When Wokingham Vineyard Christian Church began Sunday services at Hatch Ride Junior School around four years ago, just 19 attended the first Sunday service. It was a humble beginning, but God had his hand upon us.
The vision to be involved in church planting had been birthed when my wife, Becky and I were in North Carolina. We had left the UK so that I could take up a role in an American software company. We had settled in an excellent church (Triangle Vineyard) where I soon became the Youth Pastor alongside my job. Becky had a ministry as a worship pastor where her formal classical training at the Guildhall allowed her unparalleled insight into developing teams and the approach to worship God. We presumed that any church planting would be in the US. But God had other ideas: yes, he wanted us to church plant, but back in the UK! I resisted for some months, but eventually words of prophecy confirmed the rightness of the change and I was able to return to the UK as a director for a global technology firm, Gartner in their consulting division. We initially returned to Riverside Church (then meeting in Twickenham). The pastor wisely suggested giving ourselves time to reacclimatise and when my wife had a recurrence of cancer, we realised it had been good to wait. But God had set a passion in us to church plant, so after Becky recovered we were duly released and started a church of four: Becky, James, Joshua and me, in the area where we still had a house, Wokingham, Berkshire, a market town east of Reading on the commuter line to Waterloo.
In the initial months we visited various people who might be interested and held worship evenings which used Becky’s extraordinary prophetic and worship gifting. Our friends came to support and one by one a few people stuck. One of the biggest decisions was when to put on public services and it was here that God stepped in again. We knew we needed money in the bank to sustain us for at least three months to cover rent etc. As we were praying, an old friend, who I hadn’t heard of for a long time, wrote saying that God wanted us to have some money. The cheque was made out to exactly the amount we needed!
So here we are just over four years later and including all congregations, our church has grown to a little over 500 including children. People ask me, “Why have you grown to this number?” All I can say is that God has been blessing what we are doing.
We are not doing anything special but have focused on taking the church to the community rather then expecting the community to come to us. We run several weekly events called ‘Little Steps’ - in Wokingham, and five neighbouring towns. These are the first step towards being in a house group. Over 180 people are part of our church through this ministry, and we have started weekly services in each location.
Another possible factor in our growth is that I am bi-vocational, serving now as a managing partner at Gartner as well as senior pastor. So I don’t take a salary from the church. We run the church using lean principles on four and a half paid days a week, which frees up resources for outreach. So for example, we can afford to put on a proper breakfast (croissants, bagels, cream cheese and freshly brewed coffee) for church on Sunday mornings.
In January 2005 the cancer returned and Becky courageously battled for eight months before finally going to take up her place with Jesus, during this time our focus was still on outreach and the lost, Becky taught from Job just a few weeks before she died and it had a tremendously encouraging effect whilst causing great emotional turmoil.
Being bi-vocational also helps me empathise with men who come to our church. I have genuine empathy for people working long and stressful hours at work, because I often face these demands in my working week. I can help them, they help me - a bond is soon formed. It also means we have a flat management structure. I empower the leaders to lead in the way they want. We have an approach where by we have ministries not committees; ministries do things, committees talk about doing things. This is God’s church not mine - I am merely the caretaker of it.
I have sought to set up the church to encourage a culture that is prepared to try things, even if they fail. True leaders are prepared to take a risk. Jesus is not risk averse. So I talk about tomorrow and where we are going and what we should try, as well as celebrating where we have been and all that God is doing in and through us.