Gwersyllt Congregational Church is situated just north of Wrexham in North Wales. Over the last decade, by God’s grace, the church has changed and grown considerably. I asked their minister, Ian Hughes, some questions about how that has happened.
JR: Can you give us a brief history of the church?
IH: The church was originally a plant from a Welsh congregational church in Wrexham in 1809. It’s been in its present building since 1881 and has had a more clearly evangelical ministry since the 1970s.
JR: And how long have you been minister here?
IH: Nine years. The church was without a minister and I had been living in the church manse for a year – doing some study, attending the church and doing some preaching for them. Towards the end of that year I was seeking the Lord’s guidance for future ministry and felt it right to say to the church that I would be open to staying as their minister. In God’s providence the day before I told the deacons this, they had met and agreed to ask me to consider becoming their minister!
JR: What was the church like back then?
IH: There were about 40 folk joining for worship each Sunday, mainly towards the older end of the age spectrum. There was some children’s work and a good work with older ladies going on. Finances were low but the church was keen to reach the community and eager to take a step in faith in that. They were able to appoint me for a two year period initially, and prayed for growth so that I could continue.
JR: What is Gwersyllt village like?
IH: We have about 13,000 people living within a mile of the church building. There’s a mix of council and private housing, with a couple of new estates having been built in the last nine years. Generally the village would be working class. There are three primary schools and a secondary school, and just one other church – a Church in Wales, now with an evangelical vicar.
JR: How have you attempted to reach the community over these last nine years?
IH: We spent time as a church praying over ideas and developing a strategy and eventually settled on four areas on which to concentrate our efforts: family services; men’s ministry; more comprehensive children’s work; and general building relationships within the community. By God’s grace we’ve seen significant progress in each of those areas.
We’ve developed much stronger links with the local community. I became a school governor and have had opportunities to speak at assemblies. We run an after-school Bible club in the school, and for a while ran a football club for young people each week in the local leisure centre; both of these have fed children into our children’s ministries and helped establish contacts with families in the community.
In terms of men’s ministry God provided an opening for us to partner with a Baptist church in Odessa in the Ukraine. Over the last few years we have sent several teams of men out to help them with a building project to provide housing for street children. These teams have usually been a mix of believers and unbelievers, and have helped to bring some guys into the church. Praise God one of two of them have come to faith.
We’ve taken every opportunity we can to let the community know about this ‘Odessa project’, through fund raising events for example. This seems to have generated some good will towards the church in the community.
We run family services four times in the year – Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. We involve the children from mid-week activities. The services are usually packed out with parents coming to see their children. We take the opportunity to both present the gospel as clearly as possible and advertise Christianity Explored. We’ve had a number of folk come along to these courses and some come to faith and join the church.
Another step forward, about five years ago, we changed from having a central mid-week prayer meeting to meeting in ‘community groups’. This has helped get a lot more people praying together, studying God’s Word and caring for each other. Our aim was also for these groups to be outward looking, trying to reach out to their neighbourhoods. At least a couple of these groups now have regular social events to which they invite friends and neighbours.
More recently, through one of our members who works with asylum seekers, we’ve had contact with some Iranians and had the joy of seeing a whole family come to faith and be baptised.
God has certainly been at work in the community and the church has grown. This has brought challenges – particularly the need to disciple new converts. We’ve started a monthly theology group called ‘Solid Rock Café’ – we listen to a couple of talks on theological topics and discuss questions, with lots of coffee and cakes to keep us going.
We’ve also needed to strengthen the leadership by training young men. We were able to appoint a young man as a second elder a few years ago and currently also have a trainee elder who works part-time with the church. We’re about to vote on two men to become deacons, one of whom has come to faith through Christianity Explored in the last few years, which is a great thrill.
JR: You’ve also got a vision to see churches planted in the region, tell us about the work that has started in Cefn Mawr.
IH: While population centres in North Wales are not huge, there are many villages and towns where gospel witness is very limited and needs strengthening. We believe from Acts 1:8 that Christ has called us to have a concern for mission in our immediate locality, in the world, and also in our region (‘Judea and Samaria’) – the latter is sometimes a mission field neglected by churches.
Three years ago God opened a door for us to start a community group in Cefn Mawr, a village seven miles south of Wrexham. The hope from the start was that this group would grow into a church plant. There have been encouragements – there are about twenty folk in the group, mainly from that area, and we baptised two people from the area in a local river! However, following a visit from Dai Hankey of Acts29, we reassessed our strategy for the group. We have encouraged those who live within Cefn Mawr itself to drive the mission forward, while we concentrate more on building a church planting team from Gwersyllt.
In an attempt to connect and partner with other churches in our region we’ve run separate men’s and women’s conferences for the last few years. Our aim is to encourage each other in gospel truth and gospel witness. We’ve seen these grow, with about 100 men and 200 women attending the most recent conferences.
JR: And what about the future – how do you see God leading you forward?
IH: As we’ve grown we’re conscious that we need to be intentional about keeping our outward focus, as well as caring for and building up believers. Rather than waiting for people to come into the church we hope to hold more of our activities in community facilities, like the local school. Over the summer we plan to hold our evening services in a local country park, with short sermons based around the evangelistic course The World We All Want.