The Pioneering Family (with Matt & Jo Simmonds)

In 2014, Jo and Matt Simmonds relocated from Brighton in the UK to Amsterdam in the Netherlands, leaving behind family, work and church in order to pioneer a new church plant - Liberty Church Amsterdam. Accompanying Matt and Jo on this adventure were four young daughters. In this hangout, we talk to Matt and Jo about their journey and what it means to be a pioneering family. 


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Tell Us About Your Family and Where You Are Living

  • Matt is married to Jo.
  • They have four daughters - aged 4, 6, 8 and 10.
  • Two years ago, the family moved from Brighton to Amsterdam.

How Did You End Up Moving to Amsterdam

  • Matt and Jo had talked about church planting from before they were married - God had already put it on both of their hearts.
  • They were in Bedford at the time, and then moved to Brighton to be involved with CCK and organising Newday. They were there for around 10 years and for part of this time, the church planting dream was not as prominent. 
  • About 5 years ago, God brought the dream to the fore again, and they felt led to Continental Europe (somewhere they had not thought of before).
  • They felt called to the Netherlands and so chose Amsterdam.
  • They took this to the elders ar CCK, and then spent a few years being trained and equipped to go.
  • They finally made the move in July 2014.

How Did You Prepare Your Children For the Move?

  • At the time they started feeling provoked to go, CCK became multi-site, so Matt and Jo joined one of the new sites.
  • To the kids, this seems like a new church - so Matt and Jo used it as an opportunity to introduce them to the idea of moving on.
  • When it became time to go, there was a song that they had sang in the kids work that says, 'When God says go, we go; when God says march, we march.' They explained to the kids that God had said go, and the kids found faith in this.
  • The process of getting the kids ready for the move happened over a couple of years. 

What Were the First Two or Three Months in Amsterdam Like?

  • They didn't know anybody when they first moved.
  • They had started a regular Google Hangout with a few others who felt called before they went.
  • Ten days after Jo and Matt Simmonds, another family also moved from Englad, and then 2 months later another one too.
  • The kids started going to a language school. The third daughter went straight into a dutch school though she didn't understand the language.
  • These challenges caused Matt to ask questions of what they were doing - especially seeing how much the kids missed their friends.
  • They tried to speak hope into the kids as much as possible.

What Were Some of the Low Moments?

  • About two months after the move, one of their daughters was crying at school, and the teacher didn't really know how to help. Matt was praying about it, and God spoke through Matthew 9:14, saying that he cared for the kids even more than Matt did.
  • They had sold the car and bought a bakfiet to get around - and then it got stolen. They didn't have enough money to buy a new one, so they were praying for God to either give them money to buy a new one, or for them to get the bike back.
  • It seemed like lots of prayers were going unanswered at this time - and this one seemed symbolic of them all!
  • Matt prayed from Habakkuk 1, 'How long shall I wait?' - he found some encouragement in the rest of the chapter.
  • The next day, the police called them and had found the bike. From this point on, it seemed like lots more prayers got answered.

What Were the Early Days of the Church Like?

“When you're going overseas, allow a year to move house .” (Terry Virgo)
  • In the first year, the main goal was to move house and to settle the family. 
  • In the first few months, all they did was eat together.
  • After 3 months, they started a prototype service in their apartment for about an hour, and then they still ate together - they tried not to put pressure on this time.
  • They tried to get the kids involved and to help them feel part of it. 

How Did the Kids Cope With This?

  • There were normally 20-25 people (30 max), of which 8-12 were kids.
  • Matt and Jo have a reasonably spacious apartment, but it was still a squeeze. 
  • It was quite exhausting.
  • They had tried to prepare the kids beforehand by always having people around. 
  • Sometimes the kids (especially the eldest) just needed some space. They gave her grace for this and let her head upstairs with a book or computer when she needed to (even in the middle of an event).

What Was the Next Major Change For the Church Plant?

  • They spent a year meeting in an apartment and then rented a building in the city centre.
  • They decided to meet every Sunday morning. 
  • It was 3-4 months before they got any traction. 
  • Little by little they were able to add some people and get some momentum
  • They made a point of celebrating the ones and twos that came along. 

What Did You Do Regarding Breaks and Holidays?

  • They used the move to Amsterdam as an opportunity - in Brighton the diaries had been busy, but now they had lots of free evenings and weekends.
  • They did a lot of family things with this time, explored the city and took the kids to exciting places.
  • Holidays were a challenge - they did want to go back to England to see people, but they also wanted to take breaks where they were.
  • They were advised not to take the kids back to England too soon, so they left it a year to allow them to be as settled as possible before going back. 
  • They had lots of people come to visit them in the Netherlands. 

Tell Us Some of the Things You Enjoy About Amsterdam

  • They tried to find lots of things they like - food, things to do, etc.
  • Amsterdam is made for cycling, so they cycle everywhere. It is peaceful and relaxing. 
  • There is lots to do for families.
  • There are lots of art galleries.
  • There are beautiful canals.
  • They got to experience being tourists in their own city.

