Ackroydon Community Church: Reimagining Church

What does a priest look like? What kinds of things do they do and say in lockdown? What does the church do when large gatherings are prohibited? Is Zoom the only way?

I used to work for a charity going door-to-door. It can be tough. Lockdown has changed that. It’s fun timing how long it takes for people to answer the door, they’re so desperate for a chat! Abnormal times.

In Southfields, we have a large council estate, with Ackroydon Community Church at the heart of it. We are so aware of huge need hidden behind the doors. Large families in small spaces. GIG economy workers financially stranded. Children bored. Cupboards bare. No wifi.

How can the church make a difference? We wanted a simple concept. We offer food, kids activity packs and signposting to long term help. I’ve written a prayer for the community on the flyer so people can turn to God for comfort and strength.

We are in the process of delivering flyers and snacks (so people notice the flyer and it’s not consigned to junk!) to 1,000 homes in the community. We knock on each door. Many are opened.

Not your average junk mail. Reaching out to unearth those in need.

Not your average junk mail. Reaching out to unearth those in need.

The estate is a diverse place. There are young professionals working from home keen to connect. Others have little English but are grateful for a smile. Others are financially desperate. Some are hungry. Some are positive. Most are fearful, weary and putting a brave face on things. 

One lady said we were a godsend. An hour before we met, she was in tears. Her 16-year-old daughter has shut herself into her room and won’t talk. Her mum was desperate so went for a walk to process it all. As she returns we’ve left some snacks at her door and we meet in the corridor. Kindness opens up a conversation. She’s been going to AA for 16 years and we talk about to how she might make the ‘higher power’ more personal. She wonders how she will ever forgive herself for some of the life she’s given her daughter through her addiction. She’s living with so much guilt and shame. I’m able to talk to her about beginning by receiving forgiveness from God to release her to be more herself. She longs for that freedom, so we pray together. 

This simply is what the church does writ large across Southwark Diocese, the UK and the world. We communicate and contextualise the phenomenal news of forgiveness and restoration found in Jesus Christ. We find a way to be Christ’s hands and feet, even though our physical doors are closed. We offer whatever we can, wherever we find ourselves.

It is real hope in despair. Comfort in isolation. True, gritty love amid grief.

This is a time of opportunity. Recent statistics suggest there is a spiritual hunger. People are turning towards God. Usual support mechanisms aren’t there. There is huge fear for the future. Self-determinism is no longer a safety net. Death is a nearer danger than ever.

As the church we have something to say. We must be known by our incarnational love. Love in action. Love in word. Love in prayer. Love in kindness. Love in sacrifice. Jesus can use us to reach out to a hurting world. 

Love your neighbour, Southfields

Huge thanks to our partners:

Learn to Love to Read, a local literacy charity providing books and simple craft parcels for families unable to connect to online school or with few resources to occupy their children.

Dons Local Action Group – a group of Wimbledon AFC fans who have gathered over 500 volunteers in Wimbledon, Merton and Wandsworth to give out emergency food parcels. They are using our new church hall as their Wandsworth base.

City Harvest – putting surplus food from supermarkets to good use in a sustainable way. They provided all the snacks for the flyer delivery.

Mission Shaped Ministry Course

With the launch of the new ministry of lay pioneers within the Diocese of Southwark it is even more important to support and encourage pioneering and to develop not only pioneers but teams around them and churches and teams around the Diocese. One of the key ways that we do this is through the Mission Shaped Ministry Course.

The Mission Shaped Ministry Course is a one year course aimed at helping churches to be missional in creative and imaginative ways. This course will help churches to reach out beyond their natural fringe and to serve their communities and look to form new ways of being church. It will also help churches who might not be looking to fresh expressions of Church but want to explore new or different ways of mission.

In the course we have a variety of inspirational people who will be sharing their stories and their learning. There will be lots of time to reflect on where you are and where your church is and some of the steps that you might take to effectively reach those outside of the Church. Sessions can include videos, interactive times and questions, group work as well as sharing your own story, challenges and opportunities.

Participants may be at any stage – just starting to think about things, planning your first steps, wondering what to do next, planning a new community. The course is a great opportunity to learn.

