The Blaby story - lessons from church growth
This is the story of God growing His kingdom through the older generation as He has over-ruled our pre-conceptions of church growth, our rules and our regulations, writes Blaby Baptist Church pastor Pauline Wills
Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain. Psalm 127:1
It was at the age of 39 that I fell head over heels in love with Jesus - quite late - but it is a love that has grown. I am as passionate about Him today as when I first met Him. My late husband then did the same and through New Wine, we became very involved in the healing ministry. I had no thoughts of leading a Baptist church.
But at the age of 61, God called me to lead Blaby Baptist Church - my first church leadership role - with no official training or qualifications (and still none). I had been in the Baptist Union for six months when I was asked the question, “Do you want your own church?” from a regional minister who did not know me and who had never met me. I immediately said, “Yes” and it was only later when reflecting on this conversation that I concluded that we both must have responded to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
So, 18 months later I was appointed to Blaby where I met a group of older people who still wanted their church to grow.
This was going to be our first lesson - that God can use people of any generation to grow his kingdom if they have that passion for Him.
At that time there were about 25 regular people in the congregation on a Sunday morning mostly in late 70s/80s and in many ways, they were back in the dark ages. Administration was done on a type-writer, the constitution was on foolscap paper and I was the only one with a computer. Worship was what I call a four-hymn sandwich of traditional hymns played on the organ.
Today, I am still the only paid member of staff - part-time. All other activities are organised by the congregation. But we now have about 90 in church shared amongst the morning, Messy Church and uniformed congregations, and we have a worship group with more modern music. We also have a community of about 200 people using the building weekly and this gives us so many opportunities to share the gospel.
We did learn very early on that dependency on God was essential for kingdom growth.
Having passion for kingdom growth was great, but that did not mean doing things how we wanted. I was involved in numerous conversations on how the church wanted children and teenagers as they had had in the past (about 200 of them) but even practically that was not going to happen. Where were these youngsters coming from and who was going to run the groups?
We had to seek God’s will for His church at this time and the only way to do this was to pray and seek His vision.
Physically the older people were not strong enough to undertake a huge amount of outreach but they could pray and although this is the obvious thing to do, sometimes we do put our dreams before God’s plans.
As we prayed, God gave us a picture of what the church would look like - a family of mixed ages whose lives were centred on Jesus. We were also given advice that church growth would come through “welcome and worship”, and so concentrated on those two areas. Within a month of praying two pianists, one of whom was a worship leader, offered to play once a month, so immediately we could start to introduce some more modern songs. We continued to pray and I continued to sow vision every month reminding people of the picture God had given us so that we knew where we are going - and we kept to it.
And people have come in, not the families that I had expected but interestingly mostly from broken church backgrounds. It seemed as if God was growing his team, putting in place key people for the future. We had to learn that sometimes God does thing differently to our ideas.
The people that came stayed because of the welcome: simply being friendly and giving them time to chat and get to know one another over a cup of coffee. It seems very simple but being welcoming was key to our growth.
However, the path was not always smooth and even wanting to serve coffee after every service instead of once a month brought the objection that nobody would want to do it. So I made the coffee and although the objectors still only stayed once a month, soon the coffee rota was full! I also began to have people for coffee/meals and today many of the congregation do the same which develops and strengthens fellowship.
It is important to model what you are hoping for.
Early on I also realised early on was that Blaby was a church that lacked confidence in itself. They had been battered by always being compared to larger churches and had even been advised to close. They needed “success” to regain that confidence in themselves in the Lord. So we held a good old-fashioned Christmas bazaar, something they were used to doing and felt comfortable with. People came and the reaction of the congregation was “was wow-this is good-and we have done it.” You could see them grow. It is crucial to give your people confidence as success breeds success.
Importantly this type of event has given gave me opportunity to talk to people, and out of this has come one of our current leaders. So we learnt not to dismiss using the old-fashioned ordinary events as a vehicle for the gospel.
Funerals/traditional carol services and Christingles continue to bring people in to faith. We also celebrate everything we can, from baptisms to wedding anniversaries and even membership. This makes people feel special and gives confidence to the congregation as they see the church grow.
We continued to pray and the next significant thing was that God brought in a young lady who was pregnant and passionate about the gospel. When her son was born
she started an informal drop-in morning for Mums and Toddlers. We built up relationships with the mums and they now regularly come to Messy Church.
God brings in the people he needs to grow His church.
We have since had worship leaders, children’s workers, a treasurer and administrator and a man with experience in building a new kitchen which we needed, all at a time when they were needed before the church could grow.
God’s timing is perfect for His plans
So far it is a lovely story of a growing church.
But of course, it is never all plain sailing. A couple of groups struggled to keep going. I did not close them down but let them run their course and let them make the decision.
Then we had a major split and 10 people left-a large number for a small church. On the surface it was due to me moving the piano to make room for the sound equipment - all of about two metres - but underneath it was about a power struggle. There was a group that wanted things their way, and not the way the church was going.
My leadership came under threat, I was bullied and verbally abused. At one point I even felt physically threatened as my front door was battered. It was the nearest that I have ever come to a nervous breakdown. My deacons were very supportive but they too suffered huge stress. And there was no support for us.
We had to rely totally on the Lord, the best place to be but so hard. But I never felt God say give up. The church had already caused the breakdown of three pastors in the past and there was a sense that if I did not stand firm it will happen again and it would never grow.
The situation ended with a special meeting in which we received a vote of total confidence to continue. The 10 then left - and although the hassle still continued until about 18 months ago we survived! Through all of this I felt God saying that He had to prune the vine before we could grow.
And it was after that that the church really started to blossom both numerically and spiritually.
In times of difficulty we learnt to stand firm and rely on God and know that God honours that.
Blaby has also seen significant spiritual growth as God has poured out His Holy Spirit in power, even on the older generation! We have seen healings and miracles, people growing in their faith and operating in the prophetic, all of which have been essential for growing the kingdom of God.
We cannot undertake God’s work without the power of His Holy Spirit.
We are currently developing a strategic leadership team to fully implement God’s vision. We will always be a “work in progress” and will face many changes but those changes will be under God’s guidance. We continue to pray and seek His will. The importance of listening to God in prayer is still the most significant activity we can undertake here.
Pauline Wills is the pastor of Blaby Baptist Church in Leicestershire.
Pauline was a participant in a recent Firestarter event - these events explore church growth in Baptist churches.
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