A church plant in the Forest of Dean has recently celebrated its 10th anniversary and is going from strength to strength with plans in place to extend its current building. Pastor Tim Cracknell, also a Counties evangelist, tells us what makes this church plant so popular.
Can you briefly describe how the church was originally set up?
My wife Katrina and I had a dream to start a different kind of church for the area, targeting those who didn’t go to church. Initially a small group of us started meeting together in a redundant Gospel Hall in Cinderford and this was followed by months of praying, planning and preparation for the official launch of the new church. The Forest of Dean Community Church held its very first service on 19 March 2006. It was clear God was at work and doing something special, as new people kept joining us and we could see many lives being touched and changed for the better by the power of the Holy Spirit.
You are now in the process of extending your current building. What are your plans?
We are in the process of purchasing the property next door to the church so that we can extend the building, have parking for 40 cars and use our original town centre site fully as a community hub and church. We run many community activities in the building including two mother & toddler groups; Celebrate Recovery (for people with hurts, habits & hang-ups); a Foodbank; CAP debt coaching and support; Teens in Crisis mentoring sessions; drop-in centre for the lonely and a CAP job club for the long-term unemployed.
Can you describe the setting of the church?
The church is in the middle of a residential area close to the town centre of one of the largest towns in the Forest of Dean (pop. 8,000). Cinderford is one of the main centres for the very rural area surrounding it, made up of small villages and hamlets.
Are the needs different to a city/town? What are they?
In most ways the needs are not much different to anywhere in the UK; for example drug problems, combined with alcohol-related issues and debt. However, we have a higher level of older people due to lack of work and a nice area to retire with cheap housing. So loneliness is a big issue, transport for the less mobile and employment for younger people, are all key problems.
Many churches in rural settings are closing due to low numbers, why do you think that is?
Rural settings tend to have higher levels of older people who struggle with change. This makes it harder for churches to adapt to the changing culture around them. For many people church is the one constant in their lives that they don’t want to see change, as it gives them a sense of stability in a world that is constantly changing. Therefore, church members fight any change with vigour, not realising that by doing so they are often making the church inaccessible to the next generation who see them as old-fashioned, out-dated and therefore irrelevant. The other factor is that now we have cars and easy transport ten minutes in a car will take most people to a town where a good, well-populated church is, so those churches that don’t find a way of connecting with the next generation die off once those in control pass on.
Why do you think the Forest of Dean Community Church is so popular?
Essentially we have been able to bring the unchanging message of Christ into a traditional area in a culturally relevant way. Enabling people to understand the message, trust Christ and engage with church knowing that they will be accepted regardless of who they are and what they look like. Our community work has helped people see that we care about them and help make the church much more accessible to many people.
How has CPI helped you in your journey so far as a church plant?
They have helped us in many ways: financially in the early days; continual, wonderful pastoral support through Julian, Liz and James; as well as giving us great advice from their extensive wealth of knowledge and wisdom, helping to resolve many issues that have arisen.
Do you find the hubs a useful place to exchange ideas and encourage others?
The hubs are always times of inspiration. Like-minded people coming together, pooling ideas and experiences for the glory of God and growth of His kingdom.
What would you say to someone who feels a nudge from God to plant a church?
If God is nudging you to plant a church — go for it but don’t expect it to be an easy ride. Get godly, trusted people around you to give support before you start. People who will be there for you, pray for you and encourage you, especially when the going gets tough. You will need it! Don’t try it alone as it will not end well. Connect with other planters through the hubs as they will be your life line at times and an opportunity to learn from others who have gone before. Keep the main thing the main thing and have fun watching God at work in the lives of other people.