"The Dream story ...so far"
Malcolm Chamberlain [Dream, Liverpool UK]


What is Dream?…

Dream is a living community of people who are on a journey together of discovering Jesus Christ and growing to know him, but whose experience of church may have been more of an obstacle than help. We seek to re-imagine church through a network of local 'Dream' groups and a web forum, facilitating creative worship, open discussion and mutual support. We believe that this journey of faith can be joined by all who want to engage with God, and that 'church' should be a place of honest exploration, centred on Jesus and his involvement in our lives.

It took a while for us to get here though! Here's the story so far…

In February 2001 a small group of 'young adults' started to meet in Liverpool, at the request of the diocesan bishop, to produce a report that would both outline the various 'young adult oriented worship' initiatives already underway in Liverpool and the surrounding areas, and make recommendations as to what could or should be pioneered by the diocese of Liverpool to better address the needs and concerns of young adults who are interested in exploring questions of faith but not interested in going to church. Reflecting the make-up and reporting nature of the group, it became known as the Young Adults Commission (YAC).

As we met to prepare the report (which had a six months brief!) YAC soon decided that as well as simply talking about ideas and dreaming of how we would like the church to be in theory, we now had a safe space to actually live out that kind of church and experiment in worship together. Meeting fortnightly to do this, YAC soon became a 'church' in all ways except name.

By late summer YAC, having published its report, had created community so effectively that the members, with one or two exceptions, wanted to go on meeting together for worship1 as well as starting to prepare for planting a creative worship community in the city centre. In February 2002 'Dream' was born with the strap-line 'Re-imagining Church', expressing a desire to be creative and think outside the mainstream 'box' whilst holding on to the community of faith, the essential concept of 'church'.

An article in 'CrossCurrents', the diocesan magazine, picks up the story…

"[YAC] continued to experiment in worship and discussion together, sometimes at the [University] Chaplaincy, sometimes at each other's houses, and out of their experience they developed a model of worship that might appeal to other young adults. One that "valued the collective experience and allowed flexibility in the event that engaged people in worship"...

What did they want if they didn't want a church to worship in? What's an acceptable venue for 18- 30 year olds? A city centre venue, more than that: a 'secular' city centre venue, a pub or a club where one can have a drink and enjoy music and talk. This is Dream. Forget about aisles, altars and choir stalls, hymns A & M, the collect for the day. This was not aimed at regular church attendees, nor was it trying to be overtly evangelistic, which is often the alternative approach used to draw in a younger audience. It's a modern creative approach to worship. First deconstruct, then reconfigure. Some of the differences are also similarities: comfy chairs in groups for chatting; a quiet prayer corner; tables with information that raise social justice issues; a visual element (videos, projections provide a continuous back ground); music all the time; drinks available from the bar. Dream is held on a Thursday evening from 8.30pm till 10 pm (near enough to the weekend to enjoy an evening out and a drink, not so close as to clash with the weekend events). No signing up, just cards with phone numbers and a website to stay in touch." 2

A Dream service would typically include some 'led' elements around a theme that all people were invited to join in with, though not necessarily led in the traditional way by someone standing at the front. It may be an invitation to discuss issues informally around the tables, a spoken meditation, a piece of music, a visual reflection or a combination of these elements! In addition there would be various stations around the room with different installations, exercises or reflections that worshippers were invited to visit at any point during the evening. This allowed for real individual engagement in a gathered context. The services were intentionally open-ended, allowing people to reach their own conclusions and offer their own worship, whilst prayerfully trusting the Holy Spirit with the outcomes. It was in this that the real power and attraction of Dream lay.

Before long, Dream was gathering anywhere between 30 and 70 people, most, but not all, of whom would be between the ages of 18 and 30. Most Dream regulars were people who had other church connections but appreciated the creative approach offered by Dream, which they found lacking in their regular church. Some Dream regulars had no other church connection, viewing Dream itself as their church. It was not unusual for such people to bring along their own 'non-churched' friends to future services having experienced the openness of Dream themselves.

The advantages of meeting in a city centre bar were many - the relaxed atmosphere, the fact that people naturally gathered in these spaces, the open bar during the worship, and so on - but very soon the principal drawback became apparent. Again, the CrossCurrents article described a then recent issue…

"Any problems? Not really except for the odd one of finding a good venue that is the right size, open at the right time and has sympathetic staff. Their meeting place recently had to be changed after the manager started to object; not that they were deterring other customers (their session finished before the club began to liven up, in fact the owners should have been glad that the room was in use and turning a profit) but plainly he felt uncomfortable with the idea of worship happening in his building - even saying that this sort of event "should be happening behind closed doors"."3

Dream soon became nomadic, moving from venue to venue, with the associated pressures of building new relationships with venue staff from scratch, unfamiliar surroundings when it came to setting up and so on. Each move also adversely affected the number of people attending. Coupled with this, YAC, which had become the planning and leadership group of Dream, had become smaller making it increasingly difficult to sustain a large and labour intensive event. Although YAC was still meeting fortnightly, with additional meetings when needed, planning for Dream had taken over our life as a community. With the busyness of setting up for Dream and making sure everything ran smoothly the members of YAC were also aware that we were unable to get to know new people coming to Dream and so build real caring community.

Towards the end of 2003 we made the decision to step back from organising larger Dream services for the time being, to discover again together the vision for Dream and how it was going to progress. At the same time opportunities arose for networking with other similar initiatives in the diocese, most notably 'Emerge' in Haydock and an 18-30s group meeting in Everton. That's where we find ourselves at the moment - rediscovering what it means to be a small creative worshipping community, where the Dream is able to grow not simply by drawing more people to a central event, but by enabling a network of groups to emerge around shared values. At the time of writing 'Dream' is made up of three networked groups - 'Dream in the City' , 'Dream in Haydock' and 'Dream in Everton' - each doing their own thing whilst sharing values, ideas, etc with the wider network. A new website is also being developed which will carry information about the network and shared resources, as well as utilising forums for discussion amongst members of the respective groups, the wider network and anyone who's interested.

The future?…
We hope to see the network grow as new groups join the dream, and for people who are put off by church to find a place in Dream where they can openly explore and grow in the Christian faith. This is only the beginning...


1. we have avoided the term 'alternative worship' though there are close links and similarities to this 'type' of community
2. taken from an article written by Jessamy Saunders, CrossCurrents, Summer 2003 edition
3. see note 2
4. this is essentially the old YAC group but with new members connecting all the time. Now that the group is not simply planning for a larger event, there is a real sense of a growing community.
5. formerly 'Emerge'
6. www.dream.uk.net


Dream website:

Two Dream-related blogs:

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