A myriad of new 'alternative' worship and outreach events have sprung up all over Britain. In our new series Karl Allison and Francis Blight will be journeying the length of Britain to report on the good, and not so good, initiatives aiming at wrenching Christianity into the 90s.
Bojanglez Night Club, Guildford, Surrey
Meet 8 or 9 times a year
Next one 20th June with The Wades, Oxford Circus, 8.00pm
It's 8pm on a Sunday night in Guildford and a queue of teenagers starts to form outside Bojanglez nightclub. Pretty soon the line stretches around the corner and out of site. Inside, a group of Christians are putting finishing touches to their magazine-style presentation that's drawing around 600 young people each month. Welcome to an initiative called The Warehouse.
The venue is certainly impressive and The Warehouse team appear to have been given complete freedom in its use. The dance floor is superbly lit and the bar is manned by young volunteers serving non-alcoholic drinks.
"The main aim of The Warehouse", explains chief organiser Ian Nicholson, is to be a bridge building event for Christians to bring their friends. An evening does not include preaching or worship but it is very positive about Christianity and includes video reports, interviews and thought-provoking items sandwiched between live bands, dance music, videos and anything from juggling to sumo wrestling!"
The night I went featured some joyful moshing to the music of The Pink Dandelions and the theme of addiction was presented by way of an interview with a former addict (now saved!) and some hard-hitting MTV features. Previously featured in the live slots have been Funky Beehive, Eden Burning, Brussel (RIP), Powerhouse, Meekness and K. Coming up later this year are The Wades, Chain Gang and The Electrics.
The Warehouse stands as a great example of how to present British CCM, but also demonstrates what can happen when young people are given a little bit of power within the church. Ian explains: "Most of the creative ideas are from young people and they are excited about it partly because they own it and have a say in the content. The wrinklies are outvoted! We have also worked hard to avoid the project being overtly identified with one church. It is, and is perceived to be, a genuine cross church event."
The organisers feel that The Warehouse has been successful so far but that there's more to come. The proportion of unchurched young people attending is reckoned to be as high as 25 per cent and says Ian, "The next stage is evangelism and discipleship. We plan to establish Warehouse discussion groups in local schools. The Warehouse is part of a long term strategy and commitment to young people in the area. The groundwork done over the last year or so is now creating some exciting possibilities. It's encouraging to have an opportunity to build bridges and break out of the Christian ghetto."
LATE ON SUNDAY
Kensington Temple, Kensington Park Road, Notting Hill Gate, London
Meet every Sunday, 9.00pm
Kensington Temple is, of course, THE growing church and is today possibly the largest church in Britain. Their services are Spirit-driven celebrations, flowing from a genuinely creative approach to worship and an unparalleled commitment to the arts. So when I heard KT were running a series of 9pm services I assumed that this would be a distinctly superior alternative event. True their publicity does not actually use the 'a' word, but there's no doubting their intentions!
The night I went the service began with a time of worship led by a six-piece band. The sound was poor, the drums weren't miked, the songs were average and the leader spent large chunks of time with his back to the congregation. We sat in rows of chairs, with nothing to focus on (no projection, no pictures) except this worship leader who really wasn't sure if he was leading others in worship or performing in the style of an early 80s Simon LeBon. The band provided a limp accompaniment to songs such as "Blessed Be The Name Of The Lord" (very radical) and then we all sat down again.
There then followed ten minutes of announcements and, believe it or not, the offering.
Apparently this led into a time of teaching on sex-before-marriage. But I can't comment on that. By that time, my friends and I were in McDonalds. You'll have gathered that I didn't like 'Late On Sunday' very much. One of my companions described it as "Christians just trying to be different for the sake of it" and I think he summed it up very well. For different, read less thought-out, less organized, less rehearsed and less resourced than the other services in the same church.
Too much of what we all understand as 'church' has been retained to make it a truly viable alternative. It's hard to see who 'Late On Sunday' will appeal to. The crowd of around 100 were mostly thirty-somethings who gave the impression of already belonging to Kensington Temple. Some very serious thought needs to be put in before this service will reach out to anyone else.
Whatever else a new service may or may not be, I think there might be two irreducibles. Firstly, it should be experimental to some degree, and secondly it has to be something you could take your non-Christian friends to without any embarrassment. This service failed in both respects. A church as well resourced as Kensington Temple really should be able to do something better than 'Late On Sunday'.