What’s it like planting a church in the middle of a pandemic?

Tim Berry moved from the USA to the UK with Dutch wife Renske and their family at the end of 2019, and launched City Church Wolverhampton in the spring of 2020 - during the first national lockdown. Tim shared their experiences with OM writer Nicky Andrews.  

Why did you leave USA for Wolverhampton?  

God was calling us to church-plant in Europe and we came on a fact-finding visit from New Jersey to England last summer. Wolverhampton was last on our schedule. I’d never heard of it before but the Lord so laid it on our hearts and clearly led us through circumstances to move by New Year 2020. Just in time for our third child’s birth, and – as it turned out - shortly before the first lockdown! We lived in Shropshire till we could move to Wolverhampton in September.  

What was happening in those 9 months?  

January was its own challenge, having a new baby and settling in a foreign country. In February we launched our ‘City Church Wolverhampton’ Facebook page and website to be our ‘shop windows’, clearly announcing our vision for CCW as a church. Our DNA is to raise disciples who make disciples and in due course plant out more churches across the city where those who have less access to the Gospel live. Ware praying for God to send us a core group of mature believers who share this vision.  

The first lockdown saw so many churches forced online that living elsewhere didn’t affect our activities. In the spring of 2020 we launched on YouTube, Instagram and Twitter. In June we started posting our own pre-recorded services on every platform, but now we meet on Facebook Live for Sunday services. I was a worship pastor in the US, experienced in video production and graphic design. These skills are very useful now! As an artist, constraint is positive because it forces me to think creatively.  

How many of you are there now in City Church Wolverhampton?  

Ten – us, my parents (who already lived here) and six local folk who God led to us. We meet on Zoom or Teams and until this latest lockdown we met for walks in the park. We have over 250 Facebook followers, largely our own supporters in the US, and folks in the UK and Europe who we network with. But we know there are people in the city and the Black Country who like us on Facebook, and others who view our services. It’s great that people can tune in anonymously but it’s challenging how to move these consumers to active engagement face-to-face in this age of lockdown.  

How do you plan to meet more people?  

This latest lockdown has interrupted our plans to find a local venue for physical meetings, likewise meeting staff and shoppers in the central malls which we’d just begun to do. But we can still prayer-walk in pairs!

Very seriously, this situation drives us to our knees in prayer.

The Lord uses our prayer life to sustain us daily, keeps us in the right place as husband, wife and children. And as a church, we’re compelled to be the praying church we say we want to be. It’s foundational to trusting the Lord.  

Can you explain more about your challenges, and how God is meeting you in them?  

It’s really tough. Multiple transitions have stretched us hard as a family and restrictions have deprived us all of the ‘normal’ ways to meet people. But I wouldn’t exchange these present times, because in the past God shaped and moulded me the most during the hard things Renske and I have experienced. This has built up our endurance. My dad and I formulated ten Core Values for City Church, and it’s like the Lord says, "okay, now I’ll give you experiences so you can really learn what you’re preaching about!" 

How can we pray for City Church Wolverhampton?  

For wisdom in what to do