How Church Plants Engage Communities (with Jim Harper)

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How Did You Get Into Working With the Poor?

  • It started as Jim got to know a man who worked in a Christian bookshop. The man started calling Jim from time to time when people with needs came in.
  • Over time a sense of a call developed.
  • Isaiah 61 is a passage that undergirds the calling. The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon us to bring good news to the poor, and he desires to see people raised up as oaks of righteousness.
  • In his own testimony, Jim was drawn by the Father Heart of God.
  • It seems like whatever he does, these people find him.

In What Ways Could You Fit This Ministry Into a Church Context?

  • Jim got saved into a Methodist church. They didn’t really know what to do with Jim, never mind everyone else.
  • In the end, the minister asked him to leave – particularly because he had come into a charismatic experience.
  • He ended up joining another church, and people started coming in off the street. Jim hung out with them a lot and saw himself as one of them. The minister gave him a lot of encouragement.
  • At times, well-meaning people have told Jim that he needs to make a decision between running a project or leading a church, but Jim doesn’t think that it needs to be a choice between the two.

Tell Us a Bit About What Encounter Camp Is

  • During a camping weekend, Jim heard God saying to him, “If you gather the broken, the poor and the addicts then I will show you what I can do.”
  • This isn’t a particular strategy or a program,  but it’s just gathering people to a camp and believing that God would supernaturally do wonders.
  • This is the 10th year of the camp and they have seen God do lots of things, seen people healed and saved.
  • There is an expectation to see people changed year by year, that is again fuelled by Isaiah 61.

Tell Us About Your Friday Night Encounter Meetings

  • From the camps and other works, Jim was working with around 15 people. He had a heart to see them capture a vision for church.
  • It was a difficult challenge trying to integrate them into a predominantly white middle-class church. In the end, it didn’t really work.
  • A lot of the guys didn’t know how to relate to middle-class people (nor did many of the middle-class people know how to relate to them). Particular cultural barriers include inviting people around for meals and hugging.
  • Jim ended up starting a new outreach meeting on Friday nights with a venue in the centre of town that was publicised through street evangelism. He decided not to base it around food because he wanted it to be the gospel that attracted people in.
  • The format of the meeting is quite traditional – worship time and a talk, but the style will be quite different. As they were building from scratch, they could set the culture they wanted. The worship is not polished and is quite raw. There is not much contemplative worship but the praise is dynamic, with lots of shouting (a bit like a football match) – Jesus said that those who have been forgiven much will love much.
  • They don’t use many complicated songs. They keep the focus on Jesus and keep it really simple.

How Does It Work Together With the Rest of the Church?

  • Colin Baron was invited to a church leaders meeting. At the time, the church was a bit stuck and felt that there was no momentum. Colin asked about the Friday night meetings and Jim told them that there had been 15-20 people added. Colin pointed out that this was momentum, and suggested that the church started to think of it as a congregation.
  • Jim did a bit of teaching on the church in the Friday night meetings. Hope Church was restructured a bit and the Encounter meetings became a second congregation of the church.
  • This meant that they could enjoy the benefits of being part of the whole church, but develop their own structure and identity as well.
  • It made space for people to grow.
  • It gave opportunities for more leaders.
  • It gave momentum to the Sunday congregation.
  • It gave the church some profile and attracted people in.

What Do the Rest of the Church Think of It?

  • They had always been behind them, but rebranding it as a congregation helped them to ‘get it’.
  • People from the Sunday congregation helped out where there were opportunities (for example putting on a big Christmas dinner).
  • The church financially supports it.
  • It gives people from the church a narrative to talk about when they speak to non-believers.

Has Turning It Into a Congregation Increased Buy-In?

  • When you have planted one, you start to dream about what else you can do. Jim is now beginning to think about doing another congregation for the kind of person who listens to Radio 1 Extra.
  • Jim passionately believed in bringing different types of people together. He needs to reconcile this in his head. He has noticed that as the Friday congregation has got going, there have been more of the people from it have been also coming to the Sunday congregation than there were before the Friday congregation started.

How Can Busy Church Planters Keep a Heart For the Poor as a Priority?

  • It is hard to build with this type of person – and church planting is already an emotional roller-coaster. To do this kind of church planting, you need to really feel called to it.
  • In the early days on church planting, don’t feel that you need to major on this (unless that is what you are called to). You can start smaller (perhaps partnering with another organisations to do something like a soup run every few weeks).


  1. How do you lead people through the disappointments that often come when you work with the broken?
  • Manage expectations from the start.
  • Help people to assess the potential risks (for example when people open up their home).
  • Keep a tight rein on what activities are done with the guys that you are working with.
  • Watch out for people opening up their lives with these guys so much that they are setting themselves up for a fall.
  • At times we may feel as though we have failed, but remember that people also rejected Jesus.
  1. How do you maximise the impact when you only have a short amount of time with people (for example if you are doing prisons work)?
  • Trust the gospel. You are not in a position to see it through but God is.
  • Get good at sharing the gospel in impactful ways with people (this involves listening to their story and bringing out what the gospel says to that person).
  1. Do you have midweek groups, prayer meetings and things like this connected with your Friday congregation?
  • Jim has tried this at various times, but it hasn’t really worked and they tend to be very hard work.
  • Jim has found that doing discipleship one-to-one or one-to-two has proved much more effective.
  • They also run a farm project that the guys can plug into. Community activities can be a good idea.
  1. Where do you draw the line in church planting between doing everything for people and letting them get on with it?
  • Sometimes doing all the legwork (for example giving people lifts to your events) is what is needed, but other times it is a waste of time because it doesn’t help the person to grow or to do things for themselves.
  • Assess the resources that you have available. You don’t want to start things and then end up burning out and needing to pull the plug.
  • Not giving a person a lift to an event can feel like a risk because you really want them to be there. You need to also ask how much they want to be there. Perhaps don’t offer a lift but give them one if they call and ask you to, or ask people to get themselves to the event and offer them a lift home.
  • A similar thing is true with rehab. People are much more likely to go if they do the research and make the phonecall themselves than it someone else does it for them.
  1. What does ‘catching the vision’ mean for your church in practice?
  • Vision drives a lot of what we do.
  • As leaders we often make big asks for money, time and sacrifices. The thing that people give these things to is vision.
  • The vision comes out of a calling from God.
  • What helps people to catch it is telling the stories of what God is doing.