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Great texts

  • John V. Taylor: The Christlike God (Scm Classics)

    John V. Taylor: The Christlike God (Scm Classics)
    A serious theological book which is the companion to JVT's classic work "The Go-between God". Anyone who is frustrated by (fellow) Christians that choose to define God so tightly that faith seems impossible, or seem to align faith with "happiness" despite the evidence to the contrary should read how faith is really a mix of " wonder and comprehension, illumination and darkness, loss and possession, abasement and bliss". If you want to stop to "think" about God then this is a book to read thoughtfully in the company of one of great Christians of the 20th Century

  • Jean Vanier: Community and Growth: Our Pilgrimage Together Revised Edition

    Jean Vanier: Community and Growth: Our Pilgrimage Together Revised Edition
    A revised collection of the thoughts and ideas of the founder of the L'arche Community - "faith without boundaries". This is a classic book - for everyone seeking faith and to grow in their faith

  • Rowan  Williams: Anglican Identities

    Rowan Williams: Anglican Identities
    As someone who is both a passionate but frustrated Anglican - glimpsing sometimes all that Anglican could be and seeing on a daily basis all that it isn't, this book was a wonderful account of what liberal Anglicanism - tolerant, inclusive, supportive, intelligent and profoundly spiritual, just might be. Of course it is not an easy read - it takes time and effort to grasp what RW is saying but the effort is worthwhile

  • John Drane         : Do Christians Know How to Be Spiritual?

    John Drane : Do Christians Know How to Be Spiritual?
    If you are a committed member of a local Church and wonder why others do not see the point - or wonder whether it might be possible to be more spiritual outside the confines then you could read this book which is a thoughtful introduction to what is meant by a post-christian society.

  • Tom Wright: Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense

    Tom Wright: Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense
    This is a detailed read from Tom Wright which makes the case for the Christian faith in contemporary society. Its thoughtful, challenging, and gentle.

  • W.H. Vanstone: Farewell in Christ

    W.H. Vanstone: Farewell in Christ
    Vanstone's final work, which explores the mystery of existence, the mystery of my soul, the mystery of meaning, - and none of this becomes possible without intellectual doubt. Is this what Dawkins et al will never understand?

  • John Pritchard: The Life and Work of a Priest

    John Pritchard: The Life and Work of a Priest
    This book should be compulsory reading for all enquirers, ordinands, and current clergy - perhaps adding in all elders and churchwardens for good measure. It charts in a profoundly hopeful way the joys and pressures of contemporary priesthood, and avoids the pitfalls of theological bias or the bland functional understandings of leadership.

  • Timothy Radcliffe: What Is the Point of Being a Christian?

    Timothy Radcliffe: What Is the Point of Being a Christian?
    A prophetic introduction to the Christian faith for those who struggle to find God amid the complexities of life

  • Robert Dimery: 1001 Albums you must hear before you die

    Robert Dimery: 1001 Albums you must hear before you die
    Just a great read - extensive intelligent reviews which bring back memories, stimulate to seek out, and inspire to add to the wish list.

All time Top Ten albums

  • Bob Dylan -

    Bob Dylan: Blood on the Tracks
    Probably the best single collection of orginal songs - performed by Bob with his inimitable non-music style - the best produced Dylan album into the bargain

  • Miles Davis -

    Miles Davis: Kind of Blue
    I remember the first time I heard this - on a loaned Walkman on a very turbulent flight to Belfast - it has rightly been described as a milestone in 20th century jazz. I remember playing to a group of spell-bound 9/10 year olds in a Primary school music workshop

  • Portishead -

    Portishead: Dummy
    Every once in while I listen to an album whose orginality leaves me instinctively knowing that music will never be the same - that the goalposts of repetoire have been changed for ever. Dummy is just one of those rare treats

  • Prefab Sprout -

    Prefab Sprout: Andromeda Heights
    In 1997 I escaped for the afternoon from the madhouse of an ordination training residential to the comparative sanity of my friend Tony's studio. During a tea break in a session, Tony said these imortal words " I've just found this amazing album" and my love affair with Andromeda Heights began - sanity was restored and I completed the residental and training.

  • Moloko -

    Moloko: Things to make and do
    Brilliant music within the scope of the dance music genre. Crisp instrumentation, meets cool beats, and the voice of Roisin - how I love Moloko

  • Craig Armstrong -

    Craig Armstrong: Piano Works
    If I were not Tom Allen ( artistically and musically speaking) I would be Craig Armstrong - from my discovery of him through Massive Attack I have loved and admired his work - and Piano Works covers his repetoire in stunning style

  • Joe Cocker -

    Joe Cocker: Sheffield Steel
    The greatest album from the greatest rock intrepreter of them all - genius production meets some of the best songs of all time sung by that voice - I've confess that I have sampled the album to oblivion

  • Paul Simon -

    Paul Simon: Graceland
    Had to be a Paul Simon album and it had to be Graceland. A epoch making album which opened African music to the world but seamlessly combined that music with western rock and pop with songs to die for.

  • Cosmic Rough Riders -

    Cosmic Rough Riders: Enjoy the melodic sunshine
    Glasgow's finest produce the ultimate guitar-song album of pure delight and of a quality that puts Athlete et al in the shade - shame it was two years too early and the lead singer left after this debut album

  • Massive Attack -

    Massive Attack: Blue Lines
    OK so Bristol has launched Portishead, Tricky and Roni Size, but it was the staggering impact of this debut which created a genre in trip-hop and a collective approach to song-writing, band membership which has influenced a generation and spawned so many other deriratives. From the low-fi paranoia of "Five Man Army" and the unrepeatable melancholic splendour of "Unfinished Sympathy", this is a 20th century classic.