Although you are welcome to come as an individual our experience has been that coming with a group from your church or mission activity have been the most fruitful. Coming in a team ensures that you can discover new ideas together, reflect with those in your situation and plan how you might start new things.

Key areas that we look at include contextual mission (i.e. what does the mission of God look like where I live and minister), gospel and culture, listening for mission and starting something new.

We are holding the next course at Christ Church, Brighton Rd, Purley, Surrey CR8 2BN. It is near to Purley Station (with good rail connections) and the A23. Dates for the course in 2020 are:

  • Saturday 18 January
  • Tuesday 11 February
  • Tuesday 10 March
  • Tuesday 21 April
  • Weekend Away 15-17 May
  • Tuesday 9 June
  • Tuesday 7 July
  • Saturday 12 September
  • Tuesday 13 October
  • Saturday 7 November

Saturdays run from 10am-4pm and Tuesdays are from 19.30-21.30

The Weekend away is being held at The Oasts, Tufton Lane, Northiam, East Sussex TN31 6HL

The costs for the course are £300 for up to three people from a parish in Southwark Diocese (if 3 people come then it works out at £100 per person). After the first three people it is £100 per person. If you are not part of Southwark Diocese the cost is £300 oer person.

For more information please contact Will Cookson at or 0207 7939 9417

Lay Pioneers

On Saturday 14 September, at the Croydon Lay Conference, Bishop Christopher will be commissioning our first three Lay Pioneers for the Diocese of Southwark. Lay Pioneers are an exiting new ministry that will sit alongside other lay ministries in the Diocese and will help us in encouraging new ways to reach new people with the good news of Jesus Christ. As the Church of England helpfully says:

Pioneers are people called by God who are the first to see and creatively respond to the Holy Spirit’s initiatives with those outside the church; gathering others around them as they seek to establish new contextual Christian community.

As the work of the new Pioneering Ministry and Fresh Expressions department develops within the Diocese of Southwark we have started looking at this whole exciting area of Lay Pioneers and these first three are, we hope and pray, the first of many more.

Lay Pioneers will play a significant role in helping the Church to experiment and to take risks in reaching others with the love of Christ. Their primary focus will be to reach those outside of the Church. Their pioneering spirit often leads them to work with those most in need and in deprived communities. Of the three being commissioned this time round one is working with an estate community in Redhill; one is working with Japanese people who have had little or no contact with Christians and one is working with those who see themselves as being spiritual but not religious.

With the setting up of the Diocesan Lay Council this autumn we hope to create a range of options for lay people to explore in regards to Pioneer selection and training. As a first step we now have available the opportunity to explore the calling to a Commissioned Lay Pioneer. This is suitable for those who wish to explore a calling to Pioneering but may not yet have much experience or they may be part of a fresh expression of Church in their local context and would like some more training, support and recognition. Over time we hope that we will also be able to recognise those who may have been leading a fresh expression of Church for a period of time (or who lead more than one) and would like to go deeper with their exploration into fresh expressions and pioneering. We hope that to these people we will be able to offer the role of Licensed Lay Pioneer.

We already have a wide range of fresh expressions of Church in the Diocese from new monastic communities to cafe church and messy church through to communities who regard themselves as Spiritual and not Religious. We hope and pray that with an increase in lay pioneers we can see this range grow and deepen and the mission and evangelistic impact of the Church grow within the Diocese.

If you, or someone you know, believes that they may have a calling to pioneering within the Diocese then we would love to hear from you. You can either have an informal chat with Will Cookson, Dean of Fresh Expressions and Director of Pioneering Ministry or book into a Vocations Fair –

Pioneering in Southwark

This is part of a paper delivered to the Bishop’s staff team in summer 2018

Pioneer Ministry in Southwark Diocese

“See, I am doing a new thing!” Isaiah 43:19

“Pioneers are people called by God who are the first to see and creatively respond to the Holy Spirit’s initiatives with those outside the church; gathering others around them as they seek to establish new contextual ministries”[1].

