If you would like to learn a little bit more about our situation and what I do for a day and night job read on...
Since September 2005 I have been greatly privileged to be the pastor of Christ Church, Deeside (incidentally we changed our name last year from Deeside Evangelical Christian Church). We are situated in a Welsh border town not too far from Chester.
The church was planted in 1975. I am the third pastor in the life of the church, following in the footsteps and building on the work of Peter Milsom (now director of UFM) and Alan Davey (now a UFM missionary in Bordeaux). I have come to Deeside full of ambition for the gospel and grateful that my family can be part of the church here. As I reflect on the local area I often think of the words of the missionary Henry Martyn, ‘I could not bear it if Jesus Christ were not glorified.’ That must be our heartbeat as a congregation.
Each Sunday, around 100 people, with a good mix of backgrounds and ages, meet together in the morning, and around 60 in the evening. Numbers and activities can only tell you a small part about the life of a church, but one area does stand out. For over 20 years the church has been committed to working with adults with learning difficulties. As part of this work, there is a monthly service and a weekly friendship group (Busy Buddies). There is also a monthly meeting for carers.
God has surprised us. Over this last year we have seen several adults with no previous connection to the church come to faith and be baptised. Instrumental in this has been Christianity Explored (used fruitfully for a number of years in the church). It has been thrilling to see a good number of local people come along to the courses. Not all have come to faith, not all have stayed, but several now regularly attend Sunday by Sunday. What has been really striking is that, as we have taken risks for the gospel, we have seen God sovereignly at work in the lives of people even before we have had opportunity to speak to them. And they have come to the church, or to Christianity Explored, already prepared for the gospel. What has also impressed us is the appetite for the truth found in these new people. The Lord has also been gracious in restoring some who have been in a spiritual wilderness.
We have made the Christmas services an evangelistic priority. Last year we saw almost 400 local people come to our Saturday night service (compared to 100 the year before). This has been very much part of our vision. Even with political correctness, our culture still has the residual memory of Christmas and we have been determined to use this opportunity for the gospel. So we took a risk, hired the Civic Hall, made this a priority in prayer, and took seriously the responsibility to invite local people.
Like most churches outside of university towns and cities, we face the challenge of losing a lot of young people, not just for three years, but permanently, as they settle down after graduation in new places. But, to be honest, this is hardly an insurmountable challenge. Our greatest challenge will always be the battle against sin, unbelief, apathy, lukewarmness, and the way we can justify all these things. We constantly need reminding that the task of the church is to proclaim the whole counsel of God and to live up to our high calling together.
But then there are positive challenges too. When I walk down the street in Shotton or Connahs Quay, I hear more and more Eastern European accents. How will we reach these people that are now our neighbours? And then there are all the people for whom perception is reality. Mention church and they think of a small elderly congregation and that Christianity is pretty much finished. How do we engage this unbelief? Last year we held a public meeting on The Da Vinci Code. Around 15 people came just from our advertisement in the local paper (incidentally, we put an ad in for Christianity Explored also; the paper, after all, reaches 30,000 homes). The evening gave an opportunity to prosecute bad history and theology and to present the authentic gospel. We want the gospel to be in the eyes and ears of local people.
Hopes for the future
We would love to see gospel growth in the Deeside area and beyond. Doors of opportunity are opening in the local community with schools and other groups. From this September we are appointing an apprentice and are looking for an assistant pastor. We are also seeking to develop the use of our bookshop.
Vast areas of North Wales lack gospel churches. For many years a small group of Welsh-speaking Christians from churches in North East Wales have met for prayer and Bible study in a home just outside the town of Ruthin (20 miles from Deeside). Over the last 18 months, as they have been studying the book of Acts, steps have been taken to hold evangelistic services in Welsh in the town at Christmas and Easter. We would love to see this work develop and eventually for a church to be planted.
Only God makes things grow, and true growth can only ever be gospel growth; of this we are certain.