Our First Year In Church Planting (with John & Abi Flavell)

In September of last year, Abi and John Flavell began gathering people to plant River City Church in Hull, and the church launched its first public meetings in February this year. In this Broadcast we interview John and Abi about their experiences in their first year of church planting.


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How Did You First Feel Called to Plant?

  • There were two parts to it.
  • The first was for the sending church (Jubilee Church Hull). This church was planted ten years ago, and after seven years the leader took a Sabattical and came to the conviction they should plant a church before their tenth anniversary.
  • He spoke to the elders and to the church, and people started praying about it and they got prophetic words that pointed to planting something quite close to Jubilee.
  • As they looked areas of their city, they were drawn to East Hull as there was a large population but very few churches. They then had prophetic words confirming this.
  • For John and Abi, there was also a process.
  • As an elder at Jubilee, John had been part of the decision making process about planting in East Hull, but he hadn't imagined going itself. He didn't feel equipped to lead a church plant and didn't really want to. 
  • Over lunch, Abi asked if they would be praying about going, and John said they wouldn't be going. Abi challenged him for having made a decision wihtout consulting the family and John repented.
  • They began raying about it and spending time exploring East Hull. Over time, God began to remove all the reasons for not going one by one.
  • On a family holiday in Norfolk they received prophetic direction that they should go, so they began working through what this would mean for them as a family.

What Is the Vision For the Church?

  • During the process of weighing up whether to go, God started to speak about what it could look like.
  • God spoke to Abi from quite a few Bible passages about water, and streams of living water flowing. John had also had a prophetic word abotu the church plant being one that brought streams of living water where it went. 
  • There is a vision to bring life, culture, freedom and all kinds of goodness to East Hull.
  • There are very few people in East Hull that go to church - but John and Abi believe that God wants to bring change to this area. And this change will come out of his presence. 
  • There are lots of thirst people around and they just need to meet them.
  • The vision is a thriving church, made up of the people who live in the area - bringing life and positivity to the downtrodden.

What Has Been Your Biggest Success Over the First Year?

  • Just had the first baptisms - four new Christians (all from East Hull) getting baptised.
  • They had been told that statistically most church plants don't see anyone saved in the first year. 
  • All four had come in different ways.
  • One was a friend of Abi's.
  • A couple came through leafletting, which they did following a recommendation from Pete Cornford at the Broadcast Church Planting Weekend.
  • The other was a person who had been through a tough time and was known to Jubilee, but lived much closer to the new plant so came along and they were able to help him piece his life back together again.

What Has Been the Biggest Challenge of the First Year? 

  • There is a big cost in terms of leaving friends, leaving Jubilee etc.
  • Moving the children into a more challenging school and moving the family into a more difficult area.
  • It has been emotionally up and down. There are time of self-doubt - and the whole team are looking to you for reassurance.
  • It's about hanging on to Jesus and every day and remembering that he has spoken.
  • Whenever we step into mission we will need to confront fear. John realised that there was still a lot of fear to confront. He had thought that coming was enough to confront the fear, but it is a constant fight. 
  • The temptation is to live in East Hull but hide away from it and not connect. 

Q&A

1. How can you transform a church that is currently attractional to be more 'everyday'?
  • You can start talking to the church about the issue.
  • Even if you start a church with an everyday focus, you need to work hard to keep this.
“It takes a long time to learn to do first-century community in a twenty-first century world .” (John Ortberg)
2. Why do you say that if you start with community you won't get mission, but you start with mission you will get community?
  • The key issue is discipleship.
  • We need to learn to live 'cruciform' lives.
  • Community feels comfortable, whereas mission can feel risky.
  • When your model of church only gives you short blocks of time together (e.g. Wednesday nights) you are sometimes forced to choose between mission and community. When you share your lives together this is much less of an issue.
3. How do you mobilise a group of people to be on mission but not exclude non-Christian guests who are with you on a Sunday? 
  • Visitors are often actually more interested in who we are than what we say. 
  • The community life of our church is key - and taking time in our meetings for chat, coffee and cakes is very important. Preachers (often wrongly) think that what we are saying is the most important feature of our church meeting.
  • Make an effort to keep your preaching accessible to everyone - keep your points short and punchy.
  • But don't view your meeting as primarily a guest service with your main teaching time elsewhere.
  • Because we are trying to get people engaged with our church community, our Sunday meeting will often be the last place that people find us - not the first.
4. As we emphasise the need to people to be on mission in their everyday lives, how do we ensure that we are also looking after people (especially vulnerable people)?
  • The leader shouldn't be the only discipler in the church - we should all be discipling each other.
5. How have you found reaching into different parts of society? The people we engage with everyday are often people who are very like us.
  • As you form a gospel community in an area, different members of that community are able to engage with different sections of society.

Recommended Resources

In this hangout, Howard recommended the following books: 

Note - If you buy these books using the affiliate links above, Broadcast will receive a commission from Amazon to help more churches get planted, at no additional cost to you.