How Are You Going About Learning the Language?

  • The kids learned it quickly (though it didn't seem like this at the time!) The girls were fluent speakers within a year - this did mean they were a little behind at school because they had focussed on language learning.
  • Jo is just now starting a course and Matt will start the same course in the new year.
  • In Amsterdam, everyone speaks English, and all of the biggest churches in the city are in English (and the congregations are still majority Dutch).
  • In many places, it wouldn't be as easy to skip the language learning stage.

Where Is the Church Up to at the Moment?

  • From October to February, they were constantly gathering 25-30 people, including kids.
  • Sometimes, all you need is a key family, individual or couple to turn up and this gives you some momentum. 
  • Over the last 7-8 months, they have doubled in size.

Describe the Bakfiet That Was Stolen and Found

  • It has a box on the front, a wheel and the front and a wheel at the back. There is a bench and space for someone to squat down, plus a seat behind the cyclist.
  • It is very heavy.
  • When they first arrived, they could fit all four girls on it - but now they have grown, it is probably only 3.
  • It is a 'people carrier bike'.

Q&A

1. How much of a gameplan did you have at the start?
  • Matt wrote a 15-year plan for the church.
  • He broke it down into stages - 0-2 years, 2-5 years and 5-15 years and elaborated the first stage with key goals.
  • He didn't put too much pressure on this, but after 2 years they have achieved those goals. 
  • There will always be things that happen that you can't plan for. It is very important to have people to turn to at those times.
2. Did you do a lot of research before you went?
  • Yes. Matt had always felt called to church planting so had tried to absorb as much information as he could.
  • After the move, they tried to meet with as many church leaders and planters in the city to learn from their experience.
3. What has it been like building links with the other churches?
  • They were looking for people who could give them advice, and also looking for friends.
  • They got a lot of advice - but more of it was discouraging than encouraging.
  • They didn't find many people they could call friends, but they made a point of investing as much as possible with those they did find.
4. How did you know that you had a call to church planting and to Amsterdam?
  • At the age of 13, Jo had church planted with her family. She wasn't enthusiastic at the time, but God did something through it - she was given lots of opportunities to do things and felt like one day she wanted to do it herself. The sense of calling grew from there.
  • Matt had grown up in a Newfrontiers setting, which has church planting in its DNA. As a teenager, he had always assumed this is what Christians are supposed to do (and reading Acts confirmed this). 
  • Whenever he heard people talking about church planting, he always wanted to hear more. 
  • His parents had been involved in church planting when he was young.
5. How did you recruit the first couple of families who came with you?
  • A mixture of things.
  • They announced their intention to go a year before they left and they picked up a few people who were interested.
  • They recruited one family.
  • Another family had already planned on moving and wanted to be in a church plant, but not lead one - they were very relieved to hear that Matt and Jo were going!
  • For many Dutch people, Amsterdam doesn't have a great reputation - one guy was challenged about this attitude and so moved back from South Africa to Holland to join it.
  • They held an Amsterdam day 6 months before moving. About 10 people came along who they were sure would join.
  • They then set up a regular Google hangout that cemented everyone's involvement and helped them to get to know each other.
6. How has Jo handled the experience as a mother of seeing her girls deal with the transition?
  • It's hard.
  • They wanted to be protective.
  • The experience actually reveals a lot of what God is like to us.
  • She is very proud of what God is doing in them.
  • It makes her realise the goodness of God.
  • It is putting church planting in their DNA - just like Matt and Jo both got it from their own parents.
7. What support have you had for yourselves from individuals and churches?
  • Jo facetimes every week with an older Christian friend in the UK who she used to meet up with. This friend has also been out to visit them. 
  • They are still in touch with the team back in Brighton.
  • Having other church planters that you can be in touch with is really helpful. They will probably have very similar experiences. A lot of the challenges are common to many church plants. (For more on this point, click here).
  • You need to learn how to feed yourself and establish new rhythms.
8. As well as Habakkuk, did you have any other keystone verses?
  • Hebrews 11
  • Jude 23
  • Proverbs 3:5-6
  • Romans 8:28
9. What encouragements would you give to those who are just on the cusp of church planting?
  • Lean on the fact that God said that he would build his church - and we get to join him in it.
  • For people with a family, it might not seem like the right time. In a way, it is never the right time - but if God is in it, it is never the wrong time. 
  • See it as a shared calling of the whole family - in the early stages the hardest things were done by the kids rather than Matt and Jo.
  • One of the main ways to interact with people who don't know Jesus is through the school. 
10. What were some of the ways you got your kids involved in the church?
  • They help put out the chairs, the song words and the business cards.
  • They share their home with people.
  • They share their mum and dad on Sunday mornings. 
  • Matt and Jo try to help them see what God is doing and celebrate with them.

Recommended Resource

For more on pioneering church planting, we recommend the following book:

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