Tas Valley Cell Church - update

Thursday, 14 July, 2011

Tas Valley logoThe story of Tas Valley Cell Church in south Norfolk was first told on expressions: the dvd – 2. Its leader, Sally Gaze, tells what has been happening since the cameras rolled.

When I arrived here eight years ago, we very quickly did an Alpha course and 26 people turned up, some of them were church people already but we had a group of about eight who became Christians at the end of the course. We didn't have a full ministry team here then and that has since made a huge difference.

At that time I felt that - for people who hadn't been to church before - going to what were quite traditional, and not very user-friendly, church services on a Sunday wasn't going to help them move on in their faith very quickly. I was darting about from one to another of the new Christians at the end of services to try and be supportive but I knew that something had to be done.

Tas Valley graffiti wallTas Valley Team Ministry is a happy family of churches serving the villages of Newton Flotman, Swainsthorpe, Tasburgh, Tharston, Saxlingham and Shotesham. Congregations were very welcoming but the newcomers were being asked to join the flower rota or help out with the fete. They didn't have the opportunity to discuss issues such as how faith might help with their marriage, children or work. The new Christians found this quite difficult to cope with after having had the chance to do that every week at Alpha.

We decided to set up the cell church of small groups. We've got 50 adult members; about half of them - generally the people who haven't previously been part of a traditional church congregation - would say that cell church is their prime form of church. The remaining 25 attend cell church in addition to church in a Sunday. We've also got 25 teenagers, two thirds of whom would say that cell is their main form of church.

Tas Valley groupThe numbers are still growing, though much more gradually than at the time of the DVD. Now there is more and more of a crossover with the Sunday congregations and we encourage the mixing and supporting of each other. The cell continues to meet weekly though the cell and traditional congregations will also get together three times a year – for instance, we recently came together for a Passover meal.

Cell church continues to make an impact and we really do see changes in people's lives as a result. It's all about the trust that people build up in a small group, you can be much more open and it's a lot easier to think about how you can grow in faith in a very practical, down-to-earth way.

Tas Valley - shepherdSome may question the role of the cell church but I think it can help to take the pressure off traditional congregations to do the things they can't do for all sorts of reasons. I've had discussions in the past where the focus has been on 'How to get young people in?' Simply including a modern song in the service really isn't going to do the trick. I believe that many churches, faced with this sort of challenge, would say that they were not able to change sufficiently to meet it.

Here we built up those youth cells so that they can lead worship on their terms and we then go and support them in that. Half a dozen of our young people, aged between 13 and 18, are now involved in the youth band which is led by two adults, both of whom are cell church members. They now serve some of our Sunday congregations and go and play for them. This in turn has freed up the traditional congregations to do what they do well.

It's not a matter of right or wrong ways of doing things. The same could be said of the development of fresh expressions of church as a whole. Some people feel threatened that fresh expressions try to 'take over' to some extent and see them as a threat. Instead we are saying there is more than one way to 'be' church; we can complement each other.

Tas Valley prayer enclosureTas Valley Cell Church is currently seeking a Bishop's Mission Order and we are trying out various things as we develop and change. We now have cells with children as well as adults, that has seen mixed results and we continue to explore how we disciple people in families.

Other subjects in the mix include looking at new monastic models and considering how cell relates to Messy Church. The basics and values of cell have remained the same since the start of it all but I do tend to delegate as we now have more lay leaders to take on responsibilities. I think the way forward is just to keep on growing more leadership and eventually a leader to replace me.

This story is an update to: