Why our focus is on ‘growing small’

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As Derby City Church welcomes dozens of new faces, it is being intentional about doing things in smaller groups. Pastor Andy Lenton (pictured above, inset) explains how.

“We’ve had more than 100 new people join us in the past two years,” says Derby City Church pastor Andy Lenton.

That’s why, as the congregation has grown across all age groups, the church’s leadership team have been pondering the best way to maintain its friendly and well-connected feel.

The situation Derby City’s leaders find themselves in now is very different to when Andy and his wife Lisa joined the church three years ago.

“We came halfway through Covid, just after the previous pastor Dave Ayling had passed away suddenly,” Andy explains.

“It was a grieving church and they’d gone straight from losing Dave into lockdown. It was a double-whammy and a really tough time.

“Our associate pastor Dan Hudson was running things and had done a fantastic job, but at the time he was still training as a minister.

“That’s why we came, and I’ll admit it was quite a scary situation to come into.”

Andy and Lisa’s 25 years of experience pastoring in Leeds helped as they found their feet.

It has proved invaluable over the past couple of years too as the church has grown in numbers and nationalities.

“Our church in Leeds was a lot bigger but interestingly Derby is a mini version of what we had there.

“In Leeds we had around 75 nationalities and in Derby we have climbed to the mid-30s and become a very international church.”

Andy and his team are enjoying the opportunity this creates to build a truly intercultural congregation.

“It’s great learning from other cultures as people pray and sing worship songs in their own languages and we’re trying to reflect our different nationalities in our worship and life groups and everything else we do.”

Growth has come from other avenues too. The 100 new people Andy mentions include new Christians, several of whom have connected with Derby City Church via its Next Steps seekers group.

This means that church groups across the board are expanding.


“Our youth and children’s work is growing and our Thursday group for older people is at capacity at 70 people.

“Our students and young adults group, which started in Dan Hudson’s home, now has 30 people, so they’ve moved to one of the church lounges to fit everyone in.”

And when Derby City’s Sunday service got to standing room only at Christmas, Andy and the team decided it was time to act. Last month they launched an evening service.

“It helps with our numbers, but it’s also given us the chance to do something new,” says Andy.

“We wanted to innovate rather than replicate so we’re doing things differently in the evenings. We have the same sermon, but the rest is different in feel and style.”

As numbers increase, Andy is keen to maintain the warmth, connections and relationships Derby City has always enjoyed, and is using a current theme in the church to achieve this.

“Even though we’re growing rapidly our theme is ‘growing small’. That’s because when you have a lot of new people coming in quickly it changes the church.

“If you’re not careful you go from being a very friendly place to one where people don’t know each other very well.

“This year we’re being very intentional about doing more things in smaller groups to create relationships.

“Obviously that includes introducing people to life groups, but it also means doing fun things together – having meals, going for walks, hiring bouncy castles in church for young families and so on.

“The idea is to do things where people who have seen each other on Sundays but don’t know each other’s names can get to know one another.”


While Derby City has been nurturing its congregation in these ways, it has also been developing its community outreach.

Last year it renovated a building at the back of the church, which is now home to Rebuild, a charity which works with people caught in trafficking and sexual exploitation.

“It’s been a brilliant way of impacting our community and our congregation has been so supportive, raising £30,000 towards the renovations,” says Andy.

The church’s food bank and Hope Store are also providing much-needed services.

“We give away around 2,500 food parcels a year to almost 600 people – sadly, we have a queue down the street every week and it’s growing.

“People can just take food if they choose but we’re trying to help them out of needing food banks so we also encourage them to sit with us or Citizens Advice, who come here too. We try to signpost people to agencies which can help with debt and housing problems.”

Meanwhile, at the church’s Hope Store, clothing, bedding, cooking equipment and utensils are distributed to help people settle into new homes.

Andy is glad to see the church having an increasing impact locally.

He is thrilled to see how far things have come since the pandemic.

“When I first got here people had gone through some hard times, yet it’s true that those who suffer the most often shine the best.

“There’s a real culture of support, love and care here and I’d say the growth we’ve seen recently is the direct result of that.”

From Direction Magazine

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