This is how to establish a church on a new-build

Cambourne is a 10-year old new-build town about 6 miles outside Cambridge, built on green field site. Yesterday I visited the vicar of Cambourne Church, who moved in when the development was at only 200 houses. There are now about 8000 in the three villages of Great Cambourne, Lower Cambourne and Upper Cambourne, together which make up the town. It is always useful to chat to people who have been there and done that before you. Even thought every situation is slightly different, there are always a number of similarities.

One of the things he mentioned was the amount to which God had been working in Cambourne even before the first brick was laid. The town was planned in the 1980s with the first house finished in the late 90s. God had been working by placing various Christians and sympathetic people around the planning and council authorities to ensure that the church could get off to a good start. For example, there was already land set aside by the developers and given to the church on which to place a building – that was part of the section 106 public space agreement. All the church needed to do, at the right time, was to raise the money to build it.

One piece of advice he gave was to cultivate and maintain good relationships ‘upwards’ – with the hierarchy, council and developers, as well as with the new residents. A good standing by a church in a community cannot be overrated.

Early on, before any community buildings had been completed, one of the major problems was finding somewhere to hold church and community events. Public space is often not developed until there are 1500 houses already lived in. The first meeting of the cambourne church seed team was in the doctors waiting room out of hours, because that was the only space in the town. Seeing that this was a problem not just for them, but for the whole community, the vicar liaised with the developers to lease him some land to bring in a portakabin which could be converted into a makeshift temporary community room. This building is still there and still used every day – what a fantastic way for the church to serve the community and great out-of-the-box thinking. It also brought in some revenue for the church to be able to spend further on meeting the needs of the residents.

He also talking about vision casting with residents and with the forming church. When people move into a new build environment they have bought into a dream of what the area could be like – often buying houses off plans with the promise of facilities and community to come. Early on, the vicar was able to tap into this desire to create that vision and was able to bring people on board into working for that vision, before the senze of entitlement set in (i.e. you promised us this and it isn’t here yet).

The Cambourne church building first phase was completed a couple of years ago. It is a lovely modern welcoming building with high ceilings and a sense of space. It is also another space that can and is used by the community for all sorts of reasons. And it looks like a church, which is helpful too. The good relations that had been built by the church and the vicar helped in the construction of the building too. Cambridgeshire council had seen the work that the church was doing in Cambourne and, knowing the vicar, offered a large grant to go towards the construction of the building.

Apart from this, a lot of the work has been similar to what you would expect on other new-build estates – lots of children and families work. Youth work started only later on when they had the resources and time (and when the first batch of primary school children had grown up a little). There is a church school which they are heavily involvled in. They contribute to the community festivals (Cambourne fetival) and are seen to be active in the area. And they provide a café and listening place at the front of their new building.

The church has now grown from just the vicar and his family to 150 on a Sunday and many more coming into contact with them throughout the week. It is now no longer a pioneering or planting mode but has reached the next stage of growth which brings more challenges – how to keep the sence of intimacy and community and real relationships within the church when it gets so large. And, of course, to remember to keep looking outwards. Just because they now have a building doesn’t mean that they can sit back and expect people to come to them. The vicar is now thinking about implementing a mid-sized missional communities approach, of the type promoted by Mike Breen (formerly of Thomas Crookes, Sheffield) and put into practice by St. Andrew’s Chorleywood and written about in the book, Breakout.

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