Pruning Enables Growth
When change-management expert Kevin Cowdrey arrived to pastor a Lincolnshire church in 2016, he found it on ‘life-support’. Three years on, Rachel Dalby asked Kevin if the church had a future.
“Absolutely!”, beamed Kevin. “And that’s down to the members and congregation being willing to trust in new ways of doing things. But, to be honest, there have been a few challenges.”
Kevin and his wife, Clare, moved 100 miles from their previous church in Stoke-on-Trent so that Kevin could take up his current role pastoring Calvary Baptist Church, Spalding.
When the couple arrived, they found that Spalding, like most English towns, was still struggling with the social impacts of the economic downturn resulting from the 2008 Credit Crunch.
“But we saw instantly that it was a town full of great people,” said Kevin, “And we couldn’t wait to get to work.”
Spalding’s location in the Fens – an area known for its vast agricultural business employing over 27,000 people – means it’s home to many immigrant workers. Harvest time swells the population with seasonal workers.
Kevin and Clare saw this diverse and dynamic community as being in desperate need of the gospel.
Kevin said: “In 2016, the church had a small elderly congregation. You could have described it as a church on ‘life-support’. But, despite the low headcount and ageing membership, there was a lot of great stuff going on.”
Having worked previously in IT business leadership, Kevin put his skills straight to work. First, he wanted to understand why such a hard-working church wasn’t growing.
He said: “It was obvious that the church was ready for something new, but we had to discover the roots of how it had arrived at where it was.”
At that time, there were just 15 members, and Sunday morning services attracted around 20 people.
Kevin said: “I quickly realised that the large number of projects that the church was running was part of its problem.
“Our folks had been visiting three nursing homes several times per month, doing doorstep evangelism, and running Bible studies, coffee mornings and toddler groups. Basically, the congregation was exhausted!”
Kevin decided that Phase One of helping the church back to better health should focus on trimming-down.
Phase Two quickly followed, with Kevin and his small team encouraging the church to look inwards.
He said: “We had to strengthen our church family before we could minister effectively beyond our own walls. We took all the good things we had and made them better. And we ate together – a lot.”
Pre-service prayer meetings were launched, and Kevin encouraged those who could to attend weekly Monday night prayer meetings along with Wednesday night Bible studies.
Inevitably, a few of the congregation walked away. “And that was pretty hard,” Kevin admitted.
“But, thankfully, the majority stayed. I think most were grateful for the changes, so I didn’t experience much opposition. Mind you, to reassure those who stayed, we needed fast results!”
Amazingly, a new family arrived during one of Kevin’s first all-church prayer meetings. “Obviously, I smiled to myself and prayed that even more would join us,” he said.
And they did. Gradually the membership grew above 30, and Kevin is thrilled that Sunday services are now attracting around 50 people.
One of the big changes implemented early on was to drop Sunday evening services. Kevin said: “We decided to focus our efforts on a Sunday morning family worship service.
“I saw good Bible teaching as a priority, so launched a Sunday afternoon study session.”
In 2017, after receiving legal advice about charity registration from FIEC’s sister charity – FIEC Practical Services (now Edward Connor Solicitors) – the church joined FIEC.
Kevin said: “I’d looked at FIEC’s website and felt it would be good to get involved. We applied to affiliate, and we’re really glad we did. We were given valuable advice by FIEC’s directors, who helped us to shape our vision.”
With solid foundations in place, Kevin is now encouraging the church to look outwards. He said: “It’s not enough for us to be evangelical. We want to be evangelistic, too.”
While Kevin and his team have been ‘rebuilding’ the church, Spalding’s economy has been improving, and the local authority has recently declared the town financially ‘buoyant’.
“But this doesn’t mean that the residents of the Fens are any less needy for the gospel,” said Kevin. “In fact, as a church we’re only just getting started.”
With Boston being around 15 miles to the north-east, Kevin and his team have started to think about reaching that community. Boston was highlighted by FIEC a few years ago as one of Britain’s ‘50 Places’ in most need of new gospel churches.
Kevin said: “A few things are beginning to fall into place, and we’re sensing strongly that we need to be planting into Boston. Please pray for us as we develop our planting plans.”