A number of people have asked us about the origin of Xpressions Café. On this page we will try to document it as fully as possible in that hope that others may learn from our successes and mistakes and be led to try something which works in their own context.
All Age Worship at Chedgrave
The Nature of the Space
The Initial Proposal
Responses to the Proposal
Getting the Xplore Team Together
The Story so Far...
Xpressions Café Photos
Xpressions Café did not spring fully-formed into life. There were at least two previous initiatives which had a significant influence on its present form and existence. The first of these was Xpressions. When Nigel Evans became vicar of the Chet Valley benefice there was no children's work. There were only three young families attending church, one of which was his own. He worked hard to develop better connections with the local children and their families by doing more school assemblies, having activity days tied to major festivals and increasing the holiday club from one day to one week. As a result of this the number of requests for baptism increased and, through conversations with the parents, he became aware of a desire for some sort of worship time for the families. In January 2006 he started Xpressions, working with a team of lay leaders. Xpressions was a fresh expression of church for families with younger children with a mix of stories, games, songs, craft and prayer. Originally this met once a month on a Sunday afternoon in St Johns, Loddon. It built up a good congregation of young families, with attendances as high as forty. For the majority of attendees, this was their only experience of church apart from major festivals and other events. Nigel writes:
Xpressions came into being as a result of growing relationships through holiday clubs and family workshops on a Saturday. This together with the realization that there were few families on a Sunday pushed us in a new direction. After much consultation Xpressions at 4 pm at St. Johns was born with up to 40 people attending, including on one occasion the Bishop of Thetford.
"This continued to grow and relationships deepen, but we soon became aware that this was something that was going to have change in shape and format as relationships deepened. Very soon, therefore, we were beginning to plan for the future, but we had very little clear idea as to what that might be!
In 2007, in response to requests from some of the families, an occasional morning service, Xpressions AM, was run at Chedgrave. Starting with breakfast, Xpressions AM proved very popular. One of its more interesting features was that it ran alongside a traditional service: Xpressions AM was held in the ground floor of the Chedgrave church rooms while the morning service was being held in the church. The services were timed so that the church congregation could go into the church rooms to join the Xpressions families for a final song and blessing together.
The other significant initiative which influenced Xpressions Café was the monthly Chedgrave All Age Worship service, which started in 2006. These were devised and led by a small lay team, Margaret & Richard McPhee, Alison Ball and Neil Wade. (Alison moved on after a while and is now our Children and Families worker.) Each month one of the leadership team (clergy and readers) would take an oversight role for this service, offering support, advice and feedback. These services were very successful in developing experienced worship leaders but by the middle of 2007 there was a feeling that they were not going to be a long-term feature of the worshipping life of Chedgrave (for one thing, although they were billed as All-Age Worship, there were very few, if any, people under forty present).
A third factor, which had also had a significant impact on the design of Xpressions Café was the layout of Chedgrave church. We are very fortunate in having a church centre on two floors which is attached to the church. This means that there are three separate spaces, connected by a lobby area, which also leads to a small kitchen and a toilet.
In June 2007, at a Benefice Council meeting, Nigel was asked his vision for the pattern of worship across the Chet Valley Churches. He replied that, amongst other things, he would like to see a service of Holy Communion somewhere in the benefice every Sunday and also some form of Café church every Sunday. Asesult of this we quickly drew up a proposal which took existing Café church ideas a little further, blending in some concepts from liquid church and trying to tailor the whole concept to the space available at Chedgrave. The key feature of the proposal was that there should be three separate 'zones':
Café (call it Xpresso?) downstairs in church centre.
Kidzone upstairs in church centre.
Chillzone in church.
The Café would be open from 10:00 to 12:00 and people would come and go as they pleased. High quality tea and coffee would be served. Initially it was suggested that the All Age Worship team should be responsible for running the Café and that there would be a ten-minute act of worship of some kind every half hour (song, talk, video, open mike session, etc).
Upstairs would the Kidzone run by the Xpressions team. The initial prposal gave little thought to what might go on here, except to suggest that it might have a liquid, drop-in, nature.
Finally, it was envisaged that the church building would become a meditative space which people would visit as the mood took them. This could be run by those interested in Inspire, a short-lived attempt to create a group interested in Christian spirituality and wanting to reach out to those on a journey through alternative spirituality. The time was not right for such a group and so this idea rapidly came to nothing.
