First Thursday Friends

The Chapel Fellowship, Pitstone, Buckinghamshire

It's often said that when churches try to grow, they inadvertently expect to attract people who believe what they believe, behave as they behave and, after an unspoken probationary period, belong as part of the fellowship. Not only is this unrealistic in today's society, but also counter to the methods and models that Jesus used. We need to find a way to build relationships with people around us, so that they feel they belong way before they start to believe as we do or even perhaps behave as we might prefer! That is how "First Thursday Friends" was born at The Chapel Fellowship, Pitstone in Buckinghamshire.

For years the church tried to get people to come to their Sunday services and despite much effort these invitations mostly failed. The church realised that a different model of mission was needed; they had to meet people where they felt comfortable, rather than where the church felt comfortable. It is with this in mind that The Chapel Fellowship launched "First Thursday Friends" at the local village hall, alternating monthly between a film show and a cream tea event.

Importantly, this was not a ploy to get a captive audience and preach to them, but rather an expression of genuine Christian love for the community by providing something that was wanted. If there was any agenda beyond this, it was simply to let people see that Christians were ordinary people like themselves and to build meaningful relationships.

Thanks to a mission grant from Rural Ministries, The Chapel Fellowship were able to invest in attractive signage to draw attention to the new events, and buy some proper professional catering equipment to do the job properly. For the cream tea events, good quality cakes are provided by volunteers and sold at a token price of £2 to include a pot of tea, filter coffee or fresh squash. The cake is always served on best china, never paper plates and all the tables have cloths and fresh flowers. Gentle background music helps set the mood and they provide a range of games for people to play. Scrabble and Dominoes seem popular, but friendly chatter seems to be the main preoccupation.

The film events feature a carefully chosen movie, usually with some input from those likely to attend. The movie is projected onto a large screen. While people congregate, pots of tea and filter coffee are provided, along with popcorn and bowls of sweets. The film afternoons are set up with tables rather than rows of chairs, to encourage a more relaxed feel. A traditional interval during the film offers the opportunity for more drinks and ice cream!

It can take longer than we initially think to build relationships that make a difference. The feedback The Chapel Fellowship had on First Thursdays has been good, and people consistently return. The church has been thrilled to welcome a couple of their First Thursday regulars to services at harvest and Christmas, and feel sure that these guests would not have come along if it were not for the relationship these events helped established.