The TANGO community project at St Mark's, Haydock, has been running for 12 years. The project's chair, Avril Chisnall, and co-ordinator Christine Kay explain how a fresh expression of church has become part and parcel of the ministry there.
When we first started TANGO it was quite a difficult thing to know how we were going to bring God into it – especially when volunteers joined us from the community. We didn't want to impose something which involved us standing there quietly to pray so instead we always treated it as an invitation to come and reflect on why we were there as part of the project. And then we always finished with a prayer. Then people began to trust us more and started to join in different ways.
We now do have a cell in TANGO and cell is important to our church but that's OK for those people who genuinely want to go forward with God and enquire and learn more. That's the right environment for them but we've got lots of people in our teams who are sort of 'iffy' about God. We know he's in their lives but they've not acknowledged it themselves so how do we get them to move on?
We've introduced what we call the 'Three Ps' as a way of opening up some of these issues. Chris and her team regularly meet with all the other teams once a fortnight to look at Purpose, Problems and Presence of God. We also have breakfasts when staff and volunteers, which we consider to be our church, get involved with a God slot.
I think people now realise that church isn't doing it to them but church is here as part of the community - and church is not a stuffy old place, a building they have to go to; instead people actually make the church, us and them together.
I've been a member of the Anglican Church for many years and love it but I feel very frustrated that the church is stuck in the way it sees how church should be done and they're still expecting that church can carry on as it is. Many churches are seeing their numbers dwindle but are still not prepared to change their ways of doing things. They might introduce some new songs and various creative ways of doing things but it's still very much traditional church and won't reach the people we live among.
I appreciate that it's scary for church people and leaders to support a fresh expression because it's risky but Kingdom values are the important things. All those years ago, God asked me to do something different with a team of people and the result is that it is 'not the same church as I'm used to'. It's forced me out of a way of viewing church into seeing people differently and trying to communicate his way with them.
I get really wound up when people try to measure what church is. We certainly believe that what we have with our volunteers and community members is very much a church. The frustration kicks in when people come along, ask you to fill in a form, tick boxes, and say, 'How many people have you had in your church this week?' Most of the time I simply do not know the answer to that but we know that what we do here is very much a one-to-one with people. Thanks to God, we change people's lives by meeting them, praying for them or talking about God to them. We can't measure those sorts of things and that's really difficult.
It is often not measurable in an 'official' way but I'm looking at what happens here in Kingdom terms. As such, it doesn't matter that I'm a lay person; I will keep on doing this stuff because God has asked me to do it and pass it on to other people to do as well. We also know that's what we need to do and investment in other people with God's values is vital.
If TANGO goes on for another 12 years that'll be down to God and the investment we've put into the people's lives for them to want to carry on doing Kingdom business in an ordinary way. Lay people are so important to this type of fresh expression it's important to risk letting those who are not ordained take the lead and do what God's asked them to do.
I'd say, 'go out there and have a go and really listen to what God's saying to you.' We've passed the idea of TANGO on to three other parishes but it's not the same TANGO that we've got. They're doing the same sort of things but they are different people in different sorts of community. That's why it's very important to find God's heartbeat for the community in which you live but – for goodness sake – get out of your church and go and do it.
Co-ordinator Christine Kay adds:
God is the heartbeat of everything that we do; without him it would just be impossible. Every morning, before we open at 9.45am, we have what we call Quarter to TANGO when as many of us as are free come together. It is not a formal prayer time by any means but we give out notices and things that are coming up in the week but there’s also a time to share.
In the past we've done lots of things which we've been brave to do but we've been even braver to stop them when they've not been working. Now we're looking to do something called TANGO on a Sunday. Lots of people find Sunday a very long and lonely day so we've decided to give it a go, it will be in our café – a chat over a cuppa about some question brought up in a very informal way. We're not really sure how it's going to pan out but I feel that God is asking us to do this and we're just watching this space at the moment.
You are not going to get people into your churches in this day and age; they just want you to go out to them. They don't even want that, they don't know that they want that, the only way to be with them is to be where they're at; not threatened by anything that's churchy. That's why we try not to use churchy words at all. We are just ordinary people; they respect that and respond to it as well because they see we're not holier-than-thou. Hopefully they just feel comfortable and safe in the kind of environment we encourage here. God is opening this up for each of us to be part of other people's lives and for them to be part of our lives as well.