Although this pioneer planting took place some considerable time ago the lessons from planting on deprived estates are still relevant as are those regarding succession of the pioneer.
Capt. Steve Hunt C. A. and his wife Emma pioneered a plant on a needy council Estate in the parish of Cove, Farnborough. He told the story of the plant in a case study interview at the 1997 Church Planting Conference:
“The whole parish of Cove is large, with some 27,000 people. It had been divided into four ministry areas and two years previously a plant had gone ahead into the South East area of owner occupied housing. Our area in N.E. has a population of 6,000 and our house was quite near the parish boundary. The area is full of problems, has Urban Priority Status and a fair racial mix.
The initiative for the plant came from the Bishop who raised the funding for us to be there for four years. Soon after we arrived I developed a vision for the strategy on the estate which was quite different from many plants. We didn’t want a Sunday meeting, rather we had a vision for a Bible Study or prayer house on each road.
Our team came from the fact that when Emma and I moved onto the estate we found there were some Christians there already. Some commuted to churches up to 20 miles away! Some of these folk had prayed for a work in their neighbourhood and several joined us. So we built up a team of 10 to 12. The next door parish also helped us with people and money.
Within 18 months we had 6 or 7 groups in houses. Alongside this we began to work with the youth – going into schools and starting two crusader groups in evenings for different ages. One of the flats on the estate was the centre for the drugs trade and we planted a prayer and bible study group bang in the middle of that.
We began to run Alpha courses for the contacts we made, The first being held in the next door parish church because it was just across the boundary and their support and cooperation was such a positive factor. The second Alpha we managed to hold in the flat block with a bad reputation. We pin-pointed the “aggressive dealers” on the estate and we invited them in for a bible study group. Because we targeted them they were quite shocked and they came along.! Then as several started coming to church and began changing, it had a big effect on others. Mind you that was the easy part, the hard part we soon learnt was getting the prayer support to make sure they didn’t slip back.
We tried to build relationships and to serve people on the estate in other ways. We used the Community Centre for one off’s, like Christingle and Carol service. We had a Garth Hewitt concert in the school and a “Drama” group in the school and the streets. We tried to do one big event every month. On another level, we had a decoration team. There was a block of flats for re-housing the homeless, and as they moved in we offered to decorate – giving free paint and labour. It was a good way to get to know families. We also set up a larder of nonperishable food for emergencies. Families moving onto the estate can’t get Giro for two weeks so we would provide food. They are very vulnerable at this point of moving so they were often ready to work with us and ready to listen. It was a bit high risk really but it paid off.
After 18 months there was a fire in one of the homes that killed five young people and two adults. It hit the national media. Because I was the person they had seen on the estate I was asked into the school to work with the youngsters in the classroom which had lost their friends. This and many other things convinced us that the vision and strategy were right. If we had started with a Sunday service in a building, then developing community contacts would have taken much longer.”
After Steve left, the plant went through hard times and there are lessons from this phase too. Unlike Steve, the leader who was appointed to replace him, was not a pioneer evangelist but much more a pastoral maintainer. As things developed this proved to be one of a number of factors that sadly led to the plant’s decline and closure.
Since then many lessons have been learned about the importance of the breakthrough pioneer gift being maintained long enough for the plant’s sustainability. This may go against the personality inclinations of radical pioneers who tend to be impatient to move to the new thing. The painful lessons of history are that their positive gifts of impatience in the first place need to be tempered with the need for perseverance which may be counter to their natural inclinations.
Like many plants that ceased sooner than could be hoped, this story should not be simply seen as one of failure. During the significant number of years that this pioneer initiative lasted a remarkable number of those discipled in the heat of this demanding mission field responded to callings to recognised leadership in the national church and to overseas mission.