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Story 34 - Church Planting in a New Community

Ebbsfleet Baptist Church, Kent
Suzie Abramian in conversation with Rev. Penny Marsh

Located in the busy Thameside area of Kent, Ebbsfleet has been undergoing a mammoth regeneration project in recent years. The plans look set to be one of the largest of its kind in Europe with the intention to build 15,000 new homes, new schools, parks, community facilities and even a world-class theme park. In 2008 Pioneer Minister Penny Marsh, moved into the area in order to start leading the South Eastern Baptist Association’s ‘Kent Thameside Church Project’ in partnership with Emmanuel Baptist Church in Gravesend where Penny is an Elder.
Now, as the new homes continue to appear, Ebbsfleet Baptist Church is forming and describes itself as, ‘a Christian presence in the new Ebbsfleet Garden City,’ who are there ‘to love and serve the thousands of new residents who will move into this area’ (https://ebbsfleetbaptist.wordpress.com).

Although the first few homes were not completed until 2014 Penny describes how laying the groundwork for mission and planting was crucial from the start, to the extent that when some of the new housing was delayed it seemed that God was directing her to establish those core foundations of relationship and networks and to prepare relationally for what was to come. This also involved being actively missional by starting ventures such as a cafe church and recruiting a minister in training to work in the more socially deprived areas.
Considering that no community facility or building existed in the new area until 2018 and Penny herself was not able to move into the new area until recently in December 2019, there were obvious struggles associated with space and venue for any kind of gatherings. However, as there was never the intention to start with traditional services there was a certain amount of freedom to think more creatively and as a Penny says, for her personally it has helped to explore the theme of ‘mission as the guest’ as she has been invited into relationships and community roles.
Despite the lack of permanent building, missional opportunities were still able to evolve, such as outdoor events at Christmas and Easter, small groups in homes, a cafe church and a cross generational coffee morning, initially meeting in a pre-existing local school.


MA Story34 - Picture1After so long without a venue the challenge came in 2018 when the community centre was completed, and the team had to decide whether to use some of this facility. Penny recalls that ‘they had never intended to be the kind of church plant where you hire a hall and invite people to come to a service,’ however it seemed that God was directing them towards having a place in this new community venue even though it was still unclear what this would specifically look like.
At the same time, through the many relationships and community roles Penny was developing, particularly by connecting with the Ebbsfleet’s Development Corporation, she was able to learn about the local funding coming forward into the area as a Healthy New Town, which in turn meant resources and support were coming in for health and fitness. Initially seen as just a possible connection for a new church, Penny recalls how the promptings from God began to grow when a Fitness Trainer with a heart for pioneer ministry wanted to connect with them, and another couple trained as a ‘Healthy Walk Leader’ and gifted in hospitality wanted to join as well.
As they established what their unique offering to the community would be, the importance of spiritual health began to emerge, as Penny states that ‘spirituality is really important in our own health and well-being.’
As Penny recalls it was this combination of opportunities, connections and the giftings of the people God was bringing in which led to the creation of ‘Sunday Active’ starting in 2018, using the community centre as their main venue.

MA Story34 - Picture2As the name suggests, there is a core element of physical activity at Sunday Active which begins with a range of healthy activities to choose from, including walking, running, HiiT (High-intensity interval Training), or simply meeting together for coffee. After the activities all the groups gather for a buffet breakfast which is followed by a short talk on an aspect of spiritual health from a Christian perspective.  As this has grown over the last couple of years, now attracting around 35 adults and children, the need to deepen spiritually has also grown which has led to ‘Sunday Active Extra,’ for those who want to study the bible, pray, worship and share communion together.
Reflecting on why this kind of approach has been taken here, as opposed to a more traditional model of church planting, Penny says there have been two main priorities which have governed the approaches taken. One is the calling to make disciples and the other to express the Kingdom of God in a place. Without intending to try new things just for the sake of it, Penny notices how we are often in need of new models of discipleship and starting with a ‘blank sheet of paper’ has been a perfect canvas for trying new things. Much of what has happened so far here has also been because of the relationships that have developed, and Penny notes how ventures such as their coffee morning have played a crucial role in facilitating this.
Looking ahead, this new church is planning to explore the use of enquirer courses such as Alpha for those asking deeper questions about faith and they are also considering how to offer more specifically for children in order to disciple them too. Noticing that many Christians in the area will still travel out of the new development to go to church Penny says they are also exploring whether they will look to develop a worship or teaching session for them as well.
In conclusion, Penny reiterates the importance of listening to God in this kind of venture, to see what kind of resources He brings in and quite simply to give it a go! Some things may fail but God is always gracious, and we shouldn’t be afraid to even just have a go at something new.


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