News Library

Christmas countdown – practical tips for church event planning

The holiday season is a time of joy and celebration for Christian communities all around the world. For independent evangelical churches, planning Christmas events is a significant undertaking, and careful consideration is essential to ensure that the festivities run smoothly and safely.

In this guide, we provide you with top tips for planning your Christmas events, focusing on the key considerations around your building.

Reviewing Fire Risk Assessments – If your Christmas event involves hosting larger numbers than usual, reviewing your fire risk assessments is crucial. Double-check that all your certificates and safety measures are in place. Ensure that everyone knows how to exit the building in case of an emergency, especially when using candles in services such as Christingle. Also, arrange for appliances and boilers to be checked in the autumn ready for Christmas.

Provide guidance for newcomers – People who are new to a meeting may feel uncertain about the proceedings, making it essential to provide clear guidance from the start. Information regarding when to stand, sit, toilet locations, and what to do at the end of the meeting all contribute to the seamless flow of the event.

First aid preparation – Check your first aid kit to ensure it is complete and up to date. Identify who your designated first aiders are and evaluate whether you need one on-site for larger events. Safety should always be a top priority.

Health and safety – There are many things that you can and should do to keep people safe. All churches, places of worship and their associated activities are different, and what works well for one will not be the same for all. The Safer Places of Worship website provides a good introduction to the most important parts of health and safety legislation – Health & safety obligations – Safer Places of Worship (spow.co.uk)

Accessibility audit –To welcome all members of your community, conduct an accessibility audit. This ensures that your building is accessible to everyone, including those with mobility challenges. Ensure that entrances and exits are accessible and consider the use of ramps or other accommodations.

Insurance – It is important to contact your insurance provider if you are planning an event that could be classified as safety-critical or hazardous. They will advise whether there is enough liability cover in place.

Food and drink safety – If your event includes serving hot food and drinks, pay close attention to food safety and hygiene. Make sure your team follows proper food handling procedures, and if applicable, obtain the necessary permits Church Growth Trust has recently updated its briefing paper on this subject – click here to download it.

Traffic and parking management – Plan for the flow of traffic and parking, especially for larger gatherings. Ensure there is sufficient access for emergencies and consider overflow parking options to minimise disruptions to your neighbours.

Be prepared for the weather! – It is important to be ready for adverse weather conditions. Have salt available for clearing paths and ensure that outside lights are working to prevent accidents. Double-check that all your certificates and safety measures are in place. Check your entrance and exit paths broken slabs and uneven paths, to minimise the risks of falls.

Preserving history and ensuring safety: Restoration works in Lewisham

In the heart of Lewisham stands Loampit Gospel Hall, a modest three-story testament to the Gospel and worship. Within its unassuming brick walls lies a history steeped in devotion, built for the Presbyterian Church of Wales in 1901 and then occupied by the Open Brethren since the 1920s. However, recent signs of wear threatened to compromise its integrity. Yet, in the face of this unforeseen challenge, Church Growth Trust (CGT), as the Sole Trustee of the building, took decisive action to secure its future.

A routine survey visit to the property unveiled signs of structural strain: cracks snaking through the parapet walls and the slow lean of disused chimney stacks. Swiftly, CGT enlisted the expertise of chartered surveyors to assess the extent of the damage and prescribe remedial measures. The verdict was clear: action was imperative to halt the progression of the issues and to make safe the building.

Initially, an alternative solution was considered, contemplating the removal of the parapet walls in favour of a more contemporary gutter detail. However, this proposal was met with resistance from the Local Planning Authority, citing the architectural significance of the parapet walls. Thus, the focus shifted to repair, ensuring the preservation of the building’s heritage.

CGT arranged the works, beginning with the preparation of drawings and a schedule showing the extent of the work required. The next stage was sourcing specialised contractors capable of executing intricate masonry repairs. Despite the challenges of finding suitable expertise, perseverance prevailed and collaboration was forged with a specialised yet competitively priced contractor.

