When I first came to Bearwood, we had the opportunity to attend the 2020 Birmingham launch conference. 2020 Birmingham are committed to planting 20 new churches by the year 2020. Church planting wasn’t particularly on our radar (either personally for Sarah and me or for Bearwood Chapel). However, we were intrigued, encouraged and challenged by what we heard.Over the first year it became apparent to us that the Chapel had a space issue. No, we were not a large church by any stretch of the imagination. We still are not. However, our building was small and space at a premium. This wasn’t just about how many people you could squeeze into the main hall but everything from having enough toilets, car-parking space, Sunday Club rooms etc. We began to talk and pray together about the challenge. On one hand, we could simply have kept going as we were. Many people were comfortable with a church of about that size. The full hall created an atmosphere, everyone could still know each other reasonably well and we could just about resource our various rotas including children’s work, welcoming and music groups. However as we talked and prayed we realised that this was a very introverted, selfish even view of things. We are not here to keep one church full but to share the good news about Jesus. We began to look outward, instead of being happy with our full building, we were challenged by the fact that most people in Bearwood and Smethwick will not be in a church this week. Even if every local church preaches the Gospel and fills its building with people this weekend, the vast majority of people will still not be hearing the Gospel.
So we began to talk about “Space to Grow.” This was not about how big we could become or because we thought we could engineer growth ourselves. Rather, we realised that we should not be putting constraints on Gospel growth. We talked about re-building larger but felt that this wasn’t the right thing to be doing just now, building projects are expensive and we wanted to invest in other aspects of Gospel work. We also talked about moving out of the building into a rented hall. At that time, moving out felt like a step too far for the majority. It wasn’t that we were saying “never” to both of these options but the timing didn’t seem right.
A couple of people said “Why don’t we have two morning services.” I must admit that at first I quickly dismissed the suggestion. I saw multiple services as something big churches did. I thought such a move would stretch us to breaking point. However, more and more I began to think that this wasn’t such a crazy idea. I realised that we could spend a long time waiting for the right moment to rebuild or move. What if, instead, we made the best use of our own building. Why should a building be used just once on a Sunday? What if we had multiple opportunities over the weekend to share the Gospel, teach God’s Word and make disciples?
Then we came back to the question of church planting. In fact, even at that point, some people asked about whether we should try and plant. Normally, a new congregation is planted in a different location to meet a need in a specific geographical area. It seems obvious that distant creates barriers. People will only travel so far to attend a church service, they may also find other geographical barriers in place, a busy road, a sense that the church is in a different neighbourhood etc –these can often create psychological barriers which are far bigger than the physical ones.
Time can also be a barrier to gathering. For some people, 10:30am is too early in the day, for others too late. There was also a sense that we had a one size fits all approach. So what if we were to plant congregations to meet time needs rather than geographical needs?
And that’s what we did. We ran two Sunday morning meetings back to back and we found that people who never would have made it to our old 10:30 service were able to attend at either 9:30 or 11:15am. At the same time we were developing a Sunday evening gathering. It really started as a small bible study for our older teens who had outgrown the youth club that ran at the same time but before long others were wanting to join in on a Sunday night. This has gradually grown over the past couple of years. About half of those who turn up on a Sunday night are coming back after attending in the morning but half specifically come to gather for worship, fellowship and teaching at that time. It’s very different to our morning meetings. We set the room out café style and serve food from 6pm with people free to come and go and to talk or pray with others. Then from about 6:45pm we pray together as a whole group and sing a couple of songs. At 7pm, we have a Bible study. The teaching is interactive and includes small group discussion. It engages a wide range of people who are all at different stages in their faith.
Over the last couple of years, we’ve had a number of Spanish speakers from Latin America coming along to our services. We’ve welcomed them, talked with them about the Gospel and provided translation as much as we are able to. Some were already Christians, some have professed faith and others are still considering the Christian message. At the start of this year, several of them started to meet together in the home of a Mexican family from another local church to study the Bible and find out more. Before long, the group had got too large for the house and so they came and asked us if they could meet at the Chapel on a Saturday evening. We said yes. I meet regularly with those involved in leading the group to talk about teaching and pastoral matters and from time to time other elders also drop into to the meeting to encourage them.