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The life and lessons of Families Church

Helen Shannon, leader and planter of church@five, based on the Strawberry Vale Estate in East Finchley, shares insights from their latest youth-centred plant, Families Church.

I’m the leader of church@five, planted in 2011 on the Strawberry Vale Estate. Last year, we planted Families Church on the nearby Grange estate which meets after school on Tuesdays. Drawing 25 adults, children and youth already, we’re now considering starting another initiative in response to the young people that God is sending our way.

One of our church@five leaders, Maureen, had run youth and kids’ clubs for years in and around the Grange estate. She’d tried taking the families and kids to a local church, but it just didn’t work as there was no particular focus on young people.

I felt we needed to start a church for these families; I knew God was calling us to do this, despite the practical challenges – not least to cover the rent at the Tarling Road Community Centre.

But God said clearly ‘Just get on with it and I will provide’. I can only describe it as an ‘unction’ of the Lord. I shared the vision with church@five and gathered a team. We already had some material resources, and begged and borrowed the rest! I continued to believe that God would provide the rent and he did!  The day before we launched, the funds came in – enough to cover the whole year’s rent.

For two weeks, only team members and their kids came, which led me to ask, ‘Have I heard this wrong, Lord?’ But I felt him saying, ‘No, I’m just giving you a couple of weeks to sort out what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.’

On week three, people started coming – not necessarily the people we expected, but a whole new group of people that we’re vaguely but not closely connected with, including young children from the nursery next door and their parents, some of whom had some faith in their background and wanted their children to grow up with a faith.

The format is simple: tea, toast, fruit and yoghurts when people arrive; table games and colouring, a prayer for everyone to say, a (fake) candle. We have signs and actions (Makaton) especially for the little ones; a worship song, a video, a Bible object lesson, creative prayers that include everyone, notices, birthdays and then a final song. We end saying the grace together. It’s wonderful to watch parents worshipping alongside their kids.

We’ve now also introduced a drop-in for a group of secondary school-age young people who came along. Held in the hallway as the families are arriving, we offer hot chocolate, goodies and an opportunity to chat. They’ve said they’d love to do some football on their estate – something we’d tried out before Covid. We’re waiting to see what God is going to grow and pushing the doors we think he might be opening.

Our team is doing the CCX Plant Course now, as we want to move on from the pilot stage of Families Church and to see how we could plant a youth congregation.

If you’re going to start something new for young people on estates, be ready to be nimble – we’ve had to change and morph things along the way. 

My tips: 

  •     If you have a hunch – give it a try. Don’t wait to have all your ducks in a row!
  •     Cast the vision and finance will follow
  •     Don’t give up if it’s a slow start
  •     Take the opportunity to raise up leaders who might not normally step up 
  •     Use and reuse what God has given you – he will provide the rest
  •     Keep it simple and pray, pray, pray 

If you’re interested in planting for families or youth on estates, contact Helen Shannon at

You can find out more about the Plant Course here.

This article was printed in Multiply 2024: The Manual, a publication that accompanied the programme of Multiply 2024, which explored multiplying a younger church. You can find related content below.