Today is our Avenues Church birthday. It’s not actually technically our birthday by date, but it is by festival. We began our experimental alternative congregation fourteen years ago on Pentecost. Our dream was to create a Church for people who wouldn’t usually go to Church. I don’t remember if we deliberately started on Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, and I’m sure fourteen years ago we were living week to week and had not considered the possibility of a birthday celebration each year, and had definitely not imagined that we’d still be celebrating today.
I’ve been reflecting on what’s stayed with us on our Avenues journey. So here’s 14 things that have remained with us over the fourteen years since we started in June 2001.
- Crayons & Newsprint – Usually near the beginning of the worship experience it’s a way warming up to the theme, a time of self-reflecting and responding non-verbally, a therapeutic opportunity to explore thoughts and ideas.
- Storytime in the Big Chair – Everyone loves a good story! We ditched the traditional sermon fairly early on, but retained at least one story, which sometimes is slightly ‘sermonette-ish’ but is more likely illustrative of the theme, whether by picture book or told.
- Professors to Preschoolers – It is one of the great joys of Avenues, that we’ve always had a mixed congregation of different ages, different stages of faith, different personal circumstances, different abilities, different backgrounds and different experiences coming together as one. This is Church. There isn’t any ‘typical’ person at Avenues. If we had to name common ground, it’s that those who come are good at asking questions and enjoy discovering and seeking to find out more about their faith and how it connects with their ordinary lives.
- Tactile, Experiential and Participatory – In more recent years we’ve labelled our style ‘discovery’, but right from the beginning we had a hands-on, activity based worship environment which was more than speaking and listening. Avenues is not a passive experience – it’s fully participatory, although participants can determine how much they want to be involved.
- Visual Image – Visual image is one of the cornerstones of how our worship is held together each week. Whether physical props, static images or projected images, Avenues is visual.
- Metaphor – There’s always a metaphor! Jesus talked in metaphor and we both pick up biblical metaphors and create our own. And… as my teenagers are want to groan and moan at me about my obsession, the possibilities are endless with what you can do with metaphor!
- Around the tables – There is something special that happens when you sit together around a table, with a group of people, whether friends or strangers. Our original tables were purposely round. These days they’re usually in a hired space and rectangle, but we still sit around them. .
- Sharing food – We started with morning tea, but moved quite early on to a Sunday morning breakfast slot. The sharing of a common meal together is an integral part of our fellowship together and a running buffet style continental breakfast through the programme contributes to our relaxed atmosphere.
- Small in size – Whenever we think are having a growth spurt, it is short lived. People move in and out and we remain a group of about 3 – 5 households, for our regular Breakfast worship, although some of our big events attracting 100+ people. We continue to cater for those who have never been attracted to a mainstream worship service and aren’t in the pattern of weekly attendance.
- There are never enough hours in a Saturday – What would a Saturday be like in our household if we didn’t have Avenues? Discovery based means we’re always making something, cutting something, cueing something, searching for movie clips or music tracks, designing and printing menus, gathering visual images… no matter how hard I try, there are never enough hours in a Saturday!
- Short sound bites & themed music – Blink and you could miss something! Our slots are usually three to five minutes long with things moving along crisply, ensuring boredom is seldom on the menu. Our backing track includes both secular and Christian music to support our theme.
- Structured order of events – We call it a ‘Menu’ but it is essentially no different to the Order of Service for worship experiences of more mainstream variety. From the Call to Worship to the Benediction, we have a structure – it’s just not always predictable or easy to spot amongst the chaos of discovery style worship.
- The one sentence prayer – whether a responsive prayer with a one line refrain or a tactile prayer where participants pray alone or in groups, the one-sentence prayer is accessible for everyone, simple and straightforward and it cuts right to the point.
- Biblically based – Our whole discovery planning process begins with the Bible. It is central to our worship experience. Our bible readings are interactive and participatory and the entire worship experience is connected to together and underpinned by the Bible.