“We want them to meet Jesus!”
This is not our vision statement, but it wouldn’t be a bad one for Timperley Church Redhill (TCR). From it’s genesis, this has been our driving force. Not to get people into “church” though that would be nice, but to create opportunities for people to meet Jesus, through His holy and life giving Spirit, by His Word.
The problem is, how do we do that? How does the amazing message of the Gospel get behind the closed doors? How is our proclamation heard when the streets are empty? How do we share God’s love with the people we meet when there is no marketplace? For TCR this last question is key, but we’ll come back to that.
Let me introduce myself, my name is Aneal Appadoo and I am a curate in my fourth year of ordained ministry at Holy Trinity (HT) Church in Redhill, Surrey. As part of my role I have the great privilege of leading a fresh expression congregational plant (TCR) down on the Timperley Gardens estate, located about 10 mins walk from the church, and in what follows I am going to give you a rough overview of the life of our plant, to give a bit of a case study to how a fresh expression of church might come into being, under three brief headings, Seeking, Finding, and Serving.
Generally our church and parish feature well in most census and deprivation indexes, we are not a wealthy parish by any means, but we are not necessarily poor, however, there are a couple of pockets within our parish which are among the more deprived in Surrey, one of which is the Timperley Gardens estate
Going way back to before 2001, our PCC had a great heart for this area of our parish, and asked how we could best minister to this area of our parish, forming part of parish profile at the time. Members of the congregation had been prayer walking around the estate, intentionally asking God what they should do there, feeling a burden for the people of the estate.
Under a new vicar, a curate joined the church in 2002, and, along with a large number of volunteers from the church knocked on every door around the estate with a survey, asking the residents how long they had lived here, what they liked about it – what was good, what could be better, and what the local church might do for them. They also offered a Jesus video to anyone who wanted one – so the survey sought to understand both social, and spiritual needs.
These questionnaires were collated and interrogated, and they revealed that predominantly the estate had two main demographics: 1. An ageing population who felt isolated and had poor mobility; 2. A great number of young families, with a high number of young mothers. It also flagged up that the residents felt there was no community space on the estate.
The church investigated this and found that in the heart of the estate, there was a scout hut that had little contact with the estate itself – and after positive conversations with the scouts, this became the hub for what HT would do.
Having established what the needs of this community might be, HT began initially by pulling together a team that started with a coffee morning with board games and a soft toy area. The hope was that this might meet all three needs – serving the elderly, and young families in a community space. In reality though, this service was only taken up by the elderly who really enjoyed it, it was a wonderful service into the community, but it wasn’t church.
Over the years a new curate joined HT who invested a great deal of time into the estate. Under her leadership an Under 5’s group was started in 2007, with a Saturday service, Timperley Family Church, starting a little later that year. This was a model of “café” style church that sought to be accessible to the people of the estate.
Under the next curate they sought to engage with a great number of young people that congregated around the estate, and so started a youth club. But as one ministry starts, sadly another ends, and the coffee morning was soon stopped. Also, they began an annual summer party around this time, to be a blessing to the community.
Around 2014 the service moved to a Sunday, and midweek social evening outreach service was also started up.
“We want them to meet Jesus?”
I began to lead the team around September 2015, and a big part of my role has been to think through how the church, now called Timperley Church Redhill (TCR), serves the community it is in now. How do we get them to meet Jesus?
My focus initially was on discipling those who come to the church from the estate, so I changed the look and feel of the service and brought the bible teaching to the forefront – with discussions after the teaching and small group prayer. This was a change from the more child focused service we had become due to who God was sending us at the time. We have undertaken 1:1 bible studies, and our first evangelistic course.
Around early 2017 we noticed a large decline in numbers as key families moved away, and people lost the vision for the plant, or perhaps in truth, we became a little vision-less. After some analysis and reflection, I came to see, that for the last few years TCR had failed to attract, and them retain people who were coming on a Sunday morning. The loss of key families was hurting us, but almost everyone who was coming at the time was also worshipping at another church. We actually had very few indigenous members.
This brings us back to our initial findings of that first survey, and the lack of a community space on the estate. Looking at the growth of the early church in the bible, it was often the strategy that the apostles would go to the busy centres of life where the people gathered, starting with the synagogues, and then the market place. They would then proclaim the gospel and perform miracles, before gathering as church with those who the Lord was adding to their number. So where is the market place within which we can proclaim?
In short, there isn’t one. We’d played with Facebook, played with our Sunday service, offered bacon sandwiches, all the time trying to get people into church. But in the summer of 2017 we changed our methods. With the help of a diocesan mission grant we had a year of events – quiz nights, family movies, pray spaces – all geared around creating that market place where we could come into contact with the community, and introduce them to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. And our numbers have been good, with over 160 people joining us for our annual summer party, up to 50 coming along for a family movie, 60 at a community lunch, and 4 ladies joining a recent cookery course initiative.
In addition to this, through another mission grant we have been able to appoint a part time Community Outreach Worker for the next few years, whose job is simply to have coffee with people and share Jesus. This post-holder, Jan, actually has been a core member of TCR since its inception, and has made a great start in her first few months.
TCR on Sundays no longer meets the needs of the estate, and so again we have spent a long time in prayer and discussion, and listening to people living on the estate, trying to understand what God would have us do next. And it seems good to us to begin a new monthly “messy church-esque” service on a midweek afternoon. We are confident that this is where God is currently leading us. In addition, 3 of the women we have been reaching over the last 3 years are moving ever closer to the centre of church life, to a point where we are hoping to be able to more closely disciple them.
There is much more we have done, including a children’s bible study, children’s camps, helping a member of our church with her benefits, and so on.
I guess the key thing to say through all of this, is that the church has constantly re-evaluated what it is doing, working hard to think through how we interact with the community God has called us to live amongst. Listening to people who live in the community is key.
We have constantly wrestled with how we live out what means to be like Paul, when he says that he was “a Greek to the Greeks” – and actually this involves great pain, toil and sacrifice. Letting go of the things we’d like to do, how we’d rather spend our Sunday’s or midweek evenings – so that we can minister the Gospel to those who live on the estate, so that we can proclaim the love of God, through his Son, by His Spirit to every resident.
It’s hard work, and we would greatly value your prayers, but it’s also such a joyful privilege! I would strongly encourage each of you to think this through in your own church context, and hope what I have said might help you in that.
Rev. Aneal Appadoo