Erecting an extensive scaffold spanning neighbouring rooftops required delicate negotiations with adjacent property owners. Yet, the spirit of cooperation prevailed, with neighbours giving CGT written consent that the scaffold could be erected.

As work commenced, safety considerations extended beyond the physical structure to encompass the well-being of occupants and passersby. Coordination with building insurers and adherence to regulatory guidelines ensured a comprehensive approach to risk management. The scaffolding design did not intrude onto or over-sail the public footpath or highway and as such a permit was not required to be sought from the Local Council.

Amidst logistical challenges and inclement weather, progress persevered. Frosty conditions threatened to stall momentum, yet innovative solutions and meticulous planning from the contractors ensured steady progress.

In reflecting on the completion of the Loampit Gospel Hall restoration project amidst challenging circumstances, CGT Chief Executive, Giles Arnold, expressed heartfelt gratitude to the Lord. He remarked, “The success of this project, achieved in the face of considerable challenges, is truly an answer to prayer. We are immensely thankful for the Lord’s provision with contractors and funds, as well as the dedication of the whole team, and the cooperation of the assembly who occupy the Gospel Hall and the neighbours.”

With this spirit of gratitude, Giles concluded, “As we witness the successful completion of this project at Loampit Gospel Hall, we give thanks to God for guiding us through every challenge. His grace has been evident at every turn, and we are excited about the renewed opportunities for the occupying assembly to serve and witness to their community that the restoration work will enable.”

Life is a journey – an update from our Chief Executive

By Giles Arnold, Chief Executive at Church Growth Trust

We are encouraged to keep in step with the Spirit, because life is a journey with the Lord. Giles Arnold, Church Growth Trust’s Chief Executive can testify to that, as he has seen the Lord lead him and Church Growth Trust (CGT) over these last 14 years. From working part-time from his front room to now having eight staff and offices in converted barns in Rutland, this has shown the blessing of the Lord and growth of the work and ministry of CGT. And now with Giles moving to Devon to look after his elderly parents he has experienced further change and another journey (literally). 

As Giles puts it, “This is a demonstration of the Lord’s goodness, to enable me to move to another part of the country, but for the work of CGT to continue to grow. There is a such a strong team with everyone playing their part so well. Over the years we have been able to offer more services to our occupying churches with regular visits by our Property Manager, as well as surveys and support with building projects from our Architect. Our Property Administrator is helping churches keep on track with compliance issues and our Admin and Operations team keeps us moving with the accounts, systems and admin support that we need. I remember our Architect saying some years ago, when I was taking her to meet a few churches, that it felt like visiting family. This of course is what it is, as we are all part of the Lord’s family. It also feels like a journey that we are travelling and picking up friends on the way, all adding their expertise to the team, enabling us to continue on this adventure with the Lord.” 

Giles continues, “Although I am now working four days a week, I am still visiting churches and trustees of church properties around the country helping them secure their properties for future Gospel use. The Lord continues to grow this ministry as we are taking on 10-15 new properties and trusteeships each year. Our Communications Manager is getting in touch with many churches to ensure they know about our services. She is discovering that many are struggling with low numbers, increased age and lack of trustees; so, our work is even more vital in these days. We are praying that more people who need our help will hear about us and join us in this journey.” 

Over the last 20 years Giles Arnold has been able to help many churches with advice on leases and purchases, as part of CGT’s consultancy services. This has now had to stop, due to him reducing his hours. “I have thoroughly enjoyed connecting with many churches around the country and helping them with negotiating leases; often seeing the same church taking a second or third lease or moving to a bigger building. I am sad not to be able to offer this service anymore, but am happy to recommend them to others who can do so.” Meanwhile, CGT’s architectural and surveying consultancy work continues to be available for independent evangelical churches. 

With the Lord, the journey is never boring, as He opens up new opportunities and connects us with new people. We are grateful to all of you for joining us on this journey of faith to see the Church in this country growing and buildings continuing to be used for Gospel purposes. 

