Tired, encouraged, overwhelmed, heartened: a few of the vast cocktail of emotions. I’m sure someone told us that church planting was going to be a rollercoaster and that’s proving true too but as we step back and take stock, we can safely say that God is at work in the Bridgend Valleys Gateway.
My name is Rhodri Thomas, I’m married to Katie-Jayne and we have three beautiful children. We took a team of half a dozen of us from Grace Community Church, Porthcawl (www.gccporthcawl.org) to plant Gateway Church (www.gateway.cymru), which meets in Tondu Cricket Club on Sunday mornings.
We’ve been on quite a journey to get to this point: moving to Sarn in November 2019, weathering the Covid-19 lockdowns and finally getting in-person meetings started in June 2021.
The Bridgend Valleys Gateway is a ribbon development comprising the villages of Tondu, Brynmenyn, Sarn, Aberkenfig and Bryncethin. It’s a place of beauty and geographical uniqueness where three rivers, the Ogwr, Garw and Llynfi converge. It’s also a place of rich heritage where sites such as Parc Slip, Tondu Ironworks and Bryngarw Park are all within walking distance of each other. I also have a favourite running spot: the cycle track which follows the disused railway line all the way up the Ogmore Valley.
There is a lot to love about this place but it’s definitely a mission field in need of re-evangelisation.
North of the M4
We were students in Cardiff when our eyes were opened to the desperate gospel need in communities north of the M4. Whilst we enjoyed being part of a healthy and thriving church in the capital city, we served on a student ministry called ‘Revive’. Then we encountered the challenges and church decline happening in nearby communities who were merely minutes away.
It was a significant, faith-filled time that set us on a trajectory for life. We look back and see a movement of God. He stirred several people to commit their lives to south Wales, to address the need for re-evangelisation, and many of us have now gone on to pastoral ministry and church planting.
It’s a fervent prayer of ours that God would move like this again, raising up a new generation of young adults who will commit themselves to God’s kingdom-work in the struggling communities and churches north of the M4. We would love others to join us in this prayer.
12 months of Gateway Church
We can share with you with great joy that through Gateway Church prodigals have come home and people who would not have been engaged with church are now regulars with us and engaging with the Lord. One of our attendees recently described how she has come to understand the Bible in ways she hadn’t before, and that her ‘heart is softer’ now that she has re-established her relationship with Jesus. Don’t we live and breathe for such discipleship fruit? Praise God!
Yet, a church plant feels very much like the front-line. Whilst we have had great encouragements like this discipleship story, it is also a slow and hard work. It takes time to break new ground, building relationships and making inroads into the community without immediate gospel fruit.
One example of this tough work was the Easter Egg Hunt we hosted between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. We saw a huge turnout from the community, giving out about 100 eggs to the kids, not to mention the parents who took them around. We held the event in Pandy Park which has been clouded in darkness after recent tragic events, so it was incredibly heart-warming when people said to us that the egg hunt ‘brought light to a dark place’. Did such successful engagement with the community lead to anyone new coming to church the next day? Sadly no!
This is the reality and rollercoaster of church-planting, especially in the smaller communities outside of the big towns and cities of Wales. It often feels like a slow and steady grind but God is at work.
Twelve months on from launching public services, we’re now settling into steady rhythms of church life. As we reflect on that, we’re grateful for all that the Lord has done already, but we’re hungry to see so much more.
Yet, the hidden work in the heart and the salvation of souls is the Lord’s work, not ours. So we find ourselves needing to draw comfort and peace from verses such as Ephesians 4:1:
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.
We don’t need to strive beyond the calling God has put on our lives and we don’t need to burden ourselves with producing the results ourselves. We are called to be faithful to this church planting work and embrace the different stages of the journey whatever they look like – both when we’re small and when we grow; when we’re sowing seed and when we’re reaping harvest. The Lord will build his church and we’re simply joining in!
For those who are reading this and considering pastoral ministry and/or church planting ministry, may we forewarn you that your level of ‘buy-in’ will be absolutely huge. This is both a blessing and a challenge. It is tempting to ‘be busy and do’ while God tells us to ‘be still and know’ (Ps. 46:10). Please don’t fool yourself that you can do the Lord’s work for him. Instead, be faithful in what he calls you to do and outside of that, rest well in him.
I can safely say that it is a blessing to put yourself on the front line of mission, to respond to the Lord’s calling to go and to have the privilege of making disciples (Matt. 28:19). It isn’t an easy path but the adventure is a joy:
Then [Jesus] said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field’ (Matt. 9:37-38).
The Lord is at work in Wales. The Lord is at work in the areas ‘north of the M4’.