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Activate describes itself as an organisation which 'encourages and resources Christian women to use creative, natural and relevant ways of sharing God's love with those around them. The aim is to resource and equip Christian women with all they need to take the gospel into an unbelieving and hurting world.'
Back in 1965 there wasn't really anything for Christian women to do in the church. They didn't really lead anything in church and men generally ran any groups that happened. Nothing really addressed the desire they had to do something for other women in the church and to run something which appealed to those outside of the church too. So a group of women started to put on meals just for other women, for Christians to bring friends to and as a gentle way to evangelise. Lots of effort was put into making the tables look nice and the food taste good and a speaker was invited to talk about a subject that meant something to women. This could be anything from bereavement to cooking to evangelism for wimps! This really made an impact on people who loved the idea of something just for them and it was something to which they could take their friends. These groups gradually spread around the country.
In Manchester, women started to organise these meals for the streetwalkers. Again, every effort was put into making the tables attractive and the food just right and a speaker came to talk to them. These women weren't used to people making so much effort for them and asked, 'why do you care so much?' and the women were able to share their faith with them. Just the fact that people had gone to so much effort for them for apparently no gain made them wonder why it was that they felt so loved.
Well, it began to get a bit too comfortable and became more of a club. The same members turned up every time but stopped inviting anyone to come with them. The members enjoyed their meals and made good friends but over time forgot the evangelistic part of why they were there. The initial reason for doing the meals had been lost over time.
It was decided that Christian Viewpoint needed a new image and new direction. I was brought in to bring about that change. After much prayer and consideration Christian Viewpoint took on the new name of Activate (which was the name of the Christian Viewpoint magazine which had been running successfully for a while). It also began to change the focus of the evenings it organised. Members were encouraged to have groups in their homes, their homes being an 'under used resource' and to be more relevant to where people actually were and what they did.
A bit like the Mel Gibson film, we started to ask ourselves 'What Women Want.' In an interview, when asked his personal view of What Women Want, Mel Gibson said this "After 20 years of marriage I'm just scratching the surface of that one. I think the answer lies somewhere between conversation and chocolate"
We agreed with him about that; chocolate, conversation and a bit of pampering. On the strength of this we decided to set up Chocolate evenings where people all tried different sorts of chocolate and decided on their favourites and had a glass of wine or two along the way. We organised pamper evenings and used members who could do massage or make up or something. We also set up exercise evenings and hair evenings. The Christian content of such evenings was present but fairly minimal, there would just be a small talk at the end over coffee. We hoped that by being with people and getting to know them and spending time with them, such conversations would arise naturally. These evenings started to be very popular and people were able to invite their friends and neighbours along.
Well, I decided that I ought to practise what we had been preaching so I sent out invites to our neighbours, who we didn't know very well at all, inviting them to a social evening. I didn't know whether any of them would come but actually, out of seven houses, five came. After a lovely evening of getting to know each other and eating and drinking, they asked when the next event was!
Though they weren't Christians, they began to ask me to pray for them about things that happened to them such as when a neighbour's much loved dog died. I then told them about the Toy box appeal (which happens before Christmas when people fill shoe boxes with toys to send to poor children in other countries who wouldn't be getting anything otherwise) and my neighbours gladly produced quite a few shoe boxes full of toys. I then invited them to the carol service and some came along to that too.
After this, I invited them to a pamper evening at my house and asked a woman trained to do manicures to come along. As she was doing someone's nails, they asked her, 'How do you come to be doing this?' and the she was able to explain how she was a Christian and saw this as one of her gifts.
I had got to know my neighbours quite well by this time and was able to invite them to an Alpha course that was running at my church. Some have attended and two have become Christians.
A survey was carried out by the Women's Communication Centre entitled 'What Women Want' and was answered by more than 10,000 women. The survey took the form of postcards left in banks, shops, women's centres, cafes, libraries, popular magazines and offices – to name a few. The postcards asked very simply 'What do you Want?'. It was an open question and women were free to fill in the answer exactly as they wanted. And they chose to answer in many different ways.
The survey showed, among other things, that women wanted unconditional love, to be part of a community, to be supported and to be trusted and be able to trust. These are basic Biblical principles and the church has what they want but just packages it wrong. We need to try to be where people are and to be more aware of what they need. For instance a vicar invited a woman to a coffee morning at church but she said she couldn't come as she had too much ironing to do. The vicar told her to bring it with her and it was organised that a team of people would do all the ironing for people while a team of manicurists did the women's nails for them. It gave lots of opportunity to talk and to gently share the Gospel with them.
Church leaders need to realise that almost all Christians have difficulty in knowing how and who to evangelise. Activate is more frequently being invited along to talk to the whole church about how we work. We have a message for men too.
People still meet for the meals and have speakers and carry on with the things Christian Viewpoint did when it started. We also have a yearly conference in a lovely hotel with pamper facilities, and are involved in running training days on a variety of subjects. Some people organise coffee mornings primarily for mums at home with children as we recognise that as many as 70% of women work. Others run parenting courses that are oversubscribed. We have resources for people running groups to use and we have a large list of speakers who will go and talk to groups, including Fiona Castle, our chairman and Rosemary Conley. We produce a magazine for supporters, called Activate and also have a website.
To find out more about Activate, what is does or how you could get involved, do visit their website at http://www.activatecv.org.uk