Extreme weather – how to protect your church building  

England and Wales have seen several incidents of severe weather recently and, likely, there will be more, making it even more important to protect your church building. Storms can cause significant damage to buildings with strong winds and heavy rain, lightning strikes and floods. Keeping on top of basic maintenance can help your church property withstand the worst the British weather can throw at it. It is a good idea to: 

Before the storm

Check the roof
A sturdy roof is essential to withstand strong winds and heavy rain. Regularly inspect the roof for any loose or damaged tiles or slates. Replace missing ones promptly and ensure everything is intact. Check any cement to ridges, verges, and eaves, and call in an experienced roofer if repairs are needed.

Reinforce doors and windows

Strong winds can exert immense pressure on doors and windows, causing them to break or even blow out completely in extreme cases. Check them thoroughly and invest in high quality materials where possible. Draught stripping can help cut down on unwanted air ingress and reduce your heating bills.

Secure fences

Make sure fence panels are fixed in place and garden gates are in good condition. Panels flying away or gates swinging wildly in the wind as they could cause injury or further property damage

Remove hazardous branches

Cut down loose or overhanging branches, particularly those close to windows or power lines. If a tree is planted in a neighbour’s garden but branches overhang your property, then you have the right to cut back those branches (probably best to mention it to the neighbour first though)

Clear gutters and drains

In the summer, gutters often go forgotten and dirt and other debris can build up. Regular maintenance will ensure that your gutters, downpipes and storm drain gulleys are clear of debris. Blocked gutters can cause water to accumulate, leading to water damage from leaks. Once you have finished clearing them, make sure they are securely fixed in place.

Evaluate the risk of flooding

Sign up to receive flood warnings and, if you are in a flood-prone area, create a flood plan so you know what to do if the property is at risk. Think about flood resilience and consider fitting flood gates, boards, and non-return valves to drains and air brick covers.

Health and safety

Some of the above jobs may be best left to a professional. If a task involves climbing up a ladder or working near power lines, be sure to get expert help.

When a storm is approaching

Secure outdoor Items

Do you have an outside space? Securely store or anchor outdoor furniture, barbecues, plant pots, and other loose objects that could become projectiles in strong winds. If you have access to storage space, you may want to place some items in there until storms pass, to stop them from becoming a hazard.

Close and fasten doors and windows
Do not forget to secure less frequently used entrances, like loft trapdoors.

Park vehicles in a garage, if you can
If you have a garage, use it. If not, try to park well away from trees, walls or fences that could fall in the face of strong winds.

During the storm

Once a storm hits, stay indoors as much as possible. Only head outside if it is absolutely essential. If you do hear or see something break, stay safe and wait until the storm is over before attempting repairs.  

After the storm

Contact your insurer

Do this as soon as possible if the property is damaged and let them know what has happened. While you wait for professionals to take care of any significant repairs, there may be some things you can do to start the clean-up. Always check with your insurer before you start.

List any damage to the property

Do not throw anything away in case it is needed for the claims process. It is also a good idea to photograph or video the damage.

Check in on vulnerable neighbours

They may need help with making arrangements for repairs.

Assess your surroundings

Remember to keep clear of electrical or telephone cables that have been blown down or are hanging loose.

Taking these precautions to protect the property against bad weather and storms can prevent significant damage and distress. Remember, it is always better to be prepared and take preventive measures to safeguard your home. 

God’s perfect timing – Not rushing things in Oxford

It was six years ago that the leadership team of Northway Church, Oxford contacted Church Growth Trust (CGT) to ask for some advice on trusteeship matters. Giles Arnold, CGT’s Chief Executive, reviewed the property Trust Deed and advised on options available to the property trustees and on Land Registry issues. This was all provided free of charge.

It was then 2022 when the leadership team returned to CGT, asking for a meeting to discuss their situation. As efforts to work closely with another local church had not worked out as hoped, and with the key church leaders wanting to step down, Northway Church was likely to have to close soon. After a several meetings, the church asked whether Church Growth Trust could take on the property and find another church to continue the Gospel work, ideally with that church being suitable for the remaining members of Northway Church to join them.  

