This report comes mainly to thank all of you who have supported us, in prayer or finances, over the past year, which has been unlike any that I have known in ministry.
It is exciting to look back on this past year and to see our original vision for Camden Town Church start to be fulfilled in demonstrable ways. We have also seen how little power we have to make anything good happen. However, finding that the simple preaching of the Word of God is powerful and effective across all barriers has been wonderful for my faith and for the faith of the church.
Progress this year
When we first launched Camden Town Church, our original aims were:
1. To reach the unchurched of Camden—rich and poor, English and immigrant, professional, unemployed, creative, and even criminal—that they should hear the gospel, see it lived out, and have the opportunity to turn to Jesus Christ and be saved.
2. To be transformed by Jesus Christ in every area of life—work, family, leisure, relationships, money, time, and how we see the world around us.
3. To be a light for the gospel and an influence on the wider culture of Camden, for the good of Camden and beyond, recognising that Camden is a cultural melting pot for London, the UK, and has influence across the world. (The late Amy Winehouse died in her home half a mile from our house.)
Two big shifts have happened this year. In August 2010 we moved our Sunday meetings from a pub to a large homeless shelter called Arlington. Previously we were largely a church of white professionals and students, aged 20-35. Two months later, the demographic had widened dramatically, so that we had a mixture of ages, races, languages and social situations. Much of this happened through the work of one man with a particular gift and heart for talking to people on the street and going door-to-door. This is vital if we are to reach Camden properly, because Camden itself is so strikingly diverse. It is now possible for people from all over the social map to come into church and not feel that they are entering a narrow social club.
The second big change that has happened is that we have started to see people come to Christ. At the start of 2011 we had lots of people in church who were not converted but we had yet to see anyone clearly come to faith. This became a focus of our prayers and we started to think much more carefully about what sort of introduction to Christianity would be most appropriate to members of the church. Since the new year, we have seen several clear professions of faith, and real joy with them. That said, we still have a high proportion of non-Christians with us Sunday by Sunday, which is both a blessing and a focus of our prayers.
Moreover, we have seen lives transformed by grace. One former drug addict disappeared from church for a couple of weeks. Several people were worried that he had started taking drugs again. (It turned out that he was ill!) However, the most diligent in following him up were his former dealer, who had originally brought him along to church, and another man who had also formerly dealt drugs. To see two former drug dealers checking that someone was not taking drugs was a powerful picture of gospel transformation.
Added to that, we have seen people challenged in their professional lives, through our series of Faith and Work meetings, in how they handle money, and in forming friendships with people that they would not normally have any contact with. The simple gospel of salvation by God’s grace from God’s wrath through his grace in Jesus Christ is touching lives deeply.
All of this matters because there are other Bible teaching churches within a short bus ride. So it is only seeing the gospel reach parts of Camden that would otherwise have no knowledge of Jesus that makes it worthwhile putting in the time and resources to plant a church here. It has been massively exciting this year that we are really seeing that happen.
Hopes and challenges
All that has happened has left us with some good but big challenges for the coming year. Firstly, while there is real love between the very diverse members of the church, we need those from poorer backgrounds to feel as much part of the core of the church as the young professionals and students who have been here for several years. This raises some practical questions, like how to keep people who do not regularly use email in touch with all that is happening in the church. It involves some big pastoral challenges, such as how to deal with addiction, depression, serious mental illness, housing issues, and the like. It also involves making sure that everyone is serving in such a way that they know that they have a role to play in the community. Very positively in this regard, one man, who has previously led gangs and sold drugs, has just led a football camp for kids in the area, so that he knows that he is able to make a real contribution to church life. This is the challenge of truly being the body of Christ—one people with him as our head.
Secondly, we are starting to get families into the church and we need to be ready to support them and to teach their children. Children add invaluably to the atmosphere of the church and being able to love them appropriately will be a vital to reaching the whole range of Camden life.
Thirdly, we have been something of an underground church for the past few years, growing by word of mouth, meeting individuals, and personal invitations. While that is likely still to be the main way that new people come to the church, we also need to start to be visible in Camden. This may be through particular events that we are running now but that we publicise more widely, or through making our Sunday services more visible. If our third aim was to have an impact on the wider culture of Camden, being a visible, viable light for the gospel is a vital first step.
Church planters’ network
Our network of local church planters restarted in the New Year, having lost some of its original focus on supporting people who are actually in the process of church planting. The new group is smaller but, because we are all in the midst of planting churches, there is an energy and camaraderie that makes the group a blessing to all of us who are part of it. Vitally, we are also just beginning to support church planters' wives, who bear so much of the brunt of this work.
This group crosses denominational boundaries, while maintaining high gospel standards. It is also a massive personal encouragement to meet month by month with men who fully understand the heartaches, perplexity, and challenges of church planting. Other church planters are wanting to join us and a couple of potential planters are coming to us for assessment. With this combination, we believe that it has the potential to be an engine for much more church planting across London.
This year, for the first time, congregational giving is the largest single source of income for the church. That is vital if we are to be sustainable at some point in the future. However, having started without an initial core group, it has taken us this long to reach the stage from which many church plants start. That has had great benefits in terms of the church being a deeply embedded in the life of Camden. However, it means that we are likely to be dependent on outside funding for several years yet.
Our internal giving has increased by 40% in the last 8 months with even people in social housing making commitments to regular giving. It is very much our aim to be a net giver to the church at large, not a net receiver.
So, we we are expecting to have to raise a further £10,000 for each of the next three years. After that, we hope that growth in internal giving will cover the drop-off in external funding. We are looking to cover that funding from a number of sources and are already being encouraged that God is at work to meet this need, just as he has met all our needs in Jesus Christ.
I hope that all of the above has given you a sense that your prayer and support are starting to make a real difference here in Camden. The love of individuals and churches has been vital for us to really know that we are part of God’s worldwide church, and that knowledge has sustained us through all sorts of difficulties. If you are ever able to join us for a Sunday, as well is it being great to see you, the people here give a far better picture of what God is doing here than I possibly can. They are very special and a wonderful testimony to the greatness and the kindness of God our Saviour and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Camden Town Church