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24 January 2005


ron cole

I would love to have a link to a church, but could not find one that would acknowledge or support us. We started something a year and half ago...alternative, cafe'/ church/ or what ever you want to call it. A lady gives us her cafe Sunday evenings rent any revenue from coffee etc. goes to the local food bank.
Numbers used to really get to me at the start...probably from being institutionalized for a long time ( church that is ). We very from a dozen to around thirty. People like the intimacy of a small group, Infact we a lady show up to nite ( Doreen ) had been searching for a church for three years. Unable to connect with anyone or no one connected with her...she decided as a last resort she'd try the cafe'. She interacted, joined the discussion and really connected. I think numbers are for mathematicians and staticians...I wonder id God is really focused on numbers. I had made the decision at the start that even if two or three shoed up, we'd still do it...if we could minister to each other in the fellowhip of God, that was all that counted. What does God consider a success? And even if something dies, but has lived for a season, and God has used it for a and H e have succeeded.

Tom Allen

Sorry I think the point of the discussion and therefore my blog is that numbers do matter - but not from being too small as you say that does not matter - but from growing too big and the problems of (wordly)success!.

I think I was suggesting that alternative /emerging know how to do small groups, but has yet to develop ways of effectively offering fellowship and partnership to larger groups.

As for the dying bit - well that too is more complicated since all the group I was with have moved onto something else - but virtually everyone knows former group members who have not found a new place to worship. So if you're group is small but offers people church then that's great - but watch out for what happens if it grows big!


A difficult and complex question. I wonder whether there are models where such groups have become cells or clusters as part of a larger structure? If any expression of church exists for mission, surely growth must be welcome, not necessarily leading to larger groups, but maybe to the creation of more, connected small groups. But this also requires a willingness among members of the original group to leave their comfort zone and begin new relationships. Obvious stuff, I know - I hope others with more insight will add to this conversation you've begun.


I would wholeheartedly agree with you on this. I think 10 communities of 30 are spiritually stronger than 1 of 300. Those who are part of larger gatherings tend to be lost and overlooked and the dynamism gets lost.

I would argue that there is an edge to the small group. Christianity counts and you cannot go along for the ride.

As to resources and so on I would recommend you take a look at St Thomas Crookes ( They've got themselves sorted post NOS and run what is effectively a small denomination with core, missionary minded groups of 10 - 30. They are the church. They gather for larger times of worship every now and again, but the church is the local group.

This has enabled a large church (2,000+) to retain an intimacy and dynamic that reflects the individuals that make up the groups and not some nebulous worship style that pleases all.

Thanks for the post! Got me thinking.

ron cole

Hi Tom,If I was coming across as negative in my latter comment I apologize, that was certainly not my intent.
I totally agree with you that there is a threshold that the dynamics change...where you begin to need structure...and requires more work.
Maybe there is something we can learn from house church models. I say house church rather than cell groups from existing institutional churches, because I have found in past experience with cell groups they are alot of times to closely associated with there existing churches. They tend to be too internal, too programed, too controlled and monitored.
But I think Mark & Chris are onto something in ensuring we don't go over the threshold in terms of numbers. Of reaching the place where you begin to loose people, where people spectate instead of participate.
I too have heard of a model that Chris is speaking of over here in Vancouver ( I believe it's called New Wave ) they number around 750+, all independant house churches doing there own thing, they do have a leader, comminicate via the inernet...and rent space every so often to worship as a large group.
Anyway this is a great topic, which I thinks also gives rise to another question. With the difficulty in gathering statistics and monitoring the Emerging church...I wonder in alot of cases, if this isn't where it really is to be found?

ron cole

Here's a link that might add to the conversation:

Richard Sudworth

I have this hunch that half of the great tales of success in church reports on innovative mission have gone pear-shaped in some way. The most interesting reports would be looking at the "success stories" once they had become "failures". Some of the reasons for failure demonstrate lessons to learn; many others, I suspect, reflect the fact that church life these days will be constituted by steps on the way and bridges to something else after three or four years.


Funny you should use the words "lessons learnt" entitles my post about the end of our initial group.!

Hopefully it goes some way to answering your question.


Tom Allen

Thanks for the comments. Which have spurred a number of thoughts.
1. I don't recall the word "failure" being used at all in our Sunday conversation (see Garth's link and comments)- but thanksgiving for the lessons learned yes. So for those who are close to the death of a group please hold onto that.
2. I remember at an very early Greenbelt Alternative worship gathering when people were becoming impatient with the label alternative (but emerging hadn't yet emerged) the phrase "transitional group community" came to my mind - and I guess that for many people involved in such groups or churches that is what they have been - a place through which to be healed, to grow, to find faith and to prepare for the next stage of the Christian journey.
3. Roger Schulz of the Taize community talks of "the power of the provisional" - and nothing demonstrates this better than alt worship groups in the sense of not dismissing something just cos it "only" lasted for a limited time.
4. Like the idea of pulling together some material about how groups had ended/died - lessons learnt etc as an antidote to the success focused write-ups. I think the Anglican report "Mission Shaped Church" avoids this danger.

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