Emmanuel Café Church

Monday, 30 November, 2009

Emmanuel - Matt WardA fresh expression of church that is 'fuelled by coffee'... Matt Ward, a chaplain at the University of Leeds, takes us behind the scenes at Emmanuel Café Church.

In the days before Café Church, students would meet for a fairly traditional Sunday afternoon service. By the time I arrived at the university, I felt it wasn't engaging them and it certainly wasn't engaging anyone else.

I inherited a number of struggling worship events and was told, 'You sort it out!' but I knew the first thing to do was not to jump to do anything at all. Instead we wanted to listen to God. For the first term-and-a-half we just met together and prayed together, asking what we thought Church was, and where God's work could be found on the campus.

It didn't take us long to realise that sharing faith tended to happen around coffee and cake! Emmanuel Café Church grew from that, and we're now in our fourth year.

It's easy to fall into the numbers' game. How many people are attending, how regular is their attendance, and can we chart growth in what we have been doing? The fact is that we have got quite a large number of people who would say they are members of Café Church. They may not come week in, week out, they may only have been once but they feel a connection, and see themselves as a part of what we do.

We work in a number of ways to keep those connections. These include:

  • having a regular place to meet;
  • a Facebook page;
  • sending a weekly electronic list saying what we did last week and what is coming up next week;
  • texting people to say, 'How are you? What's happening for you?'.

The networking continues with students who have left the university. It's one of our key issues at the moment. How do they move on from our fresh expression of church into new places? They may grow in faith and confidence as students here, so how do we help and encourage them in that transition stage?

Some ex-students keep connected for a considerable period of time, particularly if they have ended up working in quite isolated or dangerous areas of the world. They want to share what is happening with what they see as 'their' community.

Emmanuel Café Church - chatCafé Church operates in 10-week bursts during term-time. Obviously, as we operate in a university environment, we always miss the major festivals. That's a bit of a challenge for a church community… but there are still ways to celebrate 'together', even when we're not in the same place at the same time.

In previous years, I have sent a sermon by text on Christmas morning. You have just 168 characters in a text. What can you say about the Incarnation within those sort of limits?! I don't know about doing that via Twitter with 140 characters. That really would be a challenge.

We've had some very successful one-off events, but we usually meet from 5 on a Sunday evening, and it's very deliberate timing. It's the end of a weekend so if students have been working they can come out afterwards, and if they have had friends to stay or been away themselves, they will generally be back by then. It's extremely informal and very much a 'drift in and out' idea. People may get involved with the discussion starters we leave about the place, take a look at the stations that could be around the room, or perhaps simply catch up with others and have a chat about how the week has gone.

Towards the end of our time together they usually have another drink because the whole thing is fuelled by coffee. They leave at about 6.30 to 7pm.

The idea that people who go to church at a certain time on a certain day does not connect with these students at all. Instead it's a continuous process. I see people on campus through the week, maybe in a queue for yet more caffeine, with others meeting to have meals or drinks together. In Acts 2, the sharing of lives and the sharing of things in common with each other is seen as important and I think that pastoral thing, that growing thing, that making of disciples, is key to Café Church, as it should be for every type of church.

Emmanuel - logoEvery year has seen quite a sense of growth in the life of the church, and in the lives of those who have come and found faith or confidence in their faith. My hope for the future is that Café Church continues to be shaped in a way that serves the needs of the students who come in and reaches out to students who don't. If it looks the same in 12 months as it does now, it won't be doing that.

Updates to, and learning points from, this story

Monday, 2 March, 2015

Matt Ward explores why Emmanuel Café Church is inspiring young adults to consider their vocation.

Monday, 14 January, 2013

Emmanuel Café Church, launched in 2005, meets on Sunday evenings at Emmanuel Centre, Leeds University. Matt Ward updates the story.

Thursday, 10 November, 2011

Emmanuel Café Church, Leeds will host what is believed to be the country's first ordination service within a fresh expression of church on Sunday (13th November).

Tuesday, 1 December, 2009 On Demand clip

Matt Ward, chaplain at the University of Leeds, takes us behind the scenes at Emmanuel Café Church.