How did a church threatened with closure, in a downtrodden part of Cambridge, grow from a congregation of six to 60 in less than a month? The dramatic turn-around was sparked by a regional youth mission backed by HOPE Revolution and followed by dedicated evangelism and community work.
In September 2011 Jason de-Vaux, a Free Church pastor employed by the Methodist Church to specialise in outreach and community, was sent to lead Chesterton Methodist Church. Two weeks later, as part of the Beyond Belief youth mission, he was joined by a handful of young people from St Barnabas Church a vibrant, Anglican congregation near Cambridge city centre and some youth from Chesterfield.
The youth team spent a week serving the Chesterton church, turning the front of the building into an attention-grabbing Tardis for a Dr Who themed holiday club. They made connections in the community through conversations and a drop-in youth café. The kids club led to families and older siblings coming along, and by the end of the mission week the congregation had grown from six to 60.
Jason said: “The connections made that week kick-started the revival of the church. It came at a time when we had already begun investing more in the community. The enthusiasm of the team was catching and loads of kids - over 35 - came to the holiday club. Since then we have built on relationships and gradually things have been growing even more.”
The Sunday congregation now is regularly 120-strong.
Jason added: “We are ecstatic to see this result. We have seen Boys and Girls Brigade restart and grow, and now we are connecting with over 70 11-14 year olds and 20 14-18 year olds all from previously un-churched backgrounds. It is a community church and we are outward looking. In this urban setting, on this massive housing estate, this style of mission has worked incredibly well. It is possible to re-seed a church by bringing the youth and children back.”
A number of youth-led missions have happened since Beyond Belief. The church has held a jungle holiday club and then a team took a double-decker bus with an Olympic theme on a week-long tour round churches and schools in the city offering free barbecues.
Jax Keal, a former youthworker at St Barnabas Church and the leader of the Beyond Belief team, said: “It was a crazy week. The number of people from the community who came along just went up and up. The youth in that area don’t have much to do but hang out, but by the end of the week the mischievous young people who were on the roof at the start of the week, were chatting with us in the evening. The team faced some tough stuff, including seeing someone rushed to hospital, but they also saw God come through and the positive responses really built their faith.”
Dave Monk of Youth for Christ said: “The renewal of Chesterton Methodist is just one example of outreach and mission led by young people that has had impact. The Methodist Church circuit are investing more in mission because they recognise it can renew church and community life.”
HOPE’s Executive Director Roy Crowne said, ‘This vibrant congregation is a success story that demonstrates the positive impact that is possible when churches support one another and young people lead the way in mission, showing God’s love for their community in words and action.’