The founder of Ichthus Fellowship, Roger Forster, has died at the age of 90. Roger was widely considered to be one of the most prominent figures in the UK evangelical church. The worship leader Graham Kendrick, and current Ichthus leader Henry George pay tribute to him
A confident and good-looking young man stepped briskly to the mic and proceeded to explain the gospel with a clarity, fluency, passion, and rapidity the likes of which I (Graham) had never heard before.
He seemed to have the ability to knock down every counter argument to the Gospel just before you thought of it, as well as several you never knew existed. It was apologetics on steroids, but he was clearly not there just to win arguments, I could tell he was out to win hearts and make disciples for Jesus.
The scene was an outreach coffee bar in Kingston Upon Thames, and the preacher was Roger Forster, then in his mid-30s. I was about 19 years old and present because our band (or should I say ‘Beat Group’) was the warm-up for him. I could not have guessed that 15 years later I would join the church movement he founded and belong there with my family for 20 years.
Roger became a Christian as a student at Cambridge, where he graduated in Maths and Theology. After National Service in the RAF, Roger worked as an itinerant evangelist until 1974, when he and his wife Faith first gathered a group of 14 in their home as Ichthus Christian Fellowship.
Their vision was simple – to be a church where believers in Christ became disciples of Christ, right to the very fullness (Ephesians 4:13), living like the book of Acts. Their home was open to people who needed to stay and be discipled into the fullness of freedom in Jesus.
Intellectually, he was in a league of his own, but he was an approachable, patient, gracious teacher
Roger’s powerful kingdom preaching, his Relational Arminianism and passion to reach all people of all nationalities meant that this house church steadily grew to become a thriving body of multiple congregations meeting in schools and community centres around London.
In the 1980s a leadership training programme was set up which has since trained hundreds for ministry, myself (Henry) included. Many have taken the Ichthus vision and theology around the world (Lebanon, Nepal, India, Myanmar and more) or into different denominations across the UK. Roger always celebrated releasing people into these new seasons, even though it was very painful when a number of the London congregations left the movement altogether around 20 years ago.
As the number of those receiving from Roger’s apostolic leadership grew, many churches became linked to Ichthus and the Revive summer camp was set up for the whole Ichthus family to gather and worship Jesus at Ashburnham Place every August.
March for Jesus
From my early days in Ichthus I (Graham) would ask Roger and Faith to critique my new songs-in-progress, checking the theology, assessing strengths and weaknesses. More than at any time before or since, I felt that rather than writing my own songs, my job was to voice the heart, vision and teaching that flowed from an apostolic gift.
Roger’s evangelistic DNA permeated Ichthus and from the start it was outward facing, with its eyes and prayers fixed on both near neighbours and far-distant unreached people groups. Worship, prayer and preaching in public spaces was also part of the praxis, so it is unsurprising that its soil brought forth ‘praise marches’ and, joining with the like-minded Pioneer and Youth with a Mission (YWAM) movements, March for Jesus was birthed, which became a global phenomenon. Alongside it the concept of prayer-walking took hold, whether ‘down your street’ or long-distance teams (think London-Istanbul-Jerusalem, for example).
Roger felt injustice keenly, and it seemed to me (Graham) that the theological issues he debated most fiercely (though respectfully in the Oxbridge debating tradition), were those he perceived could do most damage to people and rob God. Intellectually, he was in a league of his own, but he was an approachable, patient, gracious teacher. It is impossible to measure the influence Roger Forster had on my life and that of my family – but I was not unusual, countless others would say the same.
The work continues
In October 2021, Roger and Faith handed over leadership of the movement to a team of seven leaders, led by myself (Henry). During the season of transition, we have been deeply encouraged at the unity of the Spirit across the whole movement, and the new salvations we have welcomed through doing ‘Church on the Streets’, toddler groups and refugee outreach.
God has wonderfully enabled us to relaunch RadNet, our signature leadership training course, and Ichthus workers continue to plant new churches in the Middle East and South Asia.
It is amazing that Roger lived into 2024, the 50th Jubilee year of Ichthus. This milestone calls us to pray for much more of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ permanent ‘Year of the Lord’ (Luke 4).
Roger’s death inspires us to see the gospel of words (“good news to the poor”), works (“binding up broken hearts”) and wonders (“release for the captives”) go into the whole world as a testimony to all the nations. (Matthew 24:14). His legacy lives on.
You can share your own tribute to Roger or express your interest in attending a Thanksgiving Service on the Ichthus website