Putting church buildings back into Gospel use

Church Growth Trust have helped with two projects over the last few years that have seen redundant church buildings restored to their former Gospel use. Ruth Leigh investigates.

St Werburgh’s Derby

Church Growth Trust is driven by the desire to see church buildings being reclaimed or continuing to be used for Gospel purposes. A Victorian church building in Derby, which has had a rather bumpy ride, is now being transformed into a hub for outreach and discipleship. Leader Phil Mann takes up the story.

“I’m from the Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) church plant team. We get lots of people writing to us at HTB asking us to partner with them. The rule is that we need a bishop, a building and a leader.” Bishop Alastair Redfern, the Bishop of Derby, wrote to Nicky Gumbel and asked for a church plant in Derby. He had St Werburgh’s in mind and after a while, Phil was asked to be the leader. The three essential elements were in place, so the hard work could begin.

The building had previously housed a Chinese restaurant and an indoor market and had been empty for seven years. “Fortunately, the basics of the building were good. The roof was fine and although some parts were in slight disrepair, what we actually had to focus on was the interior. We installed new electrics, a sound system and a stage, got chairs and replumbed the loos. However, we felt that we were camping, as we were waiting for Listed Building Consent to do all the work.”

Church Growth Trust Architect Gill Pedler has been working closely with the St Werburgh’s team. “The main stumbling block was getting Listed Building Consent. I had to work hard on that. With every planning department, there are always delays and often it makes our lives quite difficult, but it was finally granted at the end of June. Beforehand, we were busy getting everything arranged, obtaining quotes from builders and ticking all the boxes, so that when we did get approval, we were able to get going.”

Building and Fire Regulations have taken up a lot of Gill’s time. “This is always a challenge with listed buildings – meeting with current regulations, whilst trying to keep any additions freestanding and not fixed to the original structure. It’s tough, but we are getting there.” Phil and his team opened the doors of St Werburgh’s in September 2017 with a clear vision. “The goals set by the diocese are around mission to young people. The church building is located bang smack in the middle of the nightlife area of the city. We are surrounded by pubs and clubs, and there are many thousands of students living in this area. Of course, we are open to everyone, but our heart and vision is for youth.”

The team have taken a three term approach. “We did one evening service and a mid-week prayer meeting, then went big on Christmas in our first term,” Phil explains. “In our second term, we added in a morning service and ran Alpha. This term, we’ve started up 10 small groups, we’re running a second Alpha and doing children’s work in a rented building two doors down from the church building.” Working as an integral part of the team, Project Manager Jenny Boughton took a year’s sabbatical from work to get the church building up and running. “I’ve found it a real journey of faith. God has kept on providing the people and the skills when I needed them. It’s been amazing to work on a project like that rather than relying on sheer willpower.”

Jenny has saved the project considerable amounts of outlay by thinking outside the box. “Rather than going to the retailers every time, I have spent a lot of time on eBay picking up end of line items. We got all the loos, hand dryers and basins that way.” Working at St Werburgh’s has been a new kind of experience for Jenny. “It’s almost like doing church at a festival, but indoors! People aren’t coming for the building, they’re coming for the community. I would encourage any project manager to think about taking a sabbatical as it’s such a good way to serve. If God wants you to do something, He’ll help you.”

Phil has the last word. “We’ve gone from a building that hasn’t been used by a church for 30 years, to a place where around 250 come every week. People are finding faith, a hope and a home. We’re caring for the widow and orphan, feeding the poor and marginalised and extending hospitality to the refugee, which is what God wants.” As St Werburgh’s continues to wait on God for its every need, Church Growth Trust praise God for this creative and Spirit-filled reclamation of a church building.


Windmill Community Church, Wolverhampton

What do you do if you decide to plant a new church and no one comes? If you are Terry and Margaret Wilkes, you keep going until they do. Windmill Community Church was planted in Wolverhampton in September 2013. “There were four of us at the time. We put a sign outside, but nobody came! That’s when we decided to go out on the streets and meet our community face-to-face, and now we’ve got a growing congregation approaching 40.”

