Xpressions Café

Monday, 14 March, 2011

Xpressions - buildingXpressions Cafe in Norfolk aims to offer church for those who don't do church. Richard Seel explains how that happens through a number of different 'zones'...

Our safe space is provided by our café, Xpresso, which we hold downstairs in the church centre attached to All Saints, Chedgrave. We have made a deliberate decision that we don't 'do religion' in Xpresso, instead we offer a warm welcome with free tea and coffee, home made cakes and Sunday papers. In this way it becomes a place where anyone can feel comfortable and at home.

Xpresso is open from 9:30am to 12noon on the first Sunday of the month and people come and go as they please. A menu on each table gives details of the events and activities going on in what we call our different 'zones' – namely Xpressions, Xplore and sometimes Xperience. People choose when, or if, they want to find out more about these areas:

  • Xpressions, upstairs in our church centre, offers activities and worship for children and families. With story, song, craft, activity prayers and much more it provides an environment which appeals to many unchurched families;
  • Xplore, in the church people building, offers different acts of worship, reflection, discussion around the theme for that day's café. Everything in Xpressions Café is lay led and devised. The clergy act as 'chaplains' to the teams which do the work.

Xpressions - overheadSome come only to Xpresso but, of those, a number are now prepared to venture upstairs with their children to sample Xpressions or to go into the medieval church building for an Xplore session. We are particularly successful in attracting young families, most of whom are unchurched, the rest being dechurched.

Although at first sight, Xpressions Café might seem to be attractional since we use church premises, its aim is missional. We do not see Xpressions Café as a stepping stone to 'proper church' but rather we are looking for ways to develop it as church for those who come and for ways in which we can help people along a road of discipleship.

One way that we are looking to do this is by challenging those who come to the café to get involved in some community action. In other words, we are looking to juggle the believing/belonging/behaving schema a little further by suggesting that some people may start behaving before they belong or believe; others will take a different route.

Xpressions - grinIt all started in December 2007 and at one of the very early meetings we had about Xpressions Café - when I was trying to explain what it was and the vision for it - one of our church members said, 'That's all very well but where is the Gospel in it?' What they meant to say was, 'Where is the preaching of the Word in this?' My answer was, and is, that all of it is the Gospel.

There has been discussion also about whether our worship sessions are more 'seeker' than 'alternative' in approach. The fact is that they are a bit of both though not attracting the 'typical' kind of alternative worship age group or set of people. We do use a lot of video and interactive stuff but, on the other hand, we do lead from the front which is sort of 'seeker' in style.

That is partly due to environment, we have to work with what we've got – which is not necessarily what we want. It's no good for us to say, 'I wish we didn't have any sort of pews in our medieval church' - even though they are actually Victorian interlopers in the space. We just have to get on with it. There is a 'front' to the church and there are pews and we have to work within that context.

Xpressions - servingHowever, people don't have to stay in the pews of course. For instance, we asked people at an Xplore session to write down their favourite section of the Bible. There is a mixture of Christians and non-Christians in this group so it's interesting. We stretched out a washing line and pegged their Bible 'bits' onto it in chronological order to give an idea of development so Creation was down by the font and Revelation ended up near the Altar! It was a great visual aid.

We now have a core congregation building up, mainly made up of young families. The café is part of a much wider strategy which sees us building connections and deepening and enriching them all the time.

We have a group called Noah's Ark, for pre-school children and their parents and carers, running in Loddon - the next village to Chedgrave. They are getting upwards of 50 there on Wednesday mornings and, for the last six months or so, there has been a time of worship in an adjoining room. More and more people are starting to go through to that. As a result Noah's Ark is on its way to becoming a fresh expression of church too.

Xpressions - lineOne of my visions is to take the principles of Xpressions Café outside the church. When I first started investigating the idea of a café church it seemed to me that many so-called examples were in fact 'ordinary' church with the only difference being that the congregation sat at tables with refreshments for the service but we were looking for dechurched and unchurched.

That's when the notion of different 'zones' came up with Café Xpresso as a 'neutral' place where God's presence is demonstrated by extravagant hospitality. We have now extended that idea once a month after Noah's Ark by having Xpresso 'Souper' Lunches with great soup, great bread and home-baked biscuits. A lot of the parents and carers - and their children - are staying on for that.

There are so many things I'd like to develop further, like doing Xplore on a Thursday evening in a pub or developing the contemplative side of things in Xperience. There are lots of people for whom contemplative spirituality is their thing but they don't realise that the Church has 2,000 years of it to share.

However to develop all these things, leadership is key. Some of our participants are just starting to become leaders or take leadership roles. It is a slow process but encouraging to see it happening at all.

Updates to, and learning points from, this story

Friday, 10 April, 2015

Michael Moynagh draws out learning points from the story of Xpressions Café.

Tuesday, 14 October, 2014 On Demand clip

Richard Seel and Alison Ball update the story of Xpressions Café, a fresh expression of church bringing together a rural community in Norfolk.