Stoking-Up Fruitful Partnerships
Why, when there are around 200 churches within four miles of its railway station, was Stoke-on-Trent chosen to host FIEC’s seventh regional Gospel Vision Evening?
The polycentric city of Stoke-on-Trent, formed in 1910 by the federation of six towns, has certainly had its share of challenging times. Once the heart of a thriving pottery industry, the local economy was thrust into turmoil in the 1980s and 90s with the outsourcing of its manufacturing overseas.
High unemployment trapped the city and its surrounding areas (where the decline in coal mining had also taken its toll) into a seemingly inescapable state of multiple deprivation, giving the population little hope for the future.
Thankfully, regeneration plans centred on a multi-million pound city centre retail and leisure development, are now helping locals to feel optimistic about the future. But it’s feared that, without firm gospel foundations in people’s lives, that hope may only be temporary.
That’s why the North Staffordshire Fellowship of Evangelical Churches, which formed over 20 years ago, has been providing a forum for local pastors and church congregations to meet and be mutually encouraged. And that’s also why a team from FIEC staged one of its ad-hoc regional vision evenings there in late November.
With a backdrop of many relationships between churches already having been formed, we were keen to provide a forum for those friendships to deepen into fruitful partnerships.
We also wanted to lift our eyes to the wider gospel needs of the region and of Great Britain, so the theme of our discussion, as we met at the Moat House Hotel in Hanley, was ‘how can independent gospel churches work together to reach people for Christ?’.
Almost 40 leaders from eight churches in Staffordshire, South Cheshire and beyond gathered for the evening. It was a really encouraging time of sharing food, news and prayer, and outlining a gospel vision together.
We were galvanised in our thinking as FIEC National Director John Stevens and Associate National Director Adrian Reynolds brought us a dose of reality in the shape of the paucity of born-again Christians in Great Britain. Even in its most generous measure, that’s perhaps no more than three per cent (with the proportion of conservative evangelicals being much smaller).
Stoke is unlikely to vary much from the national average, and I might have felt overwhelmed by the scale of the task ahead of us at that point. Yet, with a reminder of God’s heart for the lost, I actually came away with a renewed sense of the exciting gospel opportunities that are before us.
Some of the best encouragements of the evening came from pastors giving personal accounts of how they see God at work in their daily church and community business.
They included Pastor Jon Mason of Park Church Stoke, who had just experienced his first FIEC Leaders’ Conference. He spoke of his sense that we are in exciting times for the gospel (and for FIEC).
Jon’s church, which meets in Shelton, Stoke-on-Trent, is ‘bursting at the seams’, and the leaders there are looking at how best they could accommodate further growth.
All those present seemed encouraged to hear of examples from elsewhere of how churches are beginning to work more closely together, rather than just meeting together, for gospel outcomes.
Johnny Prime, another of FIEC’s Associate National Directors, gave a stirring account of how our Gospel Vision Evening in Suffolk in September 2017 had catalysed plans for church planting and revitalisation.
Our prayers for Stoke and for the rest of Staffordshire are that a similar vision may be caught, and we look forward to the discussions continuing.
If you’re interested in hosting an FIEC Gospel Vision Evening in your region, please get in touch with our planning team.
Photo of Stoke-on-Trent by Rept0n1x on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)