Terry and Margaret’s can-do attitude is transforming their community as Terry explains. “We do a lot of door to door work and this is really bearing fruit. One of our guys goes out to the pubs and betting shops and draws men into our Fathers Group. We’ve got 10 men who have attended the weekly parenting course for three months and they have now joined our Alpha course.”

Windmill has new converts and others have come back to their faith. “We have a lovely lady who used to go to church when she was young. She had drifted away, but then she lost her husband and was very lonely. She was praying for a loving church and at that very moment, we put an invite through her door. It’s wonderful to see her strengthened faith.”

The church meets at a local school, but recently the congregation have bought a redundant church building which has lain empty for 20 years. St Thomas Church, Finchfield is a Victorian building in the heart of the community, next to a huge Lidl supermarket where 4,000 shoppers visit each week. As Terry explains: “The Lord has worked mightily in our journey towards purchasing the church building. When there were only 20 of us in the congregation, we met and prayed about buying the building and our members gave £80,000. Over the past seven months, a total of £235,000 has been given, including that initial donation. We were still £15,000 short, and to our amazement, an anonymous cheque for exactly that amount came through our letterbox. We give praise and glory to God for this wonderful provision of the building, but more importantly for giving us a passion to reach the lost.”

The congregation have been working with Gill Pedler, the Chartered Architect at Church Growth Trust. “We have helped Windmill with advice on architectural support and planning. One of the difficulties has been the parking situation. The site is long and thin and the land behind it is very overgrown. We did a deal with the neighbouring Lidl and created some extra parking with reserved spaces for the church. Terry is doing all the organising with the help of local volunteers, so we are very happy to support him, provide a listening ear and help with the planning aspects. St Thomas is a locally listed building and therefore is of local interest. Many builders in Wolverhampton have tried to acquire it for housing over the past 20 years after it closed as a place of worship. However, the building is very fondly regarded in the community and they have supported the Windmill project. It’s been a pleasure

Terry has an excellent relationship with Church Growth Trust. “They’ve been amazing! Giles has spent a lot of time with us, helping with the legal and property side and unravelling many knotty problems. He’s also offered us advice about our charity status. Gill is invaluable and has given us dedicated support. CGT have stuck with us through the difficult times and really been there for us. Without their expertise, it’s doubtful the acquisition and build would have been achieved.”

Giles concurs: “We are delighted to have been able to help. This is the work God has called us to, in helping independent churches with their property and charity matters. Our help is in many ways very practical, but we are so encouraged by the faith of faithful men and women in local churches reaching their community with the Good News and it’s a great privilege to be part of this Kingdom work. It is great to see churches that are growing, bucking the trend in this country. I have particularly enjoyed seeing Windmill Community Church grow as Terry and Margaret have been church planters that we have supported directly and through Church Planting Initiative.”

“There has been a lot of work needed on the building,” Terry explains. “We’ve underpinned and piled it, plastered out internally, put on a new roof, created a little kitchen and a rear extension. We’re aiming to be ready to open by September. It is wonderful that the local community have supported us 100 per cent.”

Once the church building is ready, Windmill will be moving in and continuing to love and minister to their community. “We are very much a family church. We believe love is the greatest gift. We meet people where they are, and we never judge anyone. Our role is to accept people and lead them into a closer walk with Jesus.” Full of faith and ready to go where God leads, Windmill Community Church will soon be putting up more signs. In the future, they are likely to be holding two morning services, and no doubt, many people will come.

Windmill Community Church photography by James Bastable.

St Werburgh’s Derby

"I’ve found it a real journey of faith. God has kept on providing the people and the skills when I needed them. It’s been amazing to work on a project like that rather than relying on sheer willpower." Project Manager Jenny Boughton, St Werburgh's

Setting up each week - a problem with not having your own building.

Terry and Margaret Wilkes outside St Thomas.

Repainted and redecorated - almost ready for use.