It’s taken a while. A little over ten years, in fact. But very wonderfully Christ Church Balham (CCB) is set to become a church planting church. And it’s very exciting! It’s probably an exaggeration to say that it’s the best news to hit Streatham since the regrettable departure of the John Lewis Partnership’s Department store, Pratts, in 1990. But neverthless for the town whose High Road was voted the ‘The Worst Road in Britain’ in 2002, it’s surely a ray of sunshine! God willing, a little outpost of the New Creation is about to be set in the middle of this urban sprawl.
The plan is to soft launch a church plant in Streatham in the autumn of this year. And the congregation at CCB is completely behind it. Our consultation process resulted in overwhelming support for the proposal. There are still a whole load of things to sort out. We’ve not yet identified the venue. Alex hasn’t signed his contract just yet. We’ve not appointed any elders, though we have a good idea of who we want. But we have a launch team of twenty people, a longing to reach the diverse population of Streatham, a Bible and confidence in the gospel. And we’re praying. We’re good to go.
Over the past decade the Lord has given CCB steady but modest growth. And that’s remarkable in an inner city suburb in which few of our church members can afford to stay long term. The average house price in Balham was £650,000 six months ago. When we started we were about the same size as the proposed Streatham plant. I was straight out of theological college and pretty raw. Rosslyn and I had historic friendships with a handful of the launch team from our time at Dundonald Church, which was in Wimbledon in those days. We had a wise elder in Gordon Reid who was hugely supportive. We planted an evening congregation attempting to reach the vast numbers of twenty somethings who were moving into the area (in the 2001 census 60% of people in Balham were aged in their 20s and 30s). There were broad evangelical churches on the fringes of Balham but in the town centre little progress was being made with these young professionals. We were willing to have a go. After a few years we realised that we needed to provide for our singles who had married and had children. So we decided to plant a morning congregation. It was ambitious because we were little more than half a dozen couples with babies and pre-school children. But many of us had seen the Lord grow the evening congregation and we had every confidence that He could do the same again if He so wanted. It was tough. We made lots of mistakes. But our partnership with Co-Mission made a massive difference.
As things now stand, CCB consists of two congregations. The morning congregation has about seventy adults and the evening about sixty. We’re a church of 130 adults with a range of ministries. We meet in the school gym of the local secondary school. It’s not a great venue. But our church centre is. Two years ago we moved into an extended office in the centre of Balham. The staff and apprentices work out of there. But it’s also a big enough venue to hold prayer meetings, Mums and Toddlers, our midweek small group Bible Studies, Christianity Explored and a variety of youth and children’s events. For years we’ve been praying for the Lord to provide us with a new venue. He hasn’t. But He has opened up the opportunity to plant. In Streatham.
Streatham has 70,000 people living in it. It’s a huge, sprawling, wonderfully diverse mess. If the Estate agents are to be believed (no really) it’s a slumbering giant and one day it will wake up to roar again. There are signs of increasing gentrification. Tesco have just built a hypermarket at the bottom end near the Common. Caffe Nero moved in a while ago. But I think it’ll be a while before we see a Waitrose or M&S Simply Food. But that means it’s affordable. And we currently have almost 50 people living over in Streatham who currently come to CCB. They’re not all proposing to go with the plant. We want to make sure that CCB can continue to flourish as well as giving Streatham the best possible start. We’ve had useful conversations with a handful of the churches that have similar theological convictions to us. And they’re supportive. We’ve identified the Streatham Hill area as the place to try to plant so that we can ‘work a patch’ in which there’s little evangelical ministry. The intention is to plant an afternoon congregation so that we can reach a variety of people and benefit from ministry support from CCB. It’s likely to be a Free Church (affiliated to the FIEC) because of the theological convictions of the proposed pastor. He’ll be part of ‘The Antioch Plan‘ and receive the training, mentoring and resourcing provided by that initiative. It’ll be part of Co-Mission. But most significantly of all, it’ll be a new church trying to preach the gospel to the huge numbers of people in Streatham.
Wherever you’re reading this, please pray for us. This is the single most significant event in CCB’s short history. And we’d love for the Lord’s hand to be with us so that a great number of people might believe and turn to the Lord (Acts 11:21).