It’s easy to spend time thinking about particular strategies for evangelism. For Ben Holmes and Holbrooks Evangelical Church in Coventry there was nothing like that – just the blessing of God’s glorious grace which led to 16 baptisms in the church in 2016. Here’s their story.
Church life can be glorious and feel exhilarating. It can also be depressing and feel debilitating.
Often it’s all of these things at the same time. Unexpected and flourishing converts can come along at the same time as you are dealing with heart-aching pastoral problems, disappointments and personal struggles.
I became Pastor at Holbrooks in June 2009 and the weight of responsibility that hit me on that night has never left me. As I write, the last thing I want to sound like is somebody who has conquered pastoral ministry and can now share the key to success, or hold up Holbrooks as a “go to” model. The reality couldn’t feel further from the truth: we experience heart-aches, challenges and difficulties and these rumble on daily.
I am painfully conscious that whilst there are best practices – unless the Lord builds the house, we labour in vain. When you experience a sovereign blessing of God’s grace, the last thing you should do is ask “How can we reproduce that?”
Having said all of that, and amidst the normal and not so normal difficulties and challenges of church life, we have experienced real and steady blessings in the form of conversions and baptisms over the last few years which I hope will be an encouragement to others. We’ve seen around 35 people baptised and around 25 come to faith in the last 7½ years.
2016 was an unusual year in that we saw 16 people baptised on four separate occasions. The youngest person we baptised was 15 and the oldest was almost 80 – and all have been converted in the past few years. We even baptised two people in a freezing river on Camp (it was a quick service!).
We haven’t been huge on organised evangelism (I often have guilt pangs about this) but we have offered the odd Christianity Explored course and occasional evangelistic meals or bowling evenings. These have been great; but the conversions haven’t come from here. They have generally come as a result of much prayer, personal evangelism and exposing people to God’s word.
In other words: they have been unspectacularly spectacular.
God at work
In one case Barbara, a lady in her late 70s, came in for a coffee, started to come along on a Sunday and gradually came under conviction of sin and trusted Christ. I took her funeral last year after her battle with cancer and was able to tell her family in her own words how “she could die without any fear because of Christ.”
A number of people have been converted after growing up in the church and attending Sunday School and Youth group where they have faithfully and prayerfully been taught the gospel over several years and eventually the truth hit home.
A few people have come as a result of spotting the website. One couple, Chris and Esther, came along after seeing the website, sat under the word and have been gloriously saved.
Dave and Steff were sat at home in their kitchen and both had an overwhelming urge to read the Bible. They committed to Christ almost immediately and having remembered somebody from the church witnessing to one of them years ago, started to come along.
This year we had a married couple come to faith and get baptised. Carly-Jo had been brought up in the church and whilst maintaining some kind of belief had gone away for the best part of 10 years. She started to bring her children to the Friday night club and to Sunday School and gradually started to listen to the messages. This turned into her bringing the kids on a Sunday morning and it became obvious that there had been a real work of grace in her life.
We baptised her in January 2016. Her husband, Mark, whilst supportive of her was totally dismissive of the Christian faith. He saw the main benefit of his wife taking the kids to church was that he had a couple of undisturbed hours to play FIFA! But over the next six months he started to come along and he too was gloriously converted. It turned out that God had been using one sentence from the sermon at his wedding five years ago to convict him! He was baptised in December 2016.
Through grace alone
What is the ‘secret’ to all of this? Simple – God is gracious! He uses means – prayer, witness, preaching – but His sovereign grace alone saves.
The challenge for us as a church is to believe this even when we don’t see converts or growth. For us to remember that ultimately it is faithfulness – not numbers – that equals success.
For every Barbara there have been people who have heard the same message, drawn near and turned away. For every Mark and Carly-Jo there have been couples who you think will make it and don’t.
If you’ve read this hoping to spot some key to ‘grow your church’, I’m sorry to disappoint you. If you’ve read it hoping to be encouraged that God is sovereign and gracious amidst the mess of church life; then be encouraged – He is!