The proposal had a mixed, but mainly favourable, reception. The basic three-venue proposal was almost universally welcomed; the details were rightly challenged. It was presented it to the Chedgrave PCC who seemed a bit bemused but agreed to give it a try. The All Age Worship Team were very enthusiastic and made many helpful suggestions, which changed the nature of the proposal significantly. In the course of conversations the names for the three parts became finalised: Xpresso for the Café, Xpressions for the 'Kidzone', and Xplore for the 'Chillzone'. The overall project became Xpressions Café, building on the Xpressions brand success (some people hated the use of the word, 'brand') while also permitting other Xpressions events to take place.
The greatest resistance came from the existing Xpressions team who saw the 'Kidzone' proposal as being another name for a fancy crčche. This seemed to conflict with their mission of providing lively appropriate worship and teaching for children and their families. The criticism was justified; the idea had not been thought through and probably did contain some kind of 'doing something for the kids' notion. However, a meeting with the Xpressions team clarified the situation and opened up a lot more possibilities.
We also started to put a bit more flesh on the bones: we would provide the Sunday papers in the Café; everything would be Fair Trade and free of charge; the role of those who served in the Café would be crucial; there would be menus on the tables, giving a timetable of what was going on in Xpressions and Xplore; and so on.
The clergy team were excited by the prospect. We agreed that we wanted Xpressions Café to be lay led and run. With the coming of Janet Wyer, our curate, we had a clergy team of three and we agreed that each of us would act as mentor and chaplain to one of the teams: Xpressions (Nigel), Xpresso (Janet) and Xplore (Richard). We also discussed when we should start the café and agreed that we should aim for Advent Sunday, the start of the church year. This seemed far enough away to give time to recruit and prepare the teams but soon enough to keep people excited.
In August 2007 we wrote a leaflet for the congregation which explained the rationale for doing church differently and outlined our proposals for Xpressions Café. At the time of writing, a number of things had become clearer but we were beginning to have doubts about having any worship in Xpresso. It was becoming clear that the café should be a neutral space, safe for anyone to enter without fear of being preached at or manipulated. Instead we focused our attention on the lobby in the church centre which leads onto each of the three areas, plus the kitchen and toilet. If the Café was to be a neutral space, how could we gently encourage people to explore Xpressions or Xplore? We tried to think of things which might draw people into the lobby area naturally so that they might decide to then go into Xpressions or Xplore without feeling too self-conscious. A number of possibilities were suggested: we could have a self-service coffee point there; we could have the Sunday papers there; and so on. Some of us felt that people might be reluctant to move around but in practice this has not been an issue and there is always a buzz around the lobby as people wander from one zone to another.
Having made a commitment to go ahead with Xpressions Café as a lay-led initiative we had to recruit people to the teams. We created sign-up sheets and invited members of the congregation to put their names to one team or another. The response was positive and immediate; many names went up almost as soon as the sign-up sheets were posted on the notice board. Someone asked if they could sign up for more than one team. There seemed no reason why not and many people do belong to more than one team, serving in the café and leading worship in Xplore, for instance, though rarely on the same Sunday.
By this time we had developed an 'identity' for Xpressions Café, using a distinctive font (Decotura Inline) which is an upper case display font. In particular we decided to use the initial X as an identifying logo in a forthcoming promotional campaign. We prepared A4 posters to go in windows, the village magazines and local shops during September 2007 which said "X is Coming". In October this changed to "X is Free For All", drawing on the fact that everything in the Café is free of charge. The intention was that the large X would pique people's curiosity and that they would be ready for the fuller explanation which appeared in November. This introduced a new subhead: "It's Church, Jim, But Not As We Know It". Not everyone related to this but most people 'got it'. For us, its message was crucial: Xpressions Café is church; but it's church without the baggage of traditional church and so safe to come to. Promotion of this kind is unlikely to bring people to church and this wasn't the aim. What we wanted to do was to raise awareness and possibly provoke conversations. The latter certainly happened—people would ask those with posters in their window, "What's this X all about?". This gave good opportunities to talk about Xpressions Café without being pushy or preachy. In fact, people have been attracted by the publicity; one unchurched couple came along in March 2008 just to see what was going on. They stayed in Xpresso for almost an hour and had a long conversation with Nigel.
