A Marriage Made in Heaven: Stockwell Baptist Church
The story of how two inner-city London churches with different needs were brought together in a great answer to prayer.
In my role as FIEC London Director for the past two years, I have developed a surprising enthusiasm for church revitalisation. This is surprising in that it is a well-known fact that trying to resuscitate a church is far more difficult and time-consuming than simply planting a new one.
A new church means a 'blank sheet of paper.' A revitalisation often means the long haul of having to deal with non-Biblical traditions and practices ingrained in the culture of a church over decades, or trying to steer an existing leadership or church that lacks any real willingness to change for the gospel`s sake.
So, what brought about this 'Damascus Road' new-found enthusiasm for church revitalisation?
In three words: Stockwell Baptist Church.
Stockwell Baptist Church
Stockwell Baptist Church (SBC) was founded almost 170 years ago when none other than C.H. Spurgeon preached at the opening of the church, housed in an impressive collonaded building clearly modelled on the Metropolitan Tabernacle itself.
Today the church building is surrounded on one side by million-pound Georgian terraced properties and on the other side by 1960s high rise tower block estates dominating the landscape - home to low income, working-class, white British and immigrant communities.
In 2018 the leaders of this largely Afro-Caribbean and African congregation of 60 people in this inner-city London church contacted FIEC for help to find a new pastor.
Reviving the Gospel Flame
This was a group of warm and welcoming, mainly older, believers who clearly loved the Lord, loved His Word, and loved one another. However, although there was a heart to reach their community, their whole style of church was locked in a culture and practice that largely lacked any contemporary connection and relevance with the surrounding population. The vast majority of the younger generations had left the church, much to the heartache of their parents and grandparents.
Like so many churches in a similar position in London, and other major cities, SBC found itself in a hard place and in desperate need of revitalisation. But here is what I’ve come to realise: these churches represent an amazing opportunity for the gospel flame to be revived.
Such churches in need of revitalisation have things going for them which the majority of new church plants soon long for, such as a church building to meet in and, in this case, a history and long-term presence in the locality which means more ready acceptance by the community. Sometimes there can also be a Manse (as there was at Stockwell) and some money in the bank (which there wasn`t in this instance).
An ‘Advisory Group’ was formed - Brian Edwards, Peter Bines, and me - to work alongside the small group of leaders at SBC. Friendship and trust grew over the ensuing months of monthly meetings which enabled the church to embrace some radical changes to their Sunday gathering. Out went the ‘all-age’ Sunday School and Main Service which ran from 10:30am to 1pm, and in its place came a weekly 45-minute prayer meeting, followed by a short break before a one-hour service.
The church had not been gathering together to pray, and the church immediately embraced this opportunity: 75% gathered Sunday by Sunday to pray for the Lord to guide and provide.
Brixton Local Church
The Advisory Group also facilitated a Bible teaching series in Mark, in which they enlisted the help of other London pastors and preachers - among whom, some months later, was a young British-Nigerian pastor, Yannick Christos-Wahab. Along with Jason Mariner, he co-led the nearby Brixton Local Church (BLoC) - a 5-year-old Co-Mission church plant comprising of 35 younger Black adults.
Not only did the congregation at Stockwell immediately warm to Yannick`s ministry, it soon became obvious that, in a fabulous answer to prayer, the Lord was arranging for the respective needs of two local congregations to be met by one another!
BloC needed a permanent building, as well as older folk to become a multi-generational church. Stockwell needed an infusion of young adults and the life and dynamism they would bring. It was a marriage made in heaven!
During the summer months of 2019, under the guidance of their respective leadership teams, the two churches prayed and worked through the implications and practicalities of a `merger`. Joint working teams were set up, relationships were begun, and joint meals were enjoyed - all of which culminated in both churches voting to merge together as the new Stockwell Baptist Church under the leadership of Pastor Yannick.
On Sunday 8th September 2019 the two congregations merged to recognise and set aside Yannick as their pastor. The first six months of the life of this new church has seen many encouragements, not least many new folk coming into the fellowship.
The potential for the growth of this vibrant, multi-ethnic, Independent inner-city London church is an exciting prospect and offers a great partnership with the nearby FIEC and Co-Mission churches at Hope Church Vauxhall and The Globe Church (Southwark).
The challenges are enormous: the need to renovate a massive building that could seat 500 people and host conferences; the development of leaders; the need for giving to increase to reach a self-supporting foundation; ongoing patience and trust between the members of the merged congregation; and the need of the complex mission field around the church.
But now the challenges are ones of life rather than of slow death: the challenges of gospel life!