Church planting in York
Tim Davies interviews Matthew Roberts about a Gospel Partnership church plant in York
Matthew and Kate Roberts have recently moved to York to start work on a church plant there. Until this summer they were with Christ Church, Heaton, a three-year-old church in Newcastle-upon-Tyne that is part of the North East Gospel Partnership.
Matthew previously worked as an assistant minister at Jesmond Parish Church, Newcastle. The Roberts have three young children, Benjamin, Thomas and Anna.
TD: Why plant a church in York?
MR: Fundamentally, for the same reason as churches should be planted everywhere – the country and the world needs more churches! If we are to have more than a tiny impact on the country as a whole, we need thousands more churches.
This is as true in York as anywhere. But there are also particular things which caused me to think about planting in York; mainly, that it is a bustling and important town with two large and growing universities and a huge amount of Christian heritage, but with remarkably few thoroughly evangelical, clearly gospel-preaching churches.
TD: But aren’t there lots of churches in York?
MR: Yes there are, and you can’t miss them – particularly the Minster! What’s more, there are quite a number of churches where the Lord Jesus is clearly loved and the gospel genuinely believed. That is obviously a reason for great praise to God.
At the same time, there are 170,000 people in York who do not go to church and, despite the number of churches, it can be hard to find clear and faithful Bible teaching, and really clear explanation and proclamation of the gospel in the city centre.
So we want to complement and work alongside existing churches while, hopefully, bringing the gospel to many who never go near a church.
York Evangelical Church is currently the only church in York which is part of the Yorkshire Gospel Partnership. They have been an especial encouragement in our vision of seeing a new church with similar aims started in the city.
TD: How were you led to the idea?
MR: I’ve known a number of people over the last decade who have moved to York and struggled to settle in a church where they were well taught and discipled. That is a terrible shame in a city with apparently such a strong Christian history and presence.
York also has an influence on the country out of proportion to its size, largely because of its universities which are planning on huge expansion over the next few years. That has made the need here seem even greater to me.
TD: So what’s your dream?
MR: Well, for York along with every city in the world to be transformed and filled with people wholly devoted to the Lord Jesus! To see a church established where Christ and his gospel are preached, filled with people who have had their sins forgiven and are having their lives rebuilt by Christ through the Holy Spirit.
That, of course, would just make it what a normal church should be and my prayer is that, in time, we will be just that. So I hope that we will have a strong Sunday worship service which includes clear and faithful preaching and will be welcoming and accessible to outsiders.
I also hope that we’ll be able to evangelise, build up and disciple people from all walks of life, through a range of other ministries too.
TD: What are your initial plans?
MR: Our first task is to bring together a team of people to be the initial core of the church, who share our vision and want to be part of it. We’re not starting with a ready-made group from one existing church, so that is going to take some time.
Once we have a little group like that, we’ll be able to start meeting as a church and focusing on evangelism. Until that point we will be having fortnightly prayer and teaching meetings for anyone interested in what we’re doing.
TD: What support have you got for the project, in York and more widely?
MR: York Evangelical Church has been a key encouragement, and the project would not have happened without its support. At the same time I have had a warm reception from other York church leaders.
More widely, we have raised money from quite a few different sources for our support and have had great encouragement from church leaders in Gospel Partnership churches in Yorkshire and across the country.
TD: What’s needed to make it all happen?
MR: Prayer, people and money in that order! We are often struck by how foolish, humanly speaking, what we are trying to do is. There is no particular reason why it should work. Only God can make the preaching of his gospel effective.
Our immediate need is to have people commit to being part of our initial group. We are particularly keen to be introduced to anyone in York, Christian or not, who might be interested to meet us.
TD: How can readers pray?
MR: Particularly for us and our family: that we might persevere when things are discouraging and grow in godliness and trust in God. And also for God to bring us into contact with the right people, Christians and non-Christians, to see the church begin to grow.