The challenge of a growing congregation

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How do you grow in fruitfulness as a widespread church whose congregation is drawn from three communities? Letchworth Garden City Church’s Carl Johnston explains.

What does fruitfulness look like? That’s the question Letchworth Garden City Church is asking itself as it seeks to grow in discipleship and expand its ministries this year.

For pastor Carl Johnston (pictured above, inset, on photo of a Letchworth church baptism), the answer lies in strengthening the church, building on recent initiatives and nurturing future leaders.

Since the pandemic, LGCC has grown in numbers, so one practical question Carl and his team are addressing is how to cater for an expanding but widespread congregation.

“We’re in a small commuter town on the A1 corridor out of London and since Covid we’ve seen a lot of people migrating out to places like Letchworth, which means we have around 500-600 people taking part in church life,” Carl said.

With just half of LGCC’s congregation living in the town and others travelling from north Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, one avenue being explored is additional services in new locations.

Three locations

“In January we trialled ‘church in three locations’ for our new Sunday evening service – something we’d experimented with for some prayer meetings in 2023.

“Typically we bring the church together for prayer in Letchworth, but last year we held three prayer meetings at the same time, with the same theme, in Letchworth, Stevenage and Biggleswade, and had good feedback.”

This development has been made possible in part, Carl explains, because the church committed to fully paying off the mortgage on its building during its centenary year last year.

Having cleared this debt the week before Christmas, funds and other resources have become more freely available as the church explores ways to expand.

“We felt it was important to release money and resources to allow us to move into the new things God wants to do here in our second centenary,” he said.

The team are considering stepping out in faith into new locations too.

“We feel that God is asking us to put some more resources into exploring what he wants to do in north Hertfordshire and central Bedfordshire – where there might be open doors to plant the gospel,” Carl added.

“It’s about us facilitating spaces and places for people to come.”

Future leaders

Returning to the aforementioned Sunday evening services, Carl moves on to highlight a second element of fruitfulness for the church: the exciting opportunity to train future leaders.

“These smaller evening services offer young worship leaders and preachers a safe space to step up and have a go that is less intimidating than a larger venue.

“If we want to facilitate what God wants us to do in future, we need to grow, empower and release leaders.”

To this end, LGCC has placed a particular focus on encouraging fruit in young people who attend the three sites.

Next-gen leaders Dani Johnston and Joel Barrett have concentrated on building a strong sense of community through youthwork and on encouraging under-18s to serve in ministries across the church.

“We run a young leaders stream where from the age of 12 kids can get involved in serving,” said Carl.

“We have 15-20 kids who actively serve, whether that’s in our Limitless Kids, sound and production, hosting or other areas.”

On sound and production the majority of people who run our cameras are under 18.

And at Limitless Kids the young helpers wear T-shirts like the older team members and are given age-appropriate responsibilities.

“It’s so important because when you’re seven or eight, the leader you’re looking up to will typically be at least 20 years older than you.

“This way there’s relatability when these kids can see peers who are only a few years older than them serving Jesus in church.

“It sets a cultural dynamic and it’s cross-generational too.

Young people’s discipleship journeys are not the sole responsibility of youth leaders, but the whole church.”

Community activities

Beyond weekly church life, LGCC is also actively involved in the local community, where there has been opportunity for building fruitfulness too.

Its raft of activities include an annual Bright Lights Trail around Halloween, Christmas events, an inter-church school uniform bank and a weekly toddler group, Adventure Tots.

“We’ve been seeing more and more parents, guardians and carers bringing children along to Adventure Tots,” says Carl.

“To respond, we launched additional space for toddlers in January, particularly for those with special educational needs.

“People are craving safe spaces and healthy environments and it’s been a real God-given opportunity to us to love and care for our community through things like this.”

Carl hopes that, together, these moves will help the church and its activities grow throughout 2024.

“We’re asking ourselves what it looks like to grow disciples of Jesus who don’t just get stuck in their own worlds but are fruitful in their discipleship, in raising others and in reaching their communities, neighbourhoods and workplaces.

“This year is about mobilising the church to be bold and to be everything that God has called us to be.”

From Direction Magazine

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