Faithfulness, fun and fruit

Prayerful discernment led the Revd Danny Driver to recognise that his calling was in church planting or grafting, but he envisioned no particular plan about how to begin, or where it would lead.

At a church planting conference he attended in 2019 he was especially struck by conversations around the church’s call to care and minister to the poor and it reminded him of a community called Barnwell not far from his parish (St Barnabas, in Mill Road Cambridge, where he was a curate at the time). Barnwell is a small suburb which sadly falls within England’s top 20 most deprived areas. Though given Cambridge is the most unequal city socio-economically in the UK, the deprivation is quite pronounced.

A little later in his curacy, Danny gathered with a group from within St Barnabas church family to pray about church planting, and try to discern together where God might be leading them to begin.

Danny remembered, “We laid before us a map of Cambridge and without any prompting from me, the sense that Barnwell was the place quickly became obvious around the table. There was this special energy among the group and from that point on, we began to have initial conversations with the then vicar in Barnwell to discuss the possibilities of a church plant in the area.”

They spent time finding out more about the community and the needs of the people there. Soon the vicar was due for retirement and Danny was due for priesting, so the timing seemed to fall perfectly into place for Danny to take up the reins and become the parish vicar at Christ the Redeemer, Barnwell. Several of the people who felt called to serve alongside Danny even moved house to settle and integrate into the Barnwell community.

By simply talking to people locally, Danny identified three key ways in which bridge-building could be made between the church and the community, especially with younger generations:

  • Music
  • Sport
  • School

The sport and school elements had natural overlaps, and also happened to be areas which Danny had a particular interest in and a heart for.

He began to establish good links with the local primary school and prayed before meeting with the Head.

He said, “I asked God to open the door there for church involvement. Not only did the Head welcome the offer of support, she asked for support from the church community in all sorts of ways that I’d not thought of and I left thinking God had not only opened the door, He’d blown off the hinges!”

As part of the preparation before moving to Christ the Redeemer, Danny gave some thought to how the church might be best equipped to support and match the needs of the community, particularly with a focus on children and sport.

Danny explained, “The Strategic Investment Board awarded us with £250,000 of Innovation Funding from the Archbishop’s Council. This is now funding a full-time youth and children’s worker, two trainee sport and faith ministers (one doing the specialist degree at Ridley and the other is doing a curriculum online with Ridley) and one part-time administrator. It’s also paid for lots of sports equipment to bolster the sports ministry element.

“As we have got to work building on what was already here before whilst setting up new sporting groups for kids and working with the school, we have started to see change and growth. The congregation prior to our arrival was at around eight to ten adults with nine children. There are now 56 people including children. It’s wonderful to see such an eclectic mix which includes a cleaner, a doctor, a vet, single mums, unemployed people, working professionals, charity sector workers, some students and many children and teenagers all worshipping together. It’s a joy to see the togetherness of such different people.”

Danny believes the sports ministry makes huge connections with young people and improves so many things about their lives – physical, social and spiritual.

Sporting activities at the church include a Friday Night Youth group which is an open access youth evening in the church hall. Multi-sports activities include hockey and football. This has been in partnership with the Cambridge United Community Trust (the club is in the church parish). They have send along a football coach to work alongside the church’s own sports ministers. There are no overtly faith-based activities, but Danny explained that it has so far been an effective way to make connections with younger people in the area, which are often difficult to make if young people have had no previous experience of church.

Another group that has been running for over 20 years is Trailblazers. This is an after-school club for years 1-6 but split into two different groups by age. With the addition of sports ministers the club has a particular dimension of sport alongside other crafts and games that helps teach the Bible to the children . Danny reports that parents welcome the Christian values that are taught as part of the sessions.

Then there is double header of an after-school club that is just focused on sport. The first is at the local primary school where lots of sport and coaching takes place - the sports ministry church staff supply the coaching. This is another way the church are building connections with local children. There is a clear articulation of the Christian faith in the club. Children are asked to think about who Jesus is and what He means to them. Danny said, “There are 16 kids attending, 10 have never had church contact before. Their perceptions of church are changed by involvement – these young people had no idea that being in a church building could be like this.”

Tots and Toys is the latest development at the church which came into being when the local health and social care prescriber from the GP surgery, two mums and one of the sports ministers all independently approached Danny with a similar idea for a new mums’ fitness/exercise class. There are sport/wellbeing/fitness elements offered in the form of pre and post-natal exercises with a view to helping new mums regain core muscle strength after birth, and to socialise with other mums in the same boat.

A multi-sport camp is offered to the entire community for one week in the summer holidays Monday-Friday focusing on years 3-6. Last year over 40 children took part and were involved in a concurrent junior leaders’ programme. As part of the camp, they are all encouraged to learn about Jesus and think about who he is. The church provides all the food and equipment and at the end of the week, there is a family BBQ gathering. Danny says three new families began attending church as a result of being invited to this one event. In the following weeks, five more children came from the local outer housing estate.

Danny believes it’s imperative to be bold with invitations. Some follow-up is required to keep people’s interest going, which Danny says in a local tight-knit community is easy. He said, “Out and about, in the chippy/shops etc, you always see someone you know. All follow-up has been face to face, just chatting to people as we meet them, catching up, simply asking ‘how are things’ and inviting them again to try something the church is offering. If they’re already involved, we ask if there’s someone they’d like bring along who might enjoy it. These kinds of conversations are the beauty of being the local church – making the most of natural connections on the inside.”

The church is now on the verge of agreeing with the school to teach part of the RE curriculum using sport – Sportily offer a framework to help and one of the Sports Ministers is adopting that.

Clearly the sports ministry approach is successfully engaging and connecting church and community, especially with young people. For any church wanting to try out some of these ideas, Danny has three clear recommendations to help:

  1. Pray – despite all the sport that goes on we don’t hit the ground running…we hit the ground kneeling. Everything flows from that – listening to what God is saying and where He’s leading you to.
  2. Don’t do this on your own. Identify other people in the congregation who have the same interests and calling. You don’t have to be fit and sporty to do this kind of ministry – just an interest and enjoyment of sport is a good start. Specialist coaching can be brought in if need be.
  3. Start with your local school regardless of whether it is CofE or not. Don’t be afraid to get involved, their response may surprise you!