Springfield Church

Monday, 14 November, 2011

Will Cookson is minister of a 'church that was a fresh expression before the term was invented'. He tells how important it is for fresh expressions of church to keep on reinventing themselves.

Watch Will Cookson and Sue Bosley discuss multiplication not duplication (transcript available on the update Oct12 link to the right).

Springfield Church was originally set up by Holy Trinity Wallington in 1992 to reach out to the community. In 2002 it became what is known as an Extra-Parochial Place (EPP) in Southwark Diocese which meant we had no 'official' parish and no church building. Our two key objectives were, and are, mission and worship and we now have about 400 people of whom about 40% are under the age of 18.

Springfield's two congregations meet in different places in Wallington on Sundays at 10.30am. The larger one gets together at Wallington High School for Girls while our second is the Springfield@Roundshaw cafe church which meets at St Paul's church on the Roundshaw estate.

Springfield Church - café church

The thing about a fresh expression is that over time it can become regularised in the way it does things so it has to re-discover itself. To an extent, when I came here almost 10 years ago that was what had happened to Springfield; it had got set in its ways. The thing that cried out to me was to go to a cell church model because everything has to be relational if it's going to 'speak' to people outside inherited church.

We are doing this through a whole series of different things, such as a Christian club at a local school (Xplore), Messy Church in the same venue (Footsteps), parent and toddler group transformed into Messy Church format, as well as cell groups and various ministries - such as an English conversation class - planted in the community. When we were asked by the vicar at Roundshaw estate to plant a new congregation in that area, we sent out 25 people and now average about 40 at the café church. Most of those who have joined come from the estate itself.

We have a huge focus on relationships and building events and ministries that reinforce and complement each other. To my mind, too many Messy Churches have focused on trying to get the numbers in and getting the event done efficiently. We concentrate on the relationships that people can make there and - as a result – have seen friendships growing, families joining us for other events, parents getting involved to help and some becoming part of Sunday congregations, cell groups and taking part in Alpha courses. The social events organised by those different cell groups look to encourage community and it may take one, two or three years for people to get involved to that level – but that's OK, it all takes time.

Springfield Church - smile

The common problem for many churches is that they have some great ministries but they are stand-alone and don't benefit from the relational overlap. So, for example, children come to Xplore on Mondays after school with their families invited to our monthly Messy Church. Those in Year Six are given invitations to our youth outreach The Mix, again every month, at a local community centre. The larger-scale events we put on are never officially advertised; we prefer to use word of mouth and ask people and families if they'd like to come along. Feast in the Field attracts about 600 people as a community event with laser quest, assault courses, Scalextric and face painting among other things. We also take up to 600 people to the cinema at Christmas. If we advertised I am sure that we could get larger crowds in but we would lose out on relationship building. We find that the more that we overlap and inter-connect what we do, the more that people are interested and able to take the next step in their faith journey.

Springfield Church - sharingThe Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, will be visiting Springfield Church to help us celebrate our 20th anniversary next year by preaching and presiding at our Sunday morning service on 18 March. It's a wonderful recognition that churches such as ours are now integral parts of the Church of England and no longer an oddity! The Archbishop's visit is a practical sign of his enthusiasm for this mixed economy and a huge encouragement for us.

Springfield has always been a different sort of church. We were a fresh expression before the term was invented! The thing with many fresh expressions is that as their communities mature then it's all too easy for them to revert to 'normal' church mode.

We really emphasise to our leaders that the focus shouldn't be on the task but on the people they're seeking to serve and reach for Christ. This has led to a real depth of community with a very high level of participation; about 80% of our congregation is involved in something.

The important thing for anyone involved in a fresh expression to remember is that we're here to reach the unchurched. The disenchanted Christian and dechurched Christian will also come our way but keeping that outward focus is vital if we're going to continue in our true calling.

Updates to, and learning points from, this story

Monday, 29 October, 2012 On Demand clip
Monday, 8 October, 2012 On Demand clip

Will Cookson and Sue Bosley of Springfield Church, Wallington, talk about multiplication not duplication in fresh expressions.