of a statement from us and the statement involves us loving Jesus and loving them; we certainly won't make people feel condemned at all. We don't read out long passages of the Bible to them but they are really interested in it. The proof of that is them asking us all sorts of questions! All of us will go through the Book of Mark in different ways, according to age.

The café church runs from 2pm to 4pm and we have a break in the middle for about 25 minutes. They can stay or go, come in for five minutes or stay for a long time. People don't like long blocks of worship – instead we use DVDs that get their attention as part of our aim to give God the chance to get their attention too! I'm an illusionist so I may also do a trick. It's trying to use Scripture in a way that appeals to people today. A lot of people don't know these stories and they don't know who the Saviour is.

East Worthing Café Church - childrenChildren are welcome but they have to come with either a parent or an adult and they are then responsible for them. We get about 50 people on average and roughly a dozen kids between the ages of three and 17. It's well mixed and about quarter of the people are unchurched. We also do fun activities in the half term, As an illusionist it's great to be able to use those skills in God's service by highlighting biblical truths in a way that people can understand. Our intention is not to force 'church' down their throats. That's why I also hope to develop my IllusionandTruth ministry and use it as a tool to reach out to people with the Gospel through mime, drama, illusions and escapology in a fresh, fun and creative way.

I heard Bishop Graham Cray speaking at Christian Resources Exhibition about fresh expressions of church and that particularly made me think about the way we do discipleship. We now have a Bible study night on Tuesdays but we believe that discipleship is not about signing on a dotted line and 'joining' something. Discipleship, to us, is not about coming along on a particular course - it's more relational than that. 'Less of religious, more relational' is one of our straplines.

East Worthing Café Church - bongos

For some of the mature Christians it has taken a little while before they understand what we are doing but we stand together as a group of ordinary people who have been transformed by a relationship with Jesus Christ, and we believe the purpose in life is to make Jesus Christ known to all who want to meet him.

We are not religious, and for us church is not boring but a place to meet like-minded people on the same journey. East Worthing Café Church is very much a real church because the church is us and the people who come together. Of course, there is always a question of what to do next. My prayer is that we won't slip back into being church as people may have experienced in the past – and been hurt by in the past.

Updates to, and learning points from, this story

Monday, 10 November, 2014

John Beales explains how East Worthing Café Church became East - West Café Church after setting up another Sussex 'home'.

Monday, 22 July, 2013

John Beales tells how the Café Church has developed since its launch in 2009.