The Lord’s timing is perfect

In full swing:
Rivers of Life Church Christmas celebrations

There were a number of matters that the church and the trustees wanted to sort out before CGT could proceed. This meant that the search for a new church was only able to start in the summer of 2023. Giles Arnold stated “although our inclination is to get on with things, such as instructing solicitors to sort out the legal matters and start our search for a new church, we wanted to respect the timing that the church had in mind and not rush things. The Lord’s timing is perfect as always, so when we did start looking for a new church, it quickly became clear which was the right one.”

The timing allowed the two fellowships to get to know each other and work well together before all the legal transactions had taken place. Giles continues “Rivers of Life Church have now taken on the Gospel work from the building and most, if not all, of the members of Northway Church have remained and joined with them. CGT is now working with the new church to agree what alterations are required to the building to bring it up to date with current legislation.” 

By not rushing things, this gave the church leadership, trustees and members of the church time to prepare and adjust for the changes and has enabled the Gospel work from the property to continue. 

Taking care of your property – what to check and when 

Managing properties is more of an active process than a laid-back one. It is crucial to plan your management to avoid overlooking things. So, what are the key things that churches need to consider as part of an active programme of property management?

A helpful approach is to go through various property issues and ask yourself, “When do we need to arrange for…?”. For instance:  

When is the right time to check your gutters, downpipes, and drains?

Our suggestion would be to do this at least twice a year. One check should happen around February/March to ensure all leaves and twigs are cleared, allowing for free-flowing gutters and drains. The next check could be around September/October since weeds might have had a chance to grow and cause water flow issues. Further checks would not be wasted, but two checks per year would be a good minimum.

What should be checked to avoid water damage?

The biggest problem with buildings is water damage.  This can be from rain, rising damp or burst pipes.   

Pipework – Visually checking the pipes for central heating systems, to ensure that they are not corroding or leaking, and checking basins and WCs that they are also not overflowing or leaking, will cut down the risk of water damage internally.  Making sure that any exposed pipes in walls or roof spaces are properly insulated will also reduce the risk of frost damage and burst pipes over the winter.

Roofs – Checking for slipped, broken and missing tiles or slates, cracks in sheeting, ponding (where water is lying on a flat roof), blocked outlets and missing/damaged flashing. It is also worth checking the roof verges that they are well pointed, to stop water and wind from getting in, and that the ridge tiles on a roof are well pointed/bedded.

Walls – Checking for any signs of damp, for soil or other materials building up and bridging the damp-proof course around the outside of the building, for poor pointing on walls that will allow water to soak into the wall and that the seals around the windows and doors are stopping water from getting in.  

When should the engineer inspect the gas boiler?

The answer is, of course, every 12 months. Surprisingly, in our experience, many property managers assume the boiler is fine because it is running smoothly, only to discover the service is at least six months overdue. Avoid missing a service by planning the engineer’s next visit during the current inspection and certification. This ensures the boiler stays certified, especially if you have tenants using the premises.

Following best practices:

By asking these questions about what is needed and when, you will stay up to date with property management and be able to plan budgets more accurately. A proactive approach to preventive maintenance will also save you unnecessary expenses in the future and keep the property in good condition.

Further resources to help you

More detail and advice on all the above points and recommendations on how to look after your church building can be found in the following Church Growth Trust briefing papers:

How to look after your church building

Electrical and gas checks for church buildings

Two communities touched

Day 2 - Two communities touched

Renewed Hope Trust at Shrewsbury Chapel:  A Beacon of Support for the vulnerable

Nestled among Victorian terraces and modern homes in Redhill, the historic Shrewsbury Chapel has emerged as a pivotal centre for their local community. The chapel, with over 200 years of history has undergone a remarkable metamorphosis in recent years, becoming a sanctuary for the needy under the Gatwick flight path. 

