The Psalmist says’ ‘Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness’ (Ps. 115:1). This is the essence of the story of Little Mill Church.
The work of Little Mill Baptist Church began around 100 years ago as a Sunday School outreach. This was consolidated into a church that has preached the gospel in the village faithfully ever since. For over half of a century, one couple, Cyril and Betty Jones, has persevered in the work even though there were sometimes just a handful attending. Praise God for such faithful saints.
Little Mill is a small village with 260 houses, which lost its shop and post office many years ago. Children attend primary school in the next village and secondary school 10 miles away. There are limited employment opportunities locally and so it is now mainly a dormitory village of about 600 people.
In 2008 the church, which then had just five members, issued a call to the current pastor and his wife. On arriving in the village they discovered that many local people thought the church had closed. There was a need to let people know that the church was open and welcoming to all. This was done by a combination of four simple actions.
- An open door
The church was in the habit of closing the front door during meetings. We began to keep the door open to show we were open and welcoming to all.
- Big bright posters
Being on the main road through the village, we purchased a large free standing noticeboard plus a supply of colourful posters that were changed regularly. Not only were we noticed but people began to ask how certain activities were going.
The church adopted the strapline, ‘Your church in the village’ and began to show this on all posters and publications. The aim was to help people realise that we were there for them and not ourselves.
- Village newsletter
The village newsletter had not been produced for some time because no volunteers could be found to produce it. The pastor offered to take on this responsibility because it gave an opportunity of regular reporting on ‘your church in the village’.
Engage, engage, engage
The church began to meet regularly on Saturday mornings for ‘Way Forward’ sessions. These were opportunities to explore how the church could engage with the local community and to pray. It was clear that few people were likely to come into the church and so the challenge was to find the equivalent of what Paul did at Athens: ‘So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there’ (Acts 17:17). The marketplace was the main expression of community in Athens, but the challenge was to find the modern equivalent of community in Little Mill. We identified three main types of community:
- Community of place – living together in the same place.
- Community of interest – people who relate across a wider geographical area because of shared interests.
- Virtual communities – people who share and relate mainly through social media.
Ideas began to form to produce an engagement plan for each form of community. Such a plan needs to relate to the opportunities and challenges of each community, and as such there is no template that can be taken up and used everywhere. For Little Mill the main components have been:
Community of place
- Opening a community cafe in the church one morning a week, known as ‘Cafe Melin’, run to look and feel like a good quality cafe. It met a need and quickly attracted people of all ages. It still regularly attracts between 30 and 40 people a week, and has been an agent for building relationships and trust with local people.
- A monthly lunch for older people. There was a desire from two ladies (not attenders at the church at the time) to do this, and they agreed that it could be facilitated via the church. At the end of each meal there is an opportunity for sharing the gospel.
- Three weekly meetings for children and young people in the village (on Friday and Saturday nights).
- A readiness to take funerals for local people, whether church attenders or not.
- Visiting all new-comers to the village with a welcome pack and personal invitation.
Community of interest
- Joining some of the regular groups that meet in the village hall.
- Going for lunch at the village pub.
- Organising and running community events through the village hall committee to help build a stronger sense of community and to engage with a wider range of people.
- Producing and maintaining a church website, and integrating it with other local sites.
- Having a Facebook page.
After five years of relationship and trust building, regular attendance at the Sunday service has increased by 300%. There used to be about a dozen, but now there are 35 people who regularly attend. The youth groups attract a similar number of youngsters each week. Church membership has also increased in the same proportions. More and more people see it as their church in the village.
Building for the future
The Lord has blessed the work and we praise him for this. The church continues to meet regularly to pray for outreach and keep under review how community engagement can be increased.
Blessing also brings problems, some of which are the problems we all want – a building that is no longer big enough to accommodate people who come at Christmas and other special times, and a Sunday School room that can no longer fit all the children in. The church began to consider an extension to the building, and in the midst of this process received an anonymous gift of £12,500. Plans have been submitted to build an extension to give the church another 36m2 of space, and the Lord continues to provide more gifts.
While we rejoice in current encouragements the church retains a desire to be an active and engaged church for future generations. As a small church we see the need for active engagement with other evangelical churches. Joining the Associating Evangelical Churches in Wales (AECW) has enabled participation in the Newport Cluster, and development of strong partnerships with larger churches.
Last year the church began to consider the future needs of the pastorate. Through the active support of the cluster a proposal was made to take on a pastoral assistant for a 12-month period. The leaders at Emmanuel Evangelical Church, Newport, were very helpful and proposed one of their young men, who was training for the ministry. Peter and Demelza Hilder and their family came from Emmanuel to Little Mill in this capacity. The Lord blessed Peter’s ministry and helped him ‘to fan into flame the gift of God’ (2 Tim. 1:6). Well ahead of the 12-month period the church met and agreed unanimously to issue a call to Peter to become a co-pastor.
We look to the future with great excitement and expectations, remembering always, ‘Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness,’ and that ‘Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain’ (Ps. 127:1).