With the Vision for Growth in the Diocesan plan we are faced with the need to reach beyond those we normally attract to our churches. With only 1.48% of the population part of Diocesan church, there are large parts of our communities that never set foot within our churches. Pioneers and the fresh expressions movement help us to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with those who we traditionally find hard to reach. A key outcome of this pioneering is to find models that others can adapt to grow the church.

Calling and appointment of Pioneer Ministers

We do have a number of existing Ordained Pioneers and through their ministries we are gaining valuable insights into how we create the conditions to enable them to flourish. Most of the rest of this paper is aimed at answering the question of how we can encourage pioneering to be fruitful and to help the wider Church.

We have made the decision to have two Ordained Pioneer Curates each year, allowing us to encourage a mixed economy within Southwark Diocese. Their placement needs to be carefully thought through and in places where there is real opportunity for them to thrive and flourish (see later under Placement of Pioneers). In Southwark we do not have an Ordained Pioneer route as we realise that sometimes people will only Pioneer for a period of time and that having a rounded training allows Pioneers to make connections with existing forms of Church.

The real untapped source of pioneering lies with the laity. In the future, 5 out of 6 Pioneers are likely to be Lay. If we want to see pioneering embedded across the Diocese this will not primarily come via Ordained Pioneers – this is likely to be a relatively small but vital group within the Diocese, creating centres of excellence and helping to encourage and support others in their pioneering ventures. The real wave of change will come through releasing larger groups of Lay Pioneers able to have a vision, be released by their churches and able to sustain that vision and mission initiative over a significant period of time. This will ensure a growingly diffuse impact of pioneering across the Diocese.

The spectrum of Pioneer Ministry

One helpful way of looking at Pioneer Ministry is through the idea of a Pioneer Spectrum[2]. It is very easy to see Pioneers under an all-in-one label but the reality is that there is a wide range of pioneering that occurs and the Pioneer Spectrum tries to give some idea of this reality.

Figure 1- Pioneer Spectrum

The above diagramme (not be taken as a management tool but as a starting point to reflect where and why and how pioneering occurs) looks to show the Pioneer Spectrum and the increasing need for contextualisation as you move away from the culture of the missional team. Two other things need to be noticed. As you move into having to contextualise more, then the time taken to develop an ecclesial community tends to increase and the impact beyond the Church tends to increase. This means that if we are looking for Pioneers to innovate from scratch then a three year contract will be too short to setup, develop and create a sustainable fresh expression of Church. Indeed if we aim for the right hand side on a three year contract it might well be the case that there is nothing to show for their labours.

This spectrum allows us to be more strategic and thoughtful about what we might be able to achieve over time with different options. As we look around us and see that there are whole communities and groups of people who are distant from the idea of coming into Church we need to look at how we might engage with them incarnationally. In the context of a pioneering team there will be people who are culturally close to us and others who are culturally remote; the Pioneer Spectrum allows us, in a simple way, to think through who we are trying to reach with the Good News of Jesus Christ and how we might think that through. The corollary is that a Church with a record of community engagement and innovation is likely to be able to go further and in less time than a church without a record in either.

What is it we want them to do?

We need to be clear not to see Pioneer Ministry as an add-on. In terms of practice the Methodist Church’s expectations for Pioneers is very helpful in making their role clear.

  • This is the main focus of their ministry. It’s not a marginal or minor activity for them.
  • Most of the person’s time is spent with those outside the Church
  • There is an intention to create a new ecclesial community. It may not always happen but this is the aim.

Using the idea of a Pioneer Spectrum we then need to ask what we need from a particular Pioneer.

For example, with Pioneer Replicators we are looking at where a parish church needs revitalising with a graft or a Church Plant. Taking a model that works elsewhere and launching it may be the most appropriate thing to do.[3] Such a model takes less time to see if it works in the situation, or not. This model is the most likely to reach “people like us”

Pioneer Adaptors will be looking at what others have pioneered elsewhere and seeing how they can be contextualised for their situation. Examples here would include Messy Church, Café Church, Dementia friendly services etc. Each has a recognisable model that needs adapting to meet the needs of the local community.