In a forward-thinking move back in 2015, Shrewsbury Chapel’s trustees recognised the importance of collaboration and inclusivity within the Christian community. Entrusting Church Growth Trust (CGT) with the Trusteeship of the building, this decision paved the way for a new partnership with Renewed Hope Trust, led by John Bartlett. 

Renewed Hope Trust, through a unique lease agreement facilitated by CGT, seized the opportunity to convert the chapel into a haven for those in need. Renovation works helped Shrewsbury Chapel develop into a welcoming refuge, providing vital day support for the homeless, vulnerable, and isolated members of society. 

This included essential facilities, including a wet room, a new kitchen, and an office. This transformation has allowed the team to offer warm meals, shelter, and assistance to individuals struggling with homelessness and isolation. 

Renewed Hope Trust has served over 4,500 meals to 250 individuals, with 105 of them finding solace as homeless guests. Sadly, the demand for their services continues to increase, emphasising the critical role played by the chapel in the area.  

As the winter night shelters, paused due to the pandemic, resume operations, Shrewsbury Chapel be hosting one of these shelters, one night a week. Renewed Hope Trust’s commitment remains unwavering. Christmas Day will witness a traditional lunch for 30 regulars. 

Renewed Hope Trust at Shrewsbury Chapel stands tall as a testament to community resilience, unwavering in its mission to offer not just meals and shelter but, more importantly, a beacon of hope and support for the vulnerable in Redhill. 

 

Embracing Community – Open Heaven Church in Wednesbury 

Since 2019, the partnership between Church Growth Trust (CGT) and Open Heaven has opened doors for meaningful outreach, starting with the lease of Price Road Gospel Hall. At the heart of Open Heaven lies their food pantry service, providing essential food items to individuals and families facing hardships. Their dedicated team has been reaching out to not just feed but also consistently offering prayer. 

“It can be easy to dismiss the impact of community social work and feel that it is not growing the church but at the food pantry, we have offered prayer consistently from the first day,” notes Pastor Nicola. “At first, people who came in with health issues or worries would decline prayer, but over time, many have accepted, and we’ve seen numerous answers to prayer.” She recalls a recent pantry session where unexpected progress unfolded. “One of the leaders started to pray for someone, and two other people who don’t usually attend church got up, placed their hands on the person, and joined in prayer. These two individuals were initially against prayer when they first started coming. It’s surprising progress that we, as a church, hadn’t fully realised.” 

Beyond the pantry, Open Heaven is working to empower the community with initiatives like training local volunteers as Money Coaches to help improve financial literacy and long-term stability. 

Their recent community event during the Christmas lights switch-on community event drew over 1000 attendees, illustrating the church’s welcoming nature. Additionally, their involvement in activities such as Operation Christmas Child and support for domestic violence survivors showcases their holistic approach to serving others. They are also collaborating with other churches in the area with a joint Alpha course. Looking ahead, Open Heaven eagerly anticipates a baptism service in January, marking a milestone in their journey. 

The story of Open Heaven Church in Wednesbury exemplifies the impact a community-centred approach can have. Through their commitment to service and prayer, they continue to sow seeds of hope and support within their community, setting an encouraging example for other independent evangelical churches seeking to make a difference. 

Three acts of kindness

Day 3 - Three Acts of Kindness

Grange Free Church and Rayleigh Vineyard

In 2022 Church Growth Trust (CGT) became the holding trustee for Grange Free Church, taking this on from the Fellowship Property Trust. Even at the time there was concern for the church as to whether it would continue, due to challenges with an aging congregation and fewer members. Closing a work is never an easy decision. But after exploring various options, including options for merging with another church and engaging with the church revitalisation project (supported by CGT), the decision was made for Grange Free Church to gift the property to CGT and subsequently close its doors. With Pastor John Pease now in his eighties and the congregation having no other leadership, it was the right decision.

Fortunately, Rayleigh Vineyard Church already had connections with Grange Free Church, using their spaces for meetings. It was a natural fit for Rayleigh Vineyard Church to take responsibility for the entire building (with a tenancy from CGT) and were excited to have a permanent base to run their operations.

