The Rugby Club Church

Author: Dr Jonathan Ingleby, co-editor of Encounters and Postgraduate lecturer in mission, Redcliffe College.


Author: Paul Tester was involved for a year in ministry on a typical UK housing estate. Here he shares some ideas as to how an ‘emerging church’ approach might work in a church planting context. The local rugby club was the key to his thinking.
Church attendance is rapidly declining across the UK and the national Church is faced with the possibility that it may be close to extinction (Moynagh, 2001, 7-10). It must consider the possibility that God has abandoned it (Murray, 2004, 231), and if it believes that this is not so, it must look to see how, and where, God’s Spirit is leading and renewing His Church (Fresh Expressions, 2006, Prospectus: Phase 2, 4). The “emerging church” appears to offer the potential of such Spirit led renewal. This essay will consider how such a church might be planted on the Gloucester estate of Matson.
Matson is typical of many estates across the UK. It is one of the more deprived areas of the country (National Statistics, 2006). There are three existing churches on the estate which are working well together. The churches have congregations that are predominantly middle class and towards the older end of the age spectrum, some of whom travel in to the churches from surrounding areas. Local centres of activity include a youth club, a pub, a family and neighbourhood centre, a shopping arcade, a library and notably Matson Rugby Football Club (RFC). I have been playing rugby at the club for the last three months and have observed how the club is truly a centre for the people of the community. It involves not only the senior players but also young players and women from the local netball club. It also has a skittle alley, bar and multi-purpose room which are used by various community groups. On a Saturday afternoon particularly, the club is full of people from the local area who have played sport, their relatives, those who have spectated and those who have helped in the kitchen / worked behind the bar. Although Christian influence at the club is currently minimal, as such a community focus, it provides an opportunity for the establishment of a community and mission based church to minister to the unchurched people of the estate.

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