Leslie Lucas, Chairman of Church Growth since its inception, reflects on the past and considers the possibilities for the future.
“Everything begins with an idea” someone said. Church Growth Trust (CGT) is God’s idea from sometime before 1906 when the East of England Evangelization Trust (EEET) was founded to hold independent church properties, typically Gospel Halls. The Trust changed its name to the United Kingdom Evangelization Trust (UKET), now known as Stewardship.
I joined the Council of UKET in 1982 and some years later became Chairman. The properties were administered by the Property Committee, a board committee, and it was during the time I chaired the Property Committee our first part time Property Manager, Giles Arnold was recruited. What stands out in my mind was Giles declaring his passion to see church properties used to their full potential, and that passion has not changed.
One of the big challenges for the Property Committee was how to respond when an assembly was at the point of closure and the building would become vacant.
We discovered it was God’s idea to retain properties as places of worship and outreach by making them available for evangelical Christian groups to rent. Humanly speaking, once sold off to become “wine bars and warehouses” the cost of purchase of a building in the locality would be unaffordable.
104 years after the founding of EEET the Council of Stewardship recognised that its prime mission was to focus on gift aid services. It was decided by the Council to transfer the church properties into a separate charitable company named the Church Growth Trust (CGT). The Property Committee members became the first directors and trustees of CGT and Giles became our General Manager. We continued to support church planting as a member of Church Planting Initiative (CPI) in place of Stewardship.
Looking back over the past eight years, we can see CGT was God’s idea, and its ministry has been blessed. A significant step was for the Midland Evangelization Trust (MET) in 2012 to merge its properties into CGT and we were further blessed with Neil Walker and Dave Foster joining the CGT board. Growth brought Giles from a part time General Manager, supported by Mandy Harris in the office, to become our full time Chief Executive. CGT’s services became more widely recognised and to be better able to respond we recruited Gill Pedler as our in-house Architect and more recently John Duffield as our Property Manager.
In September, much to my surprise, I will attain age 75 and at the next AGM I will retire from CGT as a trustee and Chairman. For me, it is the end of an episode in my life that began 36 years ago. Stewardship and Church Growth Trust have been team efforts; finding God’s way as a team of trustees and executives. The cohesion of the team was bound by the sense of vision and a determination to achieve under God the mission that is accomplishing His purposes. I will leave the team, but the team will not leave.
It is said “Vision is caught” and over the next few years we plan to visit our church properties for something more than a routine inspection. We want to bring the architectural eye and help each church leadership and congregation cast a vision for how the building could be made more suitable as a modern place of worship and a centre of mission into the locality: the vision for a building that is relevant, attractive, accessible and fit for purpose. From when I first met Giles 15 years ago, the passion for church properties to be used to their full potential for Kingdom purposes has not diminished and CGT’s mission to bring this about will continue into the next stage of its journey.
Many leaders and congregations will be excited about a new vision for the buildings and will open up a new vision for mission in their localities. This will bring challenges, especially resource needs: finance and people. How will CGT respond? We will do so by helping churches in whatever way we can; sometimes by advice and design; sometimes by financing building projects. We have strong relationships with organisations of a similar heritage supporting local churches in leadership, evangelism and church planting. I anticipate our shared ambition to help churches grow will be a catalyst for bringing together our different missions to share in the enabling of making buildings of excellence for the excellent work of making disciples.
Oh yes – retirement is also God’s idea! It makes room for new trustees with their unique experiences to join the team and share in the mission. “Retirement” does not mean idleness: God always opens new doors!