With Pioneer Innovators we need to set things up for the long haul. Some of these new things may take years before we see new forms of Christian community coming into being. This won’t be done by throwing multiple people in three year segments but in investing in people for perhaps a decade. The key outcome will not be a church that looks like the Parish Church; rather, digging into the riches of their traditions and listening to their context and the Spirit they will reach communities who would otherwise not be connected to the Church. Connected to the Diocese, they will share new insights from the Gospel and the culture they are seeking to reach helping our long term call and mission to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. The benefit for the Church will be to enable others to learn from these pioneering initiatives and learn how to adapt these models into their own situation. Ideally we are looking to create new models that can then move into the Pioneer Adapt space.

Pioneers will need support, encouragement, and the ability to being given latitude as to what they do (within safe limits). Some will grow and produce great fruit but we need to realise that others may only last for a time.

Placement of Pioneers

One of the keys to successful Pioneer Ministry is that of where we place them and how we create a fruitful environment for them in which to flourish. All too often it will be easy to try and fix a perceived problem by throwing a Pioneer Minister at it and expecting miracles. The following may be helpful in terms of thinking through deployment

  1. Look at what you are hoping to achieve. Is this a new model in a new place or adapting or replicating an existing model? Think carefully as to timeframes and expected outcomes.
  2. Where is the team to support the Pioneer? Does this team and the Pioneer have a shared vision? Without a team the risk increases significantly.
  3. Is there be a ‘Sustainer enabler’ who will support and encourage the Pioneer Minister? They may or may not be pioneering themselves, they may or may not be particularly innovative. They will understand the importance of Pioneers and can resource, empower, release and protect the Pioneer. They will need to agree with the Pioneer where they will be working on the pioneer spectrum so that there is understanding of focus and potential timescale
  4. Ordained Pioneers are likely to be used sparingly and need a team (remember 2. above). Decide whether they will be a ‘Parish based Pioneer’ starting from the Parish base helping to create mixed-modes of Fresh Expressions or whether they are ‘Fresh Start Pioneers’, classic blank canvas Pioneers who whilst staying connected to the Parish, Deanery or Diocese are released from expectations of being a minister to existing churches
  5. Use more Lay Pioneers – They will often have teams that they work with to create new communities of faith which led them to becoming a Lay Pioneer in the first place. They will often be more cost effective as well. We need to identify, train and release more of these to have a significant impact around the Diocese.
  6. Many of the best things that are occurring have occurred on the edges without formal support. Our support for many of these in the early stages should be light touch and supportive
  7. Use long-term Pioneers (Lay and Ordained) to help create new forms of Fresh Expressions that others can adapt for their context (e.g. New Monastic Communities)
  8. Don’t over-resource or over plan. Use a ‘lean startup’ model to ensure that we only start seriously resourcing when we have some confidence that an idea might work. This is about only giving enough resources to test out the idea, keep it as lean as possible until you see it work and then you put in greater resources. So, what resources are actually needed to test out the idea? How could this be prototyped and explored? Use a ‘fail fast’ model to enable pioneer communities to experiment before focussing their work too much. This is about having some key principles and then prototype and change/ pivot quickly as you experience the reality
  9. When it comes to placing Pioneer Curates we need to be realistic as to where we place them. If we assume a 50/50 split between inherited/pioneering then there will be limits as to what can be achieved in three years. They will need at the least a ‘Sustainer enabler’ as training incumbent and an understanding between them as to where the expectations are on the Pioneer Spectrum. If the church is a centre for pioneering new things then they may well be able to go further up the spectrum as some of the ground work may have been done by the Church and there may be a ready team to lead and an expectation within the Church.
  10. Finally, the Spirit of God can overule any and every rule!


A long term view of pioneers with investment in training, support and placement will enable us to pioneer new forms of church that will benefit the whole Church and enable forms of Church that today are innovations to become far more accessible to many other churches. There is much exciting work going on, often at the margins and hidden. As we prayerfully, thoughtfully and collaboratively look at how we can support these initiatives and invest in them I believe that we can see much growth of the Kingdom.

Will Cookson

Dean of Fresh Expressions

[1] Dave Male, Director of Evangelism and Discipleship in the Church of England  ( & agreed by the Ministry Council)

[2] based on ideas developed by Tina Hodgett and Paul Bradbury

[3] Although being aware that the statistics show that most growth comes from transfer from other churches