It proved impossible to get the whole Xplore team together so we convened two meetings in October 2007. A couple of people came to both, nearly everyone attended at least one. It was at this point that two issues came up, one of which led to our first really rocky moments. At the first meeting, on 15th October, we agreed a basic format for Xplore, that there would be four twenty-minute 'slots' starting at 10:10; 10:40; 11:10 and 11:40. There would be ten minutes of quiet time before each slot. We proposed to follow a basic 'Service of the Word' format, with the slots being Preparation, Word, Prayer and Praise. This was felt to be a bit restrictive, though at the second meeting it was agreed, provided we held lightly to the topic and did not feel too constrained.
Quite early on we decided that we would have the Sunday papers available for people to read. This led to our first serious disagreements. Our initial thought had been to include all the papers except the Sunday Sport. This proved to be controversial. Some agreed that we had to be non-judgemental and include all the papers our 'target market', the unchurched, might read. Others felt that since the café was on church premises we had to display Christian values and not include anything which might be considered sexually explicit or exploitative.
Most, though not all, of the Xpressions Café team are on e-mail and there was a lot of e-mail traffic about this issue, which got close to becoming confrontational. A sample of comments:
"I am concerned at what I understand to be the suggestion that the full range of Sunday papers be available (without limitation), as I think that, while being accessible, we do need to be distinctive and so would think that having say the News of the World and the Sunday People (neither of which I know, but in view of what I understand to be the salacious content) would not be appropriate—but we could have one or two periodicals perhaps, likely to be of general interest, e.g. fishing or local history magazines."
"As far as papers go, I don't think we would be saying that we agree with the views of the papers just by having them there; it could lead to interesting discussions on a whole range of issues by their inclusion and, as you say, none of them are completely wholesome in the views they express."
" I still feel we shouldn’t provide them because: 1) There are going to be families there with young children and what message does that send the young?; 2 ) Pornography in all forms is demeaning to women; 3) Pornography is a huge hidden problem in the church and includes true Christians (we know someone who is a strong Christian struggling with this issue). Therefore I don’t think we should be in the position to be seen to condone it."
"It may not be to our taste but being prescriptive may not be to the taste of those we are trying to reach out to. If we are only prepared to meet people on our terms, I'm not sure what message that gives out. Surely it is better to use whatever issues arise as a springboard for future discussion than to possibly miss that opportunity."
E-mail is not always the best medium for this kind of debate and we got close (perhaps too close) to conflict over this issue. We have tried to be as collaborative as possible in the development of Xpressions Cafe but we have not always succeeded - after all, those without e-mail were excluded from most of this debate. In the end it seemed appropriate for the clergy team to make a decision. We finally agreed that we would have a selection of papers, rather than the whole lot: Sunday Mirror, Mail on Sunday, Sunday Times and Observer. This seemed to cover the political and stylistic spectrum and was accepted by everyone. In fact, the papers are not widely read. Their presence is important but most people are too busy talking to one another to read them, which is excellent.
We agreed that both Xpressions and Xplore would work to a common theme so that we would have some sense of unity. As it happened, our first few cafés were on liturgically auspicious days: Advent, Epiphany, Candlemas and Mothering Sunday. For the next, 6th April 2008 (Easter 3) we decided to go with the theme of resurrection. Having a theme has been very helpful, both in integrating the different parts of Xpressions Café (it doesn't affect Xpresso, since we are keeping that as a neutral place), and also in providing some useful boundaries and guidelines for those designing the different parts. We usually get our theme from one of the readings set in the Eucharistic Lectionary (the Church of England's version of the Revised Common Lectionary).
We decided to have menus on all the tables in Xpresso which let people know what was going on in Xpressions and Xplore. Have a look at the menu for the very first café. The theme was Advent.
We duly launched Xpressions Café on Advent Sunday, 2nd December 2007. We didn't know what to expect or who might come. the outcome was beyond our wildest dreams. We estimate that nearly 70 people came through our doors that Sunday morning. This compares to an average congregation at Chedgrave of 25 or less. Of that 70, about 18 were children. Most importantly, the majority of those who came were unchurched. Some of them had been to earlier Xpressions or Xpressions AM events; some had no previous contact with us.
We continue to learn and grow. The numbers have continued to stay at around 70 and for many people Xpressions Café is their church and they come every month. We have no doubt that things will change and develop and we have a review meeting scheduled around a shared lunch for the whole team after the July Café .
We have a few photos illustrating Xpressions Café and giving a sense of some of our activities.