For most of the past year most churches have had their heads down, focused on getting through this virus together without losing too many people and hopefully at the same time picking up new people via online services. Yet whilst all of that has been happening, the need for new churches and church revitalisation hasn’t gone away and the particular need for churches in our urban areas.
So, I wanted to encourage people to start thinking again about the need and the part they can play in it. Here in the West Midlands, we have a church replant starting seeking to reach a multi-ethnic community in West Smethwick, meanwhile up in the Greater Manchester area, Oldham Bethel are working towards a church plant for Rochdale. Please pray particularly for Tom Martin (West Smethwick) and Stephen Watkinson (Greater Manchester) as they head up those church plants.
Every so often I also try to mention my home city, Bradford. I am really encouraged by the work of Gospel Yorkshire and what they are doing to encourage church planting in my home county. It is my prayer that this will lead to a church or even churches to be planted into South Bradford. The south of the city is a mix of large council estates; Holmewood, Canterbury, Odsal, Buttershaw and Woodside intermingled with urban villages like Wibsey, Low Moor and Wyke. It is predominantly working class and there is a sizeable south Asian population too. For many years (certainly going back to when I was young), there have been significant problems on the estates with anti-social behaviour and crime. At the same time, there is a determined, persistent West Yorkshire “can do attitude.” The kind of attitude that built the long since derelict mills and an industry that in the past brought great prosperity and indeed in the middle of the last century brought the large immigrant population to the area.
I’m sure as I describe my own urban roots that many of my readers will have in mind similar places that carry great affection for you. What would it look like to have thriving, Gospel focused, word centred churches in those places? What would it mean if the people we went to school with and their children responding to the Gospel? What would it be like to see families, streets and neighbourhoods transformed by the Gospel? Urban church planting first of all needs us to dream those dreams.
However, it is going to take more than dreams. We are going to need action too. I think these dreams can be turned into possibilities and possibilities into realities. So how do we do that? Well, first of all, I think we need to start by normalising things a little. Our tendency is to put churches and communities into two extreme camps. There are either churches in comfortable middle class areas where people can enjoy privilege and prosperity, or there are churches led and made up of hero church planters going into the toughest, hardest places. Well, we need people to go into those hardest places. As I mentioned above, there are some tough bits of Bradford. I remember getting a holiday job going round one of the estates doing a survey on crime. Sat in a house, I asked the tenant about crime in their neighbourhood whilst out of the corner of my eye I could see youths clambering over a wall with stuff they’d nicked from somewhere else. However, that’s not the whole story. We need to remember that a lot of the people are not in gangs, not on drugs and haven’t been in prison. They are simply solid, working class people who have never had the opportunity to hear the Gospel directly. They are ordinary people and they need other ordinary people to come and love among them, to share the good-news with them and see an ordinary church of ordinary people grow because of the extraordinary good news of an extra ordinary saviour.
I think this starts to put church planting within the reach of many more people. What if a group of people were to commit to live in Wibsey or Low Moor and plant a church together? Did you know that you can get a three bedroom house for probably between half and one third of the price you are paying for your current home? Did you know that you can commute quickly from there to Leeds, Manchester or even down to London.
Similarly, you could buy a place in West Smethwick much cheaper than in many places and again catch a train or get on the Motorway and be up to Manchester, in to Birmingham or down to London very quickly.
In other words, the first stage is simply to see people ready to make their life somewhere and be w witness. I wonder if there are people for whom COVID-19 has provided an interruption to normal life and you are wondering what God wants you to do with it next? Well perhaps that interruption was sent from God to get you thinking about being part of a church plant.
I’d love to hear from you if you are interested in church planting. I’d love to pray with you, talk with you and connect you with others who have a similar concern. I’d also like to hear from you if you have an area on your heart that needs to hear the Gospel. Get in touch and I’d love to talk with you about how we can communicate the need of that area.
To get in touch, simply drop me a line via the contact page.