From the early 90’s some pioneers became aware that cultural change was happening so rapidly that the emerging generation had in many cases become distinct from mainstream culture. Responding to this insight, they began to plant generation specific churches. Some specifically aimed to connect with non-church teens and others more focused on young adults.
Young people grow up! And these early experiments in mission led to the insight that the social pattern of young people’s lives can be very different in different contexts. This was higlighted by the situation in Bracknell where Mark Meardon planted the youth congregation called ‘Eternity’ aimed at teenagers. In Bracknell, part of England’s silicone valley, most of the teenagers on leaving school headed off to university in other cities. We humorously likened the experience of ‘Eternity’ to planting church on a railway platform where the population continually moved on. This led the Meardons, with their missional cultural awareness, to later plant ‘Eterninty 2′ for the many young adults who returned from university to take the plentiful jobs in the high-tech businesses.
In contrast, Soul Survivor Watford was another early youth church plant out of St Andrew’s Chorleywood. This highly successful mission initiative was also aimed at teenagers in the schools in the area. In the social context of Watford, a predominance of school leavers stayed around, got married and had kids. The Soul Survivor youth church plant quite unintentionally became a young families’ church. At one point the leaders responded by redeploying youth workers to re-engage with schools. But decades later the pattern of a single generation church plant morphing to become multi-generational continues.
What follows is the highly informative story of the planting of the first ‘Eternity’ in Bracknell. The lessons learned back then can still inform mission for the emerging generation today.
Case Study ‘Eternity 1’ – Bracknell
In 1993 God gave Mark Meardon (then a young man of 20) a vision to plant a youth congregation in Bracknell. He told his story in Anglicans For Renewal magazine Vol. 73 and the following is an abridged version of that article:
I have long had a passion for the young people of my home town of Bracknell. However, it wasn’t until after university and a trip to Africa that God gave me a vision to match the passion. I returned home from Africa eagerly planning to start a youth congregation.
Meanwhile, members of St. Michael’s Warfield (both my home church and where my father is vicar) had been praying for many years for God to move among the youth. They had started a youth service but lack of growth and direction in this venture resulted in their desire to find a youth leader.
When I came home from Africa I found that this position was all ready and open for me to step into and so some musical friends and I took over the running of the service and called it “Eternity”.
After a decline in attendance at our Sunday meetings and a rather embarrassing Alternative Carol Service we decided that the old format of the ‘youth service’ had to be scrapped. So on 13th January 1995, equipped with a budget of £20 and a mission to build a community in which Christians can experience God’s love, we held our first Friday evening service. I feel that this is where Eternity, as a congregation, was officially planted. Since then we have seen dramatic growth, with a steady flow of people coming to know Jesus, and a series of sub-groups and events coming out of Eternity.
Early on we decided to start meeting regularly on Wednesday evenings for additional fellowship, teaching and the chance to pray for one another. As this meeting grew we split it down into smaller ‘cell groups’ which enabled us to introduce new Christians to church and to fulfil more practically the values of Eternity. Dividing the groups again when they became too large, meant there was always room for growth.
By the end of the summer term, 1997, we found that our Friday meeting had outgrown the small traditional parish church building we were in. We therefore decided to break it up into two different events: one large evangelistic meeting to be held in a nearby school and one teaching, worship and ministry service to be held in our old building. The evangelistic meeting now sees around 300 young people at every meeting, many of whom are not Christians.
Like many others we have found friendship evangelism to be most effective. Sunday afternoons in the summer are largely spent playing basketball on local outdoor courts. We get to know many young people there and also have fun. This has often led to us being able to explain what it is to be a Christian. Last year we saw the opening of our drop-in cafe, “Evoke” which now meets twice a month on Friday evenings and gives us more opportunities to become friends with kids in the area.
I’ve learnt many things leading a youth church from scratch, the most important of which is that keeping within our mother church is imperative. We would not have gone ahead with planting Eternity if we did not have the one hundred percent blessing from St.Michael’s. The prayer support, teaching and care from them is invaluable.
Looking towards the future I have a current vision of seeing twenty per cent of the young people in the Bracknell area come to know Jesus. The opening of one or two more cafes and increased schools work is our immediate way ahead and, if it is God’s will, we will see much more fruit. Watch this space.
Published with permission from Anglicans For Renewal Magazine