When I arrived in Manchester, England and boarded the train for Sheffield all the surroundings seemed strangely familiar. From the two-story wood-framed homes that lined the narrow city streets to the rolling green hills covered with flocks of sheep, England reminded me of a place I had been before. As the train pulled into the station we were greeted by our host and church-planting partner, Robin Scothern. Over the next few days we would learn much about Northern England and its wonderful rich history, including churches once marked by vibrant community and gospel preaching. These beautiful churches were built over 500 years ago in the center of every village, yet today they are more of a museum to the past than a place of hope for the future. As Pastor Matthew put it, “chapels and churches that were once home to thriving communities of worshipers are now laying empty, repurposed as pubs and homes, or are waiting for their few remaining members to die.”
Matthew had traveled to this part of England a few times, but I was clearly a first-timer. I was in awe of the beautiful landscape and captivated by the centuries-old architecture. Beyond the allure of England’s history and beauty lies a dark, cold reality: less than 1% of the population are confessing evangelicals and church attendance is even smaller. During our time there, Pastor Matthew accurately observed that “there’s a complete apathy toward God and little to no Christian witness to make Christ known" in England.
Imagine a place where Christians are too few to fill the 500 year old cathedrals, and churches making the gospel of Jesus Christ known in the cities and villages is rare. One pastor we met with said the church he leads was the only evangelical church in 100 square miles!
Fortunately, there is hope.
The Crowded House in Sheffield is committed to church-planting in and around Sheffield. Robin Scothern is leading a church plant in the Peaks District, which is made up of dozens of small villages.
Pastor Robin had this to share about his church plant in The Peaks:
The Peak District is a picturesque place and has a wonderful history of Gospel Awakenings. From the 17th and 18th centuries evangelicals such as William Bagshawe ('The Apostle of the Peak') and the Wesley’s travelled the difficult terrain on horseback and proclaimed the gospel of Jesus where Christ was neither named nor known. People's hearts were melted, churches were planted, leaders were raised up, and buildings were utilized for worship. This was a season of fruitful ministry . . . it's sad to see how things have changed.
There is now a very limited gospel witness among the 38,000 people who live in towns and villages nestled among the peaks. This area plays host to more than 10 million visitors a year, and yet there are very few gospel-centered churches and many of those are struggling. The Peak District needs another wave of new churches being planted and old churches being revitalized.
In the fall of 2018 they will begin weekly services in Bakewell, the largest city in the Peak District, made up of what they call 'communities of light' (small groups) that meet in surrounding villages. Some have already relocated their families and careers from the city to countryside villages, and committed their lives to treating their new neighbors with the love of Christ, knowing that few have ever heard a clear message of the gospel. They encounter countless people void of any religious history and some who freely assert their atheism. The general attitude toward God is one of apathy and irrelevance, so it makes gospel conversations difficult.
However, their commitment to establish a church that preach God’s Word, serves the community, and shares the hope of Christ with others surpasses ministry challenges.
In addition to church planting efforts in the Peak District, The Crowded House has a team reaching out to the large Kurdish community in Sheffield. We met a Kurdish barber who placed faith in Christ just a few years ago. He asked for prayers of courage, as he has faced threats to his life and attacks against his business. He must count the cost daily, but is unashamed of the gospel and wants to make Christ’s name known among his people. He is encouraged by friends from England who long to serve in Iraq among the Kurds, but are being faithful to bring Christ to the Kurdish immigrants and refugees in Sheffield.
Going Forward Together
In coming weeks we will share our plans for a summer trip to England, where we will spend time with the Peak District / Bakewell team and receive training from The Crowded House pastoral staff. Steve Timmis is the CEO of Acts29, founder of the The Crowded House, and author of Total Church and Everyday Church. His work has influenced our own church-planting strategies and has a clear focus on church-planting in the post-Christian era. They will also help us understand church-planting in unreached nations near England. Please check out the Scothern’s site at http://www.plantthepeaks.com/. You can sign-up for their newsletter and even give online. If you want more information, please contact Pastor Matthew at
- Pastor Jay Mathis