My husband Sam and I have been planting a church in London since August and our main demographic is university students, because we’re based in Roehampton. We’re supported by church-planting network Co-Mission’s Antioch Plan, however in this grassroots stage, our ‘plant’ is really just Sam and I!
Even though I was a student only three years ago myself, I’d kind of forgotten the ‘sleep all day, play all night’ mind-set that students often have. It’s been a change of gear, because you need to be super-flexible: someone could rock up to a meeting an hour late, or miss it altogether, or be hesitant to leave our house before midnight. It’s been good for us to learn to be adaptable for the sake of loving others, rather than keeping to my plan.
Christmas this year, our first in our little church plant, was actually on the 8 December, as we had to hold it in term-time. We hosted a Christmas gathering instead of our usual Big Life Questions evening. All the classics: minced pies, mulled wine and Bublé in the background. As with most of our meetings, it was hard to plan for, since we had no idea what or who to expect, but we ended up with five of us. To be honest, we had mixed feelings about this: it was a mixture of disappointment and thankfulness really, as we had hoped more people would have come. It’s a battle not to feel like a personal failure when people aren’t flooding in and we ended up scrapping our planned talk on Christmas. We always have to remind ourselves when running things like this, that God’s ways are better than ours. So, we were glad for those who were there and enjoyed a lovely festive evening eating, chatting and playing Articulate!
Currently, our ‘church’ looks like us proactively meeting students, doing a weekly questionnaire on campus, which aims to discover and discuss students’ worldviews, and inviting people to dinner and a discussion on Tuesday evenings called Big Life Questions. We’ve had around 15 students from all sorts of backgrounds come along sporadically, which has been an encouraging first step. Starting this up has been exciting, but not without its challenges – primarily uncertainty and taking counter-cultural risks for the gospel. Next term we’re planning on transforming this into a Bible study for a ‘core’ group, and also starting up a midday course.
In these early stages, with no formalised service, Advent traditions aren’t really a feature of our church. Our prime desire is to build relationships with people, meeting them where they’re at and introducing them to the person of Jesus. But where we can, we’ll invite people to our supporting church’s carol service.
Sam and I both come from a Christmas culture where carol services, ad hoc carol singing in the local area, Christmas parties and an informal family friendly Christmas day service are the norm. We both love Christmassy music and the opportunity Christmas is for everyone and anyone to get stuck in, enjoy the festive spirit and hear the message of Christmas. Fortunately, because we’re still involved in our home churches, we’re able to have a taste of these more organised and attended events, so we don’t feel like we’re missing out too much! But I suppose one of the challenges of pioneering a new ministry is its potential to be isolating and daunting – we often feel too young and under-qualified to be taking the initiative and being solely in charge of events we want to run. But God is faithful and keeps providing and opening up doors for us: and that is exciting.
It’s a real privilege to reflect that we really have gone from zero to something! We had no idea what to expect at the start of this year, but God’s brought people into our path and helped build relationships. Our big prayer for 2016 is for a core group to form, as we’re still really small, and for people to get to know Jesus. In this Advent season, the major learning curve for us has to be learning to depend on God: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain.” (Psalm 127:1)