Diary of a Church Planter (by Mark Landreth-Smith)

Mark Landreth-Smith is currently planting Bridge Church in Newbury, West Berkshire. He is ably assissted by his wife Beverley and daughter Phoebe. Before that, Mark was involved in planting churches in Chertsey, Farnham and Cambeley in the UK.

In this diary, Mark recorded some of the significant highs and lows of the year of planting the Bridge Church.


Week 1 - Where Is Everything?

Boxes everywhere following the move from Camberley to Newbury - added fun for Christmas; Bev and I calling to each other "where is the...?"; no internet or phone line at home for 2 weeks; broken mobile phone, in fact lots of broken things, but happy to be in Newbury planting a church. Strange going from a large church to a very small one - meeting in a home; strange going from lots of people coming round and the phones going a lot to things being quieter. I am quite sure that all this will change and this time next year I will be writing about the wonderful things God has done and how Bridge Church Newbury has grown. In the meantime, walking down the High Street anonymously is a novelty. Starting to meet people though - been to 2 other church services, 2 gyms, walking a lot to get to know my new surroundings and did I mention the library...my new office.


Week 2 - A Bit of a Squish

Still getting to know my new surroundings, whilst setting up a new home and trying to work out who is with us (as opposed to just looking) - I also realise it can take time for people to decide to be with you, especially a new church without the resources and ministries associated with an established church. Lots of conversations about Vision and Values, Newfrontiers, Commission and the Holy Spirit... We had a good first Sunday morning though with 25 adults (5 from the LS family) and 10 children; a bit of a squish in a home so we are on the lookout for a rented facility this week - sooner than I had first thought. During our Hopes and Dreams we as a family we shared what size the Newbury church would be by the end of the year - mine was the lowest figure: "...dad, where is your faith?" came the shrill retort.


Week 4 - Cup Cakes & Brownies

One of the great things about Beverley is that she bakes - and bakes great cupcakes and chocolate brownies. This week, as a way of getting to know the neighbours, we took a basketful of Bev's baking to the neighbours. They loved it, we got invited in, chatted and made friends. I went to the local leisure centre and found a vets 5-a-side football team (vets being older people, not animal doctors!) to join. We are beginning to meet people. As the church was squished last Sunday in a house we moved to The Waterside Centre this week, a youth centre in the centre of Newbury. It worked well and more people came. Now I need to get my head round insurance, copyright and CCL, Safeguarding and of course a bank account. I also introduced myself to the local MP, councillor and newspaper editor; in fact I am in the paper next week.


Week 6 - It Takes Time

We are getting there...getting to know our way around, getting to know people, getting to feel more at home. It takes time. It takes time to let everybody know you have moved and to give them your new address. It takes time to make a house a home. The bedrooms are nearly done, the lounge is nearly done, the garage is not - still lots of piles and boxes. We are enjoying our new surroundings - on Sunday we went for a walk from our house in Newbury and saw a deer, an egret and a brown trout. Lovely. The small-group-that-will-become-a-church is in that funny dating period - do I want to be with them or not...? It takes time.


Running For the Kingdom

I think I might have over done it this week - Park Run (with 500 others); tennis, squash, 5 a side football, swimming plus walking the dog each day...my body aches. In moving to a new town to plant a church it is important to meet people and make new friends. The most natural way for me to do that is through sport. I have met someone from my old school (running), someone who lives round the corner from me (football), someone who is going through a very difficult time, someone who produces the BBC 6 o'clock news (squash) and someone who has both daughters getting married in the next 6 months (swimming). All very worthwhile but I wonder if there is a less physically demanding way to make new friends...?


Firsts

I saw my first stoat recently. I have never seen one before and there it was walking alongside me on a West Berkshire foot path. A stoat is a lot like a weasel. I also came face to face with my first muntjac deer. In the church we had our first Bridge Kids Team meeting this week. Beverley has done a great job being out with the children every Sunday. We regularly have 12 children on a Sunday morning, so now we have a Team. I am also looking forward to our first Baptismal meeting on 10th May with 4 young people getting baptised - a very happy first indeed. It will be our first open-air baptism.


Learning Latin

Plantatio Ecclesiae means church planting in Latin. Church planting you see, is not new. In the 16th century plantatio ecclesiae was part of the church's strategy for reaching the world. It still is, but we would do well to remember it is not a new, trendy phenomena. For hundreds of years people have been talking about and engaging in church planting. Missio Dei is another useful Latin phrase - the mission of God. Literally, God is on a mission and we join Him in His mission, It does not start with us. It starts with Him. Learning the meaning of these helpful Latin phrases keeps us humble.

“Missio Dei proclaims that the omnipresent, omnipotent God is already working his purposes out wherever any team seeks to plant churches. Planting churches is part, not all, of the Mission of God.” (Norman McCorkell - Foundation for Church Planting)

Finding the Spirit

It takes a little while for a new group of people to feel comfortable together. It also takes a little while to be open together as a new church to the Holy Spirit (God being present powerfully in a holy form) and to be free to respond to Him. On Sunday I felt we had something of a breakthrough - a relaxed, but powerful time of worship, enjoying the Holy Spirit and responding to Him. The worship flowed, contributions were great, prayer was easy and natural - the Holy Spirit was near. I look forward to more.


A Lot to Learn

I have a lot to learn. In planting churches I have discovered that different towns can have their own culture. It is important to recognise and understand something of that culture. Part of the culture in Newbury is horse racing. I know very little about horse racing but in the small, young Bridge Church Newbury we have a man who rides retired race horses, another former show-jumper and another polo player. I live near Lambourne (home to 1,500 race horses) and not far from the Balding family. My neighbour explained to me how a former race horse, like Kuato star, can be re-trained for dressage. I am out of my depth and have a lot to learn.


