Tony Cummings caught up with the founder of the SUNDAY NIGHT LIVE events, Johnny Kinch

Johnny Kinch
Johnny Kinch

For decades Britain's beleaguered Christian music scene has suffered from a dearth of venues where musicians can perform. But this is changing thanks to an exciting initiative which has seen coffee houses like Costa Coffee/Starbucks and Café Nero open their venues to Sunday Night Live events where largely acoustic-orientated Christian acts can perform. Since the initiative started in May 2009 Sunday Night Live events have taken off like wildfire. The man behind the pioneering SNL events is Johnny Kinch. Johnny is a well known figure in Christendom. He has hosted a Sunday Breakfast programme on BBC Radio Derby and is author of the book Johnny Be Good: Out From The Darkness where he shares his testimony of deliverance from alcoholism, dealing drugs, gambling, prison and homelessness. Johnny spoke to Cross Rhythms about the stunning success of the SNL events.

"I started Sunday Night Live as a result of having a life changing experience. I felt there was a real need to reach out to those around me and wanted to do it in a way that was entertaining, enjoyable and inspirational, and of course I like good coffee and cakes as well! Me and Anneka my wife set up Sunday Night Live because we wanted to introduce people to God and inspire them to live better, but the format is not preachy. Sunday Night Live is not church held in a café. We are Christians who recognise today's coffee culture and try to fit into it. Starting SNL wasn't simple... First I had to become a moving wheel. I believe God is drawn to this and will give to those who are willing to move. I started the event on 9th May 2009 in Loughborough. On our first night I opened the doors expecting a rush but just four people came in. Anneka and I went to the back of the cafe and quickly said a worried prayer. During that prayer God asked me the question 'what is success?' I immediately knew the answer, to a business it is bums on the seats and money in the till, but to God it is obedience. I felt a weight lift off me and believed God was saying 'just build it and they will come'. Within 20 minutes of that prayer 160 people turned up as if from nowhere. We were so busy that we ran out of cups, chairs, tables and space!"

In the following months Johnny found the same thing - each SNL event was packed out. He recounted, "Churches started to come from surrounding towns and cities asking if I would set up an SNL event for them. I hadn't even thought of doing this but felt that was what God wanted me to do. So I set about recreating the event and contacted various stores around the surrounding areas. By March 2010 I had five events running at the same time from Derby to Teesside and was working almost full time on the project. But I seriously needed a cash injection if I was going to take this to the nation, which by now was my goal.

"After many emails I finally secured a meeting with Sir Peter Vardy (Vardy Foundation) and after pitching Dragons Den style I was offered financial help on a match funding basis but to receive it I needed to find an identical amount of financial support elsewhere. I wasn't going to let this stop me and set about contacting people I thought may help. I ended up pitching to Lord and Lady Edmiston, sponsors of Christian Vision worldwide. Whilst there I also met Andrew Edmiston, MD of a large international company and trustee of imaginetheday charitable trust. We hit it off straight away as we both shared the same vision, to see something happen on a monumental scale in the UK. Within days of that meeting I had secured the full amount of sponsorship that I needed for that year and on top of that to my surprise and delight was given an office all expenses paid at their state of the art complex in Coleshill."

SNL Derby
SNL Derby

With a growing team of local church volunteers putting on SNL events in their locality and a bevy of grassroots musicians providing the entertainment, the events have spread like wildfire. Continued Johnny, "As we speak there are over 30 venues up and down the country, from Torquay, Sheffield, Hereford, Leicester, Liverpool and Newcastle. As you can see I could go on and on, but there are so many to list and the amount of SNLs we have just keeps expanding! There are five new SNLs opening in the next couple of months, in Towcester, Norwich, Durham, Sheffield and Cambridge, and we are so excited to add these to our great SNL family. We've also had interest from areas across the globe with some particular interest coming from America!"

So what can people expect from a typical SNL evening? "Firstly and most importantly, we want everyone to have a wonderfully relaxing experience of live entertainment in the belief that this will have a spiritual impact in people's lives. Expect a great night of exciting, modern entertainment, great coffee, of course, and most importantly expect a completely unique and diverse atmosphere that can only be experienced at a live SNL event. To break this down, we provide people with a comfortable and relaxed setting LIVE, so you will be sitting right in the thick of the audience so that you can experience the entertainment in the best way possible. There will be a host who will begin the evening, where they will settle everyone into their surroundings as well as letting everyone know all relevant info of both the night itself and also any up coming events and news. The artist or entertainer will then perform the first of their two slots, where they will perform three or four songs with a well placed break in between to get a coffee and also have a chance to soak up the atmosphere and ambience. So come expectant and you won't be disappointed! SNL is a great way to see live entertainment for FREE, with friends and in a beautifully crafted environment."

Johnny is delighted how the SNL events have become a key component in helping grassroots Christian musicians find an audience. He enthused, "I believe SNL is providing the nation with young, innovative and vibrant talent, whilst providing it at no cost to the audience! We have exciting acts and performers contacting us daily and we are always looking for even more talent to develop and promote through our SNL events. SNL also provides hope for young aspiring artists, that here with SNL anyone can be booked, there is no prioritising of artists, but obviously once people hear the music and see talented people for themselves demand increases! I know a lot of the artists we currently use go on to sell their own music and are able to plug their own projects, albums, etc."

To further shine the spotlight on some of the SNL artists, renowned record producer Andy Baker (Philippa Hanna, The Gentlemen) has been working on a various artists album for SNL. As well as Andy and Philippa, the Sunday Night Live album will feature newly recorded studio tracks by Danny Cope, Abby Scott, Sarah Poole, Empire Nation, Paul Bell, Trefor Jones, Jacob Lloyd, Matt Horner, Claire Robinson and Jodi-Dawn Lewis.

Sunday Night Live: A coffee, cakes and Christian music revolution

With all its phenomenal success Johnny is keen that the SNL events keep their spiritual focus. "We would ask the Church to keep us in prayer that God will continue to remain at the centre of SNL. Particularly as we start up new ventures, possibly internationally and more prominently SNL Live Lounge where we will offer the same idea as SNL, but Live Lounge will run throughout the week Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday!! These new ventures have us all very excited and is looking like a very promising facet to the SNL brand. We are always looking for new SNL venues and hosts, so make sure you don't miss out on this fantastic outreach. Download our free app, or take a look at our website and my team and I will be more than happy to give you any information you want in order to reach out to even more people in our nation and local communities." CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.