Peter Gower is leading a church revitalisation project in a deprived and under-reached area of Liverpool. As he prepares, he’s also studying with Union. He tells us how the Lord has been laying the foundations for renewal in North Liverpool.

"The Lord began to ignite a passion in my heart for church planting during my time as an undergraduate law student, and then as a church intern in Durham. Especially church planting in the many vastly under-reached parts of Northern England.

In 2012 I moved to Liverpool and joined Christ Church Liverpool, a church in the city centre with a vision to plant and revitalise churches across Merseyside. I spent 6 years working for UCCF, training and equipping university students in evangelism through Christian Unions. During this time, I met (and married!) Rachel. After being appointed as an elder at Christ Church in 2016, we began to think more specifically about future ministry, and particularly began to think about church planting or church revitalisation.

“Estimates are that less than 2% of people in the area regularly attend any church”

We see a particular need for the gospel in North Liverpool - one of the most economically deprived and under-reached areas of the UK. It’s home to approximately 250,000 people who live in different communities, most of whom have never really engaged with the gospel. One such community is Walton. Walton has a population of around 15,000 people and aside from Ebenezer Chapel, there is no other evangelical church in that council ward, and no reformed Gospel church in the wider Walton area at all. Estimates are that less than 2% of people in the area regularly attend any church.

Ebenezer Chapel, planted in 1906, was once a thriving church. In the last few decades its membership has fallen from the hundreds to around 15, mostly elderly, congregants. Without external help the church was moving towards closure. Ebenezer first reached out to Christ Church for help in 2012. After further conversations with another church leader in Liverpool, I was invited to discussions around March 2018 to explore the possibility of leading a team to revitalise the church.

After a few months of talking and praying, we decided to go for it. Before meeting the leaders in March 2018, I barely knew anything about Walton. We felt no particular burden or call to the area other than seeing a church in need of help, but we knew it was an area in desperate need of a vibrant gospel witness and we had a conviction that we were willing to go and do it with the Lord’s help if he wanted us to.

So, in September 2018 I joined the Christ Church staff team as our next church planter to work specifically towards the goal of revitalising Ebenezer. This was partly funded by Union Mission partners, SaRang Church. I’m grateful to the Lord for the faith and generosity SaRang and Union Mission have shown in wanting to support this vision. It’s also been a wonderful expression of gospel partnership between local churches like Christ Church and Cornerstone working together, with the Lords help, for the renewal of Ebenezer.

“As we have got to know members, we’ve seen more of the wonderful ways in which the Lord has been providentially at work to prepare the way and bring things together.”

My wife and I have begun attending Ebenezer occasionally on Sundays to get to know members. We’ve been holding information evenings to explain to the existing members why things are changing and what that will look like, and to give them a vision for the future of the church. As we have got to know members, we’ve seen more of the wonderful ways in which the Lord has been providentially at work to prepare the way and bring things together. We’ve met members who have been praying for people to come and help for many years, and a godly family have recently joined the church hoping to be part of seeing the church revitalised - they have been a great encouragement to us as we’ve discussed and planned changes for the future. We’ve also seen the way in which God has been graciously at work to humble both parties as we prepare to work together.

There are some particular challenges that come with revitalisation: for many of the more elderly members, change is a difficult and painful process, involving loss and grief. Bringing change in a sensitive, clear and honouring way is often more difficult than starting something new - yet there is much grace and beauty in it, particularly in seeing older believers get excited about reaching their community once again. Our initial focus will be on changing Sunday mornings to be a place for preaching, for family, and community. My prayer is that this springboard will enable us to bring wider and deeper cultural change as we seek to welcome visitors and make disciples in the area.

“The thing I most appreciated about Union is its emphasis on forming healthy, humble, godly leaders who are delighted in Jesus”

As we prepare for Ebenezer, I’ve started on the MTh programme at Union School of Theology. I’d been thinking about further theological training for a few years, having a desire to be equipped for a lifetime of fruitful gospel ministry. I applied to Union to do the MTh and started in January. I particularly appreciated the flexibility and breadth of options at Union, especially since I’ll be balancing it with pastoring Ebenezer. But the thing I most appreciated about Union is its emphasis on forming healthy, humble, godly leaders who are delighted in Jesus. I know that in the stresses and strains of pastoral ministry it’s easy to lose sight of that, and I love that my time at Union keeps me coming back to that.

One of my chief tasks to prepare has been pulling together a team of gospel-hearted people willing to move with us in this exciting project. For most this also involves moving house into a completely new area of the city. We now have a core team made up of 12 adults, 4 children (with 2 more on the way!), and 3 teenagers which we praise God for! We’re all excited to see what the Lord might do, but also conscious of the challenges that face us. But we know that God’s speciality is bringing life from death, and we trust that he will do it as the Word is proclaimed in the power of the Spirit.

On May 12th we will begin full-time, and I will be appointed as the pastor of the church. Lots will change on that first Sunday, and so we will need a special measure of God’s kindness as we get started in those first few weeks. We anticipate the work will be long-term, slow, and hard, but know that the harvest is plentiful. Our prayer is that by revitalising Ebenezer and re-establishing another gospel church in North Liverpool, we might partner with other gospel churches in the area in an effort to see even more churches planted and revitalized.

Please join us in giving thanks for the witness of the church in Walton for many years and join us in earnest prayer that the Lord would bring new life to a dying church, for the sake of the lost, and for the glory of his name."

To find out more about Union's work in Liverpool click here. Or to discover how our MTh might serve you in your ministry, click here

*Image of Peter Gower courtesy of Christ Church Liverpool