This alternative to all-age worship really works

I have begun to wonder if there is a cure for all-age services. You may be running a great one at your church which is wonderful. But I have always found them a bit difficult.

When we analysed our service numbers here when I first started, we realised that our all-age Sunday service was the least well-attended. Even some of the families weren't coming.

Is there another way? Perhaps not just a different service but a different way of seeing things?

Our remedy here at St Cuthbert's North Wembley was to set up a once-a-month café church. We had a crafty eye on using it as an outreach strategy. After all modern people love café life, don't they, and who could refuse a free morning breakfast?

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Our patron saint was a great one for hospitality. He was a reluctant bishop, but a very enthusiastic eater and drinker. On one occasion when he was starving, an eagle bought him a fresh-caught river salmon to eat. Rather than eat it himself, he divided it into two. One half Cuthbert gave back to the eagle. The other half he shared with locals who were also starving. Cuthbert was a hospitable guy.

Of course, hospitality is a sacred duty and a marker of the Christian life and we wondered how it could play a part here.

We decided to ditch the all-age service and start an all-age, all-community café at 10am on the first Sunday of every month.

It was surprisingly straightforward and has had some unexpected results. We bought six large round tables, some good tablecloths and stocked up on tea and coffee.

One of our congregation and her family took on the role of doing the breakfast. We have pastries, ham and boiled eggs and fruit. Plus a toaster ready for the bagels.

When people come in there are Sunday newspapers on the tables and some secular music playing. Michael Buble is popular!

We have a strong welcome and let people really settle in.

As for the service we do it amid the café. We always have a communion and a confession and there is liturgy.

Yes, we have a small band playing modern worship songs. But we always include a couple of hymns on the organ. We encourage talks that involve people stopping and discussing a subject and we are frequently topical. 

The youngsters enjoy being with their families and it is a bit of an adventure. They love the food and we keep it short.

For us the café signals something. We do it once a month because we want to have a very fresh service that we can invite people to. It is special, it wouldn't work every week and would be a terrible strain on our volunteers.

It is very much an Anglican service – it has the pattern of a regular service and the reverence – but it is done café style. We never forget that this is church. We get people up to give testimony and tell us their news.

We had little resistance. For some it isn't their thing (but I run a short traditional communion service in the evening on café church Sunday for these folk). People were happy to try it and see.

What is interesting to us is that this is our best attended service of the month without exception. It ties in with our memory café, making a statement that we are in favour of hospitality and that people are welcome.

I enjoy leading it. I enjoy that it is impromptu and keeps me on my feet.

I wonder if café church might be the answer to the all-age dilemma for some. It is so flexible that you can tweak it to suit you and your church – more formal, less formal, more café, less café.

Steve Morris is the parish priest of St Cuthbert's North Wembley. Before being a priest he was a writer and ran a brand agency. In the 1980s he tried to become a pop star. Follow him on Twitter @SteveMorris214

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