Random thoughts on 18-months of a church plant

I am writing this ahead of our review meeting with folks from our daughter church plant in Rochdale. A daughter church we are hoping, in the not too distant future, will become a sister church. For the meantime, we are continuing to provide both practical and spiritual oversight but the aim is for it to become an independent, self-governing church with its own leaders and defined membership. Things are all pushing in the right direction, which is positive. But 18 months on from launching, I thought I would share some random thoughts on it.

Being small and poor isn’t a barrier

I think my main takeaway from this whole thing has been that small and poor doesn’t need to be a barrier to planting. If you know anything about our church, you will know that we are a fairly small church, working in a deprived area with very limited resources. We have around 30 members and, when I arrived at the church, we functioned with a £1500 per month deficit (c. £18,000 per year). By God’s grace, we are a bit more stable now thanks to outside support. But we don’t have many people nor do we have lots of money. Yet we managed to plant a functioning church in a similarly deprived area. Yes, they are even smaller than we are (unsurprisingly), but they are functioning and slowly growing.

Bigger churches should be more embarrassed

The conservative and extremely cautious nature of most Evangelicals mean that a lot of umming and ahhing over planting takes place. Churches several times larger than us seem to struggle to figure out how they are going to plant. Either they worry they don’t have the people to send – despite being more than able to send dozens with minimal impact – or they are concerned that they haven’t got the qualified people to send that will lead it. It strikes me that is either a failure of faith in the Lord to sustain your already substantial work or a failure to train and equip new leaders from within your substantial work. If you cannot find a couple of elders in a membership of 100 or more, you surely have to ask questions about whether you are actually training or equipping anyone and if you fear losing a handful of people from your many times bigger membership, we surely have to ask what the real barriers are here? If a small church in a deprived community can do it, what is really stopping others with many times more resources?

Planting in deprived communities is slow

I have never led a church plant. I came into an established church. Both of those carry challenges, and I don’t think one is necessarily harder than the other – they are just different – but it is clear planting in areas like ours with few resources is slow going. We never expected to see hundreds of people swarming in immediately and, in that sense, we haven’t been disappointed. We’ve seen one or two conversions, we’ve seen the members growing clearer in their understanding of what it means to be a local church of God’s people, we’ve seen increasing numbers of people looking in and checking out what is going on. None of it to be sniffed at, all of it to God’s glory, but nothing that is going to make anyone sit up and think this has the makings of the next megachurch. None of us (I don’t think) are bothered at all about that. But it pays to remember that the work is not quick, we are not planting mid-revival but are seeing some godly folks faithfully pressing on and seeing small, but no less God-glorifying, results.

We continue to need help

As much as we are small and continue to need partnerships to help us continue as a gospel witness in our area, our brothers and sisters in Rochdale are smaller still with fewer outside links. We are only 18-months on from launching and, whilst things have been financed early on, the initial excitement and interest in what was going on may easily tail off. If we want to see churches planted and sustained in deprived communities, we need to make sure we are willing to support them over the very long term. We cannot expect such churches to flourish if we give them two or three years of support and taper it off over time because they will be “self-sustaining”. This is not a realistic model and will mean we only see churches planted where wealthy individuals are able to sustain the church quickly from within. It will leave the poor and deprived high and dry.

Sacrifice is inevitable

I continue to be amazed by my friend’s commitment to the gospel. Stephen left the Church of England, at great emotional and financial cost, on conscience grounds. He saw faithfulness to Christ as more important than stipends and vicarages. That was an enormous sacrifice. He was committed to the town of Rochdale. A forgotten place that is never going to make anyone a ‘big name’. I have no doubt he doesn’t care about that, but there is little to no glory to be gained going to places such as ours. But the truth is, if someone wasn’t willing to sacrifice something for the sake of the gospel, there would be no bible teaching church where there currently is one now. Planting is inevitably costly and unless we think Jesus worth it, and care at all about the eternal state of the lost, no churches are going to get planted in places like ours.

We need 3 things essentially

There are three basic things that we need from the wider church: prayer, money and people. These are the things that sustain gospel works. We need prayer because the work is ultimately the Lord’s and nothing will happen, nothing will progress, everything will fail if he is not in it. We need money because we simply cannot sustain the work of ministry without it. We need to rent or buy a place to meet, there is some basic equipment we need and most expensive of all is a minister who has the time to actually do any ministry work. And we need people. People who will commit to our hard areas and forgotten towns. People with a love for the Lord and a heart for the lost. We need people who will move without the need for fanfare and recognition. People who will come and work and live in our towns simply for the sake of the gospel.

If you would like to partner with us in these ways, please do get in touch. Both ourselves in Oldham and our friends in Rochdale have prayer letters we would love to put you on. We, in Oldham, are currently looking for a second worker to come and join us. We have funding for someone to join the work and we are happy to work out the appropriate role for you based on prior experience. There is plenty of opportunity to serve. If you aren’t looking for a ministry role, both Rochdale and Oldham would love you to move up to serve alongside us. There is plenty of work in Manchester, which is accessible, and work from home setups makes it easier than ever to join with us and continue what you are doing. Finally, if you have money burning a hole in your pocket and you would like to put it to good use, you can do worse than invest it where it will make eternal returns. Partner with us financially to support the work in Oldham or Rochdale.