In October 2020, OM church planter Tim Berry spoke with writer Nicky Andrews about the experience of launching City Church Wolverhampton (CCW) during lockdown, and his hopes for the future. You can read that past blog here. Then, CCW was 8 people meeting online.

In April 2024, Nicky visited Wolverhampton to meet with Tim, and found a growing church with a dynamic mix of outward focus and hospitality.

What can you make from a two-wheeled trolley, a white board, a wooden desk top and some bungee cords? Add an enthusiastic team of six from CCW and some Christian literature, and you’ve got a book table for Wolverhampton city centre. On this particular Monday in April, the weather is cold and grey - blustery winds mean it’s quite a battle constructing the ‘table’ on Wolverhampton’s premier shopping street. But the CCW team are not deterred; every Monday from noon till 2pm, come rain or shine, they bring a Gospel challenge to passers-by. “But not in a ‘shouty’ way,“ says Tim Berry. “ The table is hospitality-on-wheels, a weekly shopfront for Jesus, and the church. I do love that.”

The book table developed in summer 2021 out of prayer walks during lockdown; the team are ‘known’ faces to regulars along this pedestrian zone. Smiles and literature at the ready, they invite people to chat, take something to read, offer them prayer.

A variety of reactions

 “No thanks mate, I’m alright” is the muttered response from many passers-by when offered a booklet about Jesus. “But how do you know you’re alright?” Tim calls out after one young man who said that; he turns and walks back to Tim. “No, I’m not alright at all,” he replies quietly, face blank, eyes sad. “But nobody can fix what’s wrong inside me.” “Jesus can,” Tim assures him. “Our church is full of broken people who are getting fixed by Jesus.” The young man, whose name is Kyle*, is a similar age to Tim. They get talking, and this time Kyle takes the booklet.

Zoe* is part of the CCW group here today.  One year ago, she was a passer-by herself, mired in occult practices but aware that Jesus offered an escape. She came to the book table, wanting a Bible, and found a church willing to walk with her, on her path of repentance towards freedom from evil. Zoe was baptised last autumn; she feels being here today is one way of ‘giving back’ to God. But our conversation is cut short by a sudden hailstorm, too fierce even for the book table team to withstand. It’s ‘all hands on deck’ to deconstruct the table, as pedestrians scurry past taking shelter in the shops.

Flashback to Sunday – impressions of church

Over lunch with the team in a fast-food café, I reflect on what I experienced the previous day at their church service. On Sunday mornings since November 2023, CCW has been renting an inner-city community centre. It’s their third location for church since lockdown was lifted, and they started meeting in person as well as online. Numbers of people have greatly increased since the earliest days in 2020, due to personal contacts (including the book table), word-of-mouth, and their social media.

Whilst there are practical drawbacks to renting, it does however underline that ‘church’ is the people, not a building - being, not ‘doing’. 

Tim and his wife Renske are part of a leadership team of elders and wives, who are deeply committed to living out the church’s ‘DNA’ of outreach, hospitality and ‘family’. I was impressed by many aspects of the CCW gathering: the friendly hubbub of coffee-time chatter in the foyer; a radiant-faced worship team of adults and children; a congregation of fifty people reflecting the city’s many nations, and passionate prayer for the world and each other in four groups. A faith-building talk on ‘Jesus, our Banner’ from Exodus chapter 17 had adults and the older children watching with rapt attention when preacher Andrew wielded a staff, Moses-style. Chatting or praying over more coffee afterwards…. no-one hurried away. This is home.

A tangible sense of family

How did people come to be there? Kirsten’s* response summed up many replies. After relocating to Wolverhampton two years ago, she and husband Stuart* began the search for a new spiritual family, but despaired of ever finding a Gospel-centred church where they – and, vitally, their children – felt at home.

 “This was the twenty-fourth church we visited! And the kids were actually desperate to return the following week”, Kirsten recalled.“ We too were so touched by the welcome we received, the church lunch that day, the preaching – our search was over!”

Welcome to the party

I and my husband tasted this hospitality late Sunday afternoon, invited to hang out at Tim and Renske’s home for their daughter’s birthday celebration with her grandparents. Although strangers, we were equals with everyone, as were the other guests - a young couple from the church, who are seeking asylum in the UK after meeting Jesus had brought them persecution in their homeland. In a laughter-filled family atmosphere, there was also natural space on the margins for prayer and deep talks. Tim shared later that Avad* and Yasmeen’s* conversion from Islam has cost them all natural family ties; people in the church are serious about their responsibility as the couple’s new family in Christ.

Reaching the community through kids’ club…

Back to Monday lunchtime: I ask about the church’s summer holiday club for kids. The church staged the church’s first kids’ holiday club in August 2021, as the UK was emerging from lockdown.  Posting flyers through doors attracted fifty local kids, plus accompanying adults, across a week of fun and faith in the park. CCW’s sense of family has been deepened through many people volunteering to serve together at the kids’ club; Tim comments that serving in an outward-focused environment like that, is the surest way of promoting growth in any believer.   

This August, in an exciting development, the church will stage the holiday club in the park opposite the community centre where they meet on Sundays. Flyers are being prepared to invite the families of this strongly South Asian neighbourhood; the church leadership are praying about future week-night activities which they might host at the community centre on the back of this outreach – a weekly kids’ club or youth group, a parenting or marriage course, English classes.

…and beyond

A further strategy to facilitate both outreach and hospitality , could be renting a shopfront to host daytime and evening events throughout the week, such as prayer meetings, drop-in sessions for asylum seekers and refugees, a young adults’ group, a coffee-bar, and live music nights.

But in a world of immense need, with so much that could be done, the leadership are praying for God to make His choices clear - which area of the city to rent in, which events to host - and to root this opportunity for service in the hearts of others in the church.

Tim dreams too of mentoring a church planter to work amongst Wolverhampton’s large populations of Romanians, Iraqi Kurds and Syrians. “We do pray for the ‘right’ people to join us in that context, believers who are equipped to impact the ‘least reached’ in our city for Jesus.” he concludes. “Maybe we will even meet them at the book table…”

* names changed

Please pray:

·     For the CCW leaders to find a shopfront for future activities – right location, personnel and finances

·     For their planning and preparation for the 2024 holiday club, and for many local families to experience God’s love

·     For the right people, equipped to reach ‘least reached’ nations in the city