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 Sabbatical 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 at 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 praying 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 about 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 thirsty 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 times 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. 

How Did You Help People Transition From a Big Church to a Church Plant?

  • Got help - mentored by Matt Hatch from Leeds, and the elders at Jubilee have been great.
  • It's hard to communicate to people both the amazing vision and the cost - it is hard to get it until you are there.
  • For a lot of people the journey isn't quite what you expect. 
  • Try to create a culture of vulnerability where you can express how hard it is. 
  • As leaders talk about how much you are feeling the cost and it will give permission to others to do likewise.
  • Door is always open for people to chat about how they are feeling.
  • At the same time trying to avoid people falling into cynicism, grumbling or disillusionment. 
  • Taking the difficulties to God. 

What Is Next?

  • Launching midweek community groups.
  • John has developed a plan for how to do this in a way that encourages both mission and discipleship.

Q&A

1. What ages are your children?
  • Seven and four.
2. How did you find the transition from being part of a leadership team to leading on your own?
  • They have a great team and lots of leaders in the church plant (which is not the case in all church plants).
  • It has been very easy to share the load with them. 
  • There is a great deal of loneliness.
  • At Jubilee there were always other leaders around to talk to.
  • John is now bivocational, and is fitting the church leadership into gaps around the other job, so there is less time to go see the leaders of Jubilee as things come up.
  • They have been intentional about providing this support for each other as a couple - it has transformed their marriage to see Abi drawn much more into the leadership.
  • Getting help from wherever they can.
3. What other practical things did you do to deal with the fears? 
  • Voice it and confess it. 
  • Spiritual discipline. 
  • A simple response to a fear of going out is making a point of going out once a week, having a walk and sitting in a greasy spoon and talking to someone. This shows the Holy Spirit that you want to change, and as you do this he changes you.
  • Often fear masquerades as wisdom - you can come up with wise-sounding reasons for things, when actually it is fear.
  • The best response is to keep coming to Jesus.
4. How have you managed the relationship with your sending church?
  • God gave a very clear vision for the church plant that was distinct from Jubilee's vision.
  • They have seen in multi-site churches that often the different gatherings develop their own distinct visions anyway, so decided it was best to just call it a different church.
  • It has been challenging to work out in the first year because of the proximity - you have left but you are still around.
  • It is also challenging to work out what the relationship with the leaders of Jubilee looks like.
  • At the moment it is legally one entity and John is still employed by Jubilee part-time.
  • It hasn't been a clean break, and good communication is key to making it work. 
  • It can be emotionally painful to hear about positive things happening at the sending church and not be around to be a part of it.
5. How many core people from Jubilee went with you?
  • About 25 adults.
  • Jubilee were very generous in being open to John and Abi speaking to anyone about going.
6. How have your kids coped with moving to the smaller church?
  • They love the church.
  • It helps that there are other kids the same age in the church. 
  • They talk to their friends at school about it. 
  • Moving house was hard. 
  • The school is more challenging, and they haven't made friends as readily as they did in their previous school. 
7. What would you say to someone who is interested in church planting?
  • Ask God about it!

Recommended Resources

To accompany this hangout, we recommend the following book:

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