Dave Smith, a leader at Rayleigh Vineyard Church expressed gratitude, “We are delighted to have the building and a permanent base. The arrangements between us and the old fellowship have been great with John Pease helping in so many practical ways. We have also seen a significant reduction in our costs as we are now using one building instead of leasing and hiring multiple premises. We are grateful to Church Growth Trust for helping us in this way and for their passion for Gospel work continuing from their buildings around the country.”

Hey Street Evangelical Church and One Church Grimsby

Another heartwarming story comes from Cleethorpes where One Church Grimsby, took on a building, gifted to CGT by Hey Street Evangelical Church after the assembly closed. Wendy and Tom Hawkins, alongside their team, then embarked on an extensive renovation journey. As Tom and Wendy explained, “We had been praying to God for a permanent base for our church for nearly fifteen years. God in his grace brought forward this building and we were thrilled and excited to have our prayers answered in being given the chance to take the tenancy of the property.”  

The renovation project was made possible by a generous grant from the members of Hey Street Evangelical Church, enabling One Church Grimsby to breathe new life into the premises, transforming the building into a striking, welcoming space. The fully accessible WC is now accessed from inside the building, the kitchen has been refurbished, the worship area has been given a new lease of life and the front of the building now looks much more attractive and welcoming.  

Vernham Dean Gospel Hall and Clarence Road Evangelical Church 

After the sale of Vernham Dean Gospel Hall near Andover the trustees sought guidance from CGT regarding their trusteeship matters, particularly to know what they could use the sale proceed for and asking for recommendations for specific projects and churches. 
 
In response, CGT proposed Clarence Road Evangelical Church, East Cowes as a suitable recipient. A grant of £20,000 made by Vernham Dean Gospel Hall will enable Clarence Road to undertake substantial enhancements in disability access and layout improvements. CGT’s Chief Executive Giles Arnold says, “We are so thankful for the generosity shown by the trustees of Vernham Dean Gospel Hall in offering a grant towards the building project at Clarence Road Evangelical Church. This is good news, and we praise God for it. The church is delighted and this has greatly encourage them.  
These stories stand as a testament to the hard work, generosity and commitment of churches new and old. As we look forward to the new year ahead, CGT remains determined to support more churches, helping them grow and spread the Gospel. 

Six partnerships flourishing

Day 6 - 'Six partnership flourishing'

Church Growth Trust does not operate in isolation. We love working with other organisations that have a heart for Gospel giving and seeing our country transformed by that Gospel.  

As we look forward to the year ahead, we are delighted to continue working with many other charities. Here are a few of them:   

Stewardship, the organisation we came out of, as we link our occupying churches with their Consultancy Helpline. This is such a valuable service to help churches with issues from insurance to employment and from accounting to property (CGT provides this anyway!).  

Counties, in networking independent evangelical churches to share resources and encourage each other. It is so vital that resource churches, who have funds and more importantly people can help churches nearby that are struggling. We also work with Counties and GLO with the “Growing Church – Church Revitalisation Project” to provide Church Health Checks and advisers.   

Counties, GLO and Echoes International, as we plan for another amazing Living the Passion conference in October. Past conferences have been such a blessing with great speakers, practical seminars and wonderful times of fellowship. Don’t miss out and book your place now: https://livingthepassion.org/. 

FIEC Trusteeship Services, as we take on some of their property trusteeships and work closely with the occupying churches. As FPT closes its trusteeship services many churches (30 so far) have asked CGT to take over the role of holding trustee or sole trustee, and in some cases gifting their property to CGT.  

Kingdom Bank, who provide our general insurance and who love to provide churches with mortgages.  

As Giles Arnold, CGT’s Chief Executive, says, “We have a great relationship with many like-minded organisations and want to work closely with them to see God’s Kingdom grow. We provide the church building and property advice, whilst others offer other resources to help churches grow. We look forward to the year ahead and renewed friendships and Gospel partnerships.”