Surprised

I am grateful and surprised. I am grateful that God has gone before us in many ways and has blessed us with a nice new home in the lovely town of Newbury, set in beautiful West Berkshire countryside. I am grateful for the group of good new friends gathered to plant Bridge Church Newbury with us. I am grateful for my positive, energetic, creative wife. I am grateful for the support of Camberley, Newfrontiers and Commission. I am surprised too - surprised that so many have gathered so quickly, surprised that I have to look for a bigger room to rent, surprised and pleased to meet some key people like Andy the editor of Newbury News, surprised to have the call to appear live on BBC Radio Berkshire on Sunday. Grateful and surprised by many things....


What They Don't Teach You At Leadership School

Hiring buildings and facilities - one of those important elements of leadership most Leadership Training courses ignore. This week I have been driving round Newbury looking at buildings, talking to care-takers, bookings administrators, managers and our children's team working out where Bridge Church Newbury can meet on Sundays. Presently, we meet at Waterside Centre Newbury which is a good central location but not available every week. Cost, availability, set-upbreak down, car parking, temperature, acoustics, access, toilets, safeguarding - some of the considerations for a meeting place. So for Sundays 8th and 22nd February we will be meeting in Newbury Town hall. Great venue.


Six Months On - Grateful

It has been 6 months now being in Newbury planting Bridge Church. My overwhelming feeling is one of gratitude. I am grateful that, despite the upheaval of moving, my family are doing well (now scattered in Newbury, Farnham, Camberley and London). I am grateful that we have had a good start as a new church - 75 last week. I am grateful for the fun mix of people that God has brought to us and some of the gifts and talents in those people. We can build a church. I am grateful for the support of Camberley and Commission and for friends who have come to visit. For those who have phoned, texted to cheer us on. I grateful that I live in a nice place. I am grateful I have such an adventurous wife. Grateful indeed.


Eight Months On - The Revolving Door

So we have gathered a good group of different people in Newbury. Different ages and ethnic backgrounds. A few have come to faith in Christ. 5 have been baptised. Several have moved house to Newbury to be part of the new church. (Amazing!) Lots of people are enthusiastic and helping everywhere. Westpoint was great. We are in our 4th Sunday venue to make more room. God has been kind to us. We also have an active revolving door - people coming and people going. Some coming to have a look...some staying. A few have left over the summer (ouch). As long as we talk about those things, leave well and find another church to call home we will all be OK...


Nine Months On - When The Numbers Go Up and Down

I still can't quite understand it. One week we had 80 on a Sunday morning, the next Sunday we had 50 - and it is not the school holidays. Was my preaching that bad? Did they all choose the same we in September to go away? What happened?

The fluctuations of church plant attendance can be the stuff of mournful Sunday afternoons, introspection and a gnawing sense of failure. Sometimes there just doesn't seem to be a reason why we have a dip. At such times, we have a reality check, we tell a friend, we pick ourselves up, dust down, pick up The Bible again, kneel down once more and remind ourselves: Who it is for and Who is in charge...


Ten Months On - It Is Fun!

It is fun planting a church. It is fun getting to know new people and a new town and the new walks. It is fun not really knowing what is going to happen next - or who is going to show up. It is fun not being in control. It is fun turning up early on a Sunday morning with a good-hearted gang to get the school ready. It is fun the meals together. It is fun the prayer meetings, sensing what God might be saying. It is fun playing tennis for a new club and 5-a-side football with a new bunch of dads. It is fun trusting God for everything.


Eleven Months - Learning to Walk

Planting a church is a little like having a baby. At first there is birth - some pain, wonder, beauty, vulnerability, reliance, some cooing, lots of attention, maybe even some wind! Triumphs and mistakes. Joy and inconvenience. Teething troubles and great fun. Laughter and tears. After 11 months a baby has changed quite a bit, in looks and ability. Maybe even some faltering steps as legs gain strength and confidence grows. I feel a bit like that in Newbury now. The baby is growing and changing. Folks who were with us at the start have moved on; others have joined. Muscles strengthened. The church has grown and starting to stand on its feet. Leaders emerging. Early steps but evidence of strength and growth. I am enjoying watching the baby grow and learning to walk...


First Christmas

The first Christmas Sunday event with our new friends at Bridge Church Newbury was a Walk Through Nativity. Beverley choreographed a fun and poignant morning. Lots of folk dressed up. Phoebe LS did a great job interspersing scenes with carols and worship. Silent Night with the lights down low...wow. We also had our new neighbours round - 10 households. It was standing room only as friendships were renewed and new ones made. Christmas Day was special too with a surprising number of guests and visitors - great Christmas worship with our new friends. Well worth the complicated negotiations with the school. New church, first Christmas - great fun.


When People Leave

One year on, I think I have a reasonable idea of who the core group of the new church are. To be honest, there has been quite a lot of coming and going during the first year. Several people stayed for some months, you build relationship, share lives, get to like them, see the potential, then... they leave. Ouch. It is painful. Some have left for other (larger) churches, others now go no-where. I am still learning to release people to God's grace, to pray blessing upon them and hope they find the right place in God for them. I am quite sure, this year too, some will come and some will go...


Working With Other Churches

It is worth it. It takes time. Sometimes it is frustrating. It teaches you things. It is the right thing to do. It is powerful. Working with other churches is all of those things. Especially as a new church in town, it is important early on, to be open, build good relationships and support what God is already doing in your town. God has been at work for hundreds of years in your town before you arrived - He still is at work through His people, in many churches, faithfully serving Him. On Sunday evening we had The Gathering - hundreds gathered from the different churches to worship together and celebrate what God is doing in West Berkshire. It is worth it. It is good.