re:generation - update Jun10 (listen)

Tuesday, 1 June, 2010

Ruth Poch discusses the ups and downs of re:generation, church for young people in Romford.

Duration: 18:28   | Download Download mp3


Introducer: In this Fresh Expressions podcast extra, Karen Carter talks to Ruth Poch about re:generation, a fresh expression of church in the Romford Methodist Circuit.

Ruth Poch: My husband and I are both deacons in the Methodist Church and as deacons we're sent to a particular context and to a particular role, and so we were sent as our first appointment in the Methodist Church in the year 2000 to the Romford Circuit and we job-shared and our role was to coordinate youth work amongst the 13 Methodist Churches, which in some senses sounded quite a grand kind of scheme, but actually when we got there we discovered that actually as far as teenagers went there was very few teenagers in any really of the churches – there might have been perhaps one dotted here or a couple dotted in another church, and some didn't have any teenagers at all.

When we discovered kind of the situation that some of the churches were in, it really didn't seem viable to do youth work in any one of the particular churches. It was very hard to really know where to start, so we certainly started with a lot of prayer, and kind of just seeking God's guidance in the next step. And for us it seemed to make more sense to try and gather the few that did remain with any kind of connection in the church – and some of the connections wasn't necessarily kind of part of really the worshipping community, but they were very much on the fringe of the church when we began. So one of the first things that we started was a weekly drama group and it just kind of gathered a few of those. And it kind of… some of them just invited a few of their friends. And as part of our job description we were given the remit to start regular youth services, which is what it was termed, and so after a while we were given permission to host that in one of the churches in the circuit and really at that point we knew that the young people pretty much would only be coming because they were part of the drama, so we really made that a big part of what we did, and there was very few of the young people at that stage, we're talking very small numbers and quite young, kind of early teenage years. So that was kind of really the seeds that were sown for what happened later.

And out of that we also asked to run a confirmation course which was held in our front room, round our dining room table, and we had some young people come to that from different, kind of, of the churches or from the fringe or even some young people who had been in the Methodist Church but by that time had sort of, their parents had left and maybe gone to an Anglican Church but they'd never fit in so they came to what we were doing. So we ran the confirmation course and at the end of the course some of the young people saying they really wanted it to carry on and so that formed the basis of a Bible study that ran weekly and was, as I say, around our dining room table. And we really felt the young people needed to be exposed to worship, but we knew at the beginning it was very hard to introduce that so we actually, on a residential, invited at the time they were called Soul Teams, and I don't think they run them anymore, but Soul Survivor Watford had this idea that to encourage other churches by having Soul Teams, so they would go out and help different churches maybe struggling in certain areas. So we knew a real, kind of, something that we wanted as I say to expose the young people to was worship that perhaps they could actually relate to more. And so a team came and did kind of the theme of worship on the residential and led some worship, and it was a very powerful time actually, some of the young people really encountering God in that way, sort of for the first time. And after that time, Bible study just started to kind of grow crazily, as they started to witness to their peer group and bring people along who really weren't going to any church. So it was a very interesting time, it was like kind of our dining room was filling with young people.

And at that point in I think it was 2002, my husband and I were given pastoral care of a church within the circuit to kind of base the youth work at more. And what happened during those two years we were there, almost developed really parallel kind of congregations. There was the traditional kind of morning congregation that met Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings we had our monthly youth services which then went bimonthly because the young people really wanted it more frequently. And then after the two years were up it was becoming a bit of an uncomfortable fit, I think the church had imagined they wanted the youth work based there but actually the implications of that wasn't always happy. So we were then allowed to move the youth work to another church in the circuit which is Gidea Park Methodist Church, and actually plant a fresh expression of church amongst young people, so that was September 2004. And by that point, Gidea Park Methodist Church, they had closed their Sunday evening services and so that gave us a wonderful opportunity to have that space and that time every week, and by then the young people were saying look, we don't go to any other church, this is our church, we want to actually have something that we can kind of own, and also weekly meet and also have other kind of activities throughout. So that's what happened in 2004.

Interviewer: A lot of them involved in leadership too now, so they've developed… you know a lot of fresh expressions of church are just thinking now about discipleship and helping people to grow, what's been your experience of that?

Ruth Poch: I think that's certainly something that's been a core value of the work at re:generation, has been discipleship. We recognise that young people particularly are facing huge sort of pressure these days in an increasingly secular society, and so we wanted to try and implement as much discipleship opportunities for the young people as possible, and we know that in some senses that's going to be different for sort of, people kind of engage in different ways, but to have many opportunities so as I say, a kind of weekly Bible study is… we've had that ongoing throughout the years and that's increasingly led by the young people, there's a rota of the young people leading, leading the worship in that, leading the prayer ministry time, leading actually the input from Scripture and whatever other tools that they want to use. We also now have discipleship groups for guys and girls which again is peer-led, and so that's very much going deeper and actually being able to share things that perhaps they wouldn't necessarily want to share with adults or their parents particularly, but actually to have that sort of more intimate setting and that sort of prayer support that comes from that, so that's been a key factor. And I think, I mean initially when we started my husband and I would often think why… you know we need more adult volunteers, this is ridiculous, how can we do this work without adults to help us in that area. And we prayed constantly about that, but it never seemed in one sense that God really answered that prayer. But I think in hindsight I think it's been a blessing, because in one sense we were forced to use the young people and take risks with them in ways that we wouldn't have done had we had more mature people coming along at that stage. So because we then had to take risks in leadership in kind of... the young people themselves knew that if they didn't work and actually do jobs and have vision for the church it wouldn't be here now if it wasn't for them actually really taking ownership, and I think there's always been a real sense of ownership from the start because they know it's not Jamie and I just doing it to them or other adults, but it's actually been something that it's been a partnership working with them. And so it has been risky and messy and at times it's been an interesting journey, a lot of ups and downs, but through it I think there's been probably deeper discipleship coming out of that because of having to take those actual risks and take those steps in using young people in ways that, as I say, probably wouldn't have done.

Interviewer: And how about, obviously as time has gone on the young people, some young people would have moved on and other young people coming through, can you still see a real sort of development in the life of the church?

Ruth Poch: Yeah, I think it makes it up for a very exciting journey, because it's constantly evolving. And I know initially when we started, I think some people thought that perhaps re:generation was just going to meet the needs of a particular group of young people that we had right from the beginning. But actually year upon year we have seen growth and despite key people who have been on the leadership team maybe leading for university, we're not in a university area so young people leave the area to go to university, and obviously some have gone and now live in other parts of the country, or some have moved and gone on gap years abroad or in other parts of the country, so that's always been a challenge for us every year, how do we raise up new leadership and keep the vision going. But it has been amazing to see how God has continued to move, raising up other leaders as well year upon year, so that's been really fascinating to see. And then over the last maybe 18 months to 2 years, yeah it's probably just about 2 years ago, having our first adults actually starting to come, because we never… it was never meant to be exclusively for young people but obviously that was our main outreach opportunity was to young people because we recognised that obviously that was kind of the task we were given, plus certainly the Methodist churches in our circuit that was… they don't have really teenagers or even people in their twenties, in their thirties and very few in their forties, so we were unashamedly obviously trying to reach young people, but it was never done in a way that was meant to be exclusive, but yet at the beginning it was purely, the only people that would come and engage were teenagers. But then as I say about two years ago we had just a few parents suddenly turning up, who I think were fascinated, why was their son or daughter at this church all the time and it being such a big part of their lives. And so we had our youth Alpha course at that time it was called and this table of adults coming and having their own discussion group and then even some adults coming on the residential which was fascinating just to see then how the young people responded to that, and it was amazing as well, a real God moment, just seeing the young people minister in prayer and support to these adults, some of whom were coming from quite difficult backgrounds as well, so it's been kind of an amazing situation seeing develop. And since then we've had other people coming, some of whom are quite vulnerable adults with mental difficulties and it's become quite diverse even culturally, and more so with the age even though it's still predominantly young people, and so it is constantly evolving. So now we have a Bible study for women, more mature women – oldies, and for men as well, another they're currently looking at God at work, and so it just keeps us on our toes all the time because it's just how do we actually then now cater for an increasing number but also an increasing wider age range of people from very different backgrounds. But it's been really good.

Interviewer: And in terms of, you mentioned there, increasing number, what sort of number are we looking at?

Ruth Poch: I think average attendance on a Sunday evening at the moment is probably in the 80s, and last Sunday we had 98 which was quite phenomenal really to see that many people coming and a lot of new faces, and people who are literally just checking out faith, they don't come as a… from other churches. We've just done a census recently to find out where people were coming from and we were surprised in a good way at how many were coming from a kind of non-churched background, which was encouraging to see. And we did a census on the age and the gender breakdown in the church and I think the average age currently is about 25 and under 30s the average age is about 18, so it's been really… And on our leadership team, there's ten of us on the leadership team and most of them are kind of early 20s.

Interviewer: Many people I'm sure when they read this story or hear about it will think is there a magic formula, we can't get young people in our church? Would you say that there is anything key to the particular work that you've been involved in to attract the young people?

Ruth Poch: I would definitely say prayer, that's obviously got to be at the heart of it. And so we've always tried to have that right from the word go as an essential component of all that we do, which was interesting at the beginning because obviously the young people didn't necessarily catch the vision of prayer at all, but as we've kind of persevered and continued to make that such a high value it's interesting to see how the young people themselves now have really kind of have that value themselves, which is great and just to see how that… I mean at one point I remember a young person wanting to stop the prayer meetings because they were so poorly attended and we couldn't have band practice then on an evening, but I think just persisting in saying no, I really believe this needs to be at the heart of all we do, and so still carried on. And now actually to see how well attended that meeting is, that's been really encouraging. So I think prayer, perseverance when times have been really difficult – and it certainly hasn't always been a smooth journey – and I think as pioneers, I think my husband and I would both say the early years certainly were really hard and very lonely sort of times. But if you feel that God has given you a vision to carry on and to really persevere and yeah, just keep going really when it is difficult. And I think we tried to kind of create an authentic community and an atmosphere where people can come as they are and that's… I once had some of them write up what they really felt valued most from re:generation, and I think one of the things that kept… some of the key things that kept being mentioned was that it was like family, community, friendship and the idea that kept coming back was that they could come as they were and that they could be who they really are and feel free to be who they are at re:generation perhaps more than anywhere else. And I think that's been… yeah, it was quite funny because at the beginning when we used to meet round our dining room table for Bible studies my husband and I often used to comment, when we say how is everyone doing, anybody having any difficulties, at the beginning no-one seemed to have any and no-one seemed to share in that sense, and yet now it's almost the reverse, where you think is there anyone here who doesn't have something that… you know a problem going on or something that they want to share about, so it's kind of the reverse! But I think just that sense of place, a safe place and a place where people don't feel they have to wear masks or pretend to be something that they're not. And I think they've seen – we have four boys ourselves and two of our boys at one point were in trouble with the law and just seeing us actually have to go through that with them, journey with them as a community as well, probably broke down some of the barriers for them to see well actually our family has issues just like everyone else and how we had to deal with that and that they were part of supporting us and praying for us, and I think that helped really to build community as well.

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