New Beginnings

Mark Pierson


Dear Mark

There's more to this 'doing church' than we first realised! It'd be much easier if we just dropped out and did our own thing. We decided that we want to meet each week on a Sunday night in the old church lounge. It has a separate entrance and nice ambience (with some work!). We're not sure what exactly we want to do, be we'd like to find some new ways of being church which we can feel comfortable with - and have confidence in inviting our friends to. Most of us are 20-35 years old. There are a few older than that and three young children. Some of us are single and some married. There are about 15 of us. We mostly sit around and talk but that's not very satisfying.


Still Frustrated, but less Confused.



Dear Still Frustrated but Less Confused

Sounds like you're doing well. At least you're doing more than just complaining. How does the morning church leadership feel about you now that something is actually happening?

The question of what to do when you meet is an important one. The answer is different for every group. Marg Gilling in her excellent book Where Do We Find Meaning talked with more than 40 small faith groups and communities throughout New Zealand - all of them outside the mainstream of church life to a greater or lesser extent. If you're looking for some idea of the range of possibilities of style and purpose you'd do well to pick up a copy (The Futures Group, Private Bag 11903, Ellerslie, Auckland, phone (09) 525 4179) and read through it.

There is an amazing breadth of Christian groups doing new things in worship and mission and spiritual formation in New Zealand. Most of them you will never hear about. You'll be inspired and encouraged to see what is going on.

One possibility that might work in your setting is to have a series of Sunday evening 'services' that operate on a rotating basis. This works very well in the group I'm part of. Our rotation is:

1st Sunday Labyrinth Prayer Service

2nd Sunday Story Telling Night

3rd Sunday Quiet Service

4th Sunday Free

The advantages of this sort of cycle are that each evening has a clear focus and direction, no service is a huge amount of work and none depend on large (or consistent) numbers. Each service is quite different in style, content and purpose and the workload can be spread by different people taking responsibility for each service.

You may want to include other themes in your cycle, such as going to a café, prayer, healing, watching movies, Bible Study. One of the reasons I like our cycle is that the evenings are all quite different and appeal to different people. They're also open-ended and flexible, giving people an opportunity to meet and talk with God while they develop some skills to maintain their individual discipleship.

I think those are two very important aspects of anything we do. We want to train people to think for themselves, own their faith, and take responsibility for their faith journey. As I said in an earlier letter, the church exists primarily to make this happen for people. We're really in the business of trying to do ourselves out of business.


The evenings could all be framed with the same elements if you wanted. You could always have tea and coffee available before, or after; or you could go up the road to a café or bar. I prefer to have each week with its own set pattern, but different to the others. So Story Telling night has continuous tea and coffee available, Labyrinth has none, and Quiet Service offers it after in a separate room for those who want to chat.

Building regular patterns into what you do is important. It helps people to feel at ease and to be confident in bringing others into the services. It's the frame and skeleton that should be regular, not everything!

I've always said that if you start a church service with a Call to Worship and a hymn, and end with a hymn and benediction, you can get away with almost anything in between. But omit that 'frame' and you're rapidly in trouble.

Which reminds me - if you do ever want to bring subtle, but quite significant change to a traditional worship service, start with the songs and prayers. You can often get quite creative with new songs, new words to familiar tunes (eg Wild Goose song books), recorded music, and a variety of interactive ways of praying.

So talk together about what kinds of things you'd like to do in the evenings and don't try to do them all at once, or every time you meet. Spread the work and expectations around.





Mark Pierson has been a minister in Baptist churches for 20 years. For most of that time he wondered why anyone would want to go to church.

Involvement with the Pebblebrook youth camps, Mainstage Music Festivals, Chatz Nightclub, and more recently the Parallel Universe alternative worship group and Cityside Baptist Church in Auckland, have been part of Mark's journey to discover an ethos and style of church that he and others like him might find helpful to their spiritual quests.

Cityside has been becoming that place over the last 7 years.

Mark is co-author with Mike Riddell and Cathy Kirkpatrick of The Prodigal Project, a book and interactive CD-ROM "for those who love God but struggle to belong to the church", published by SPCK London and due out in April.

With Mike he also leads courses in New Zealand and Australia on worship and mission in the emerging culture.

Mark is married to Robyn and they share 4 young adult children and 2 grandsons.

You can reach Mark at

| Top | Home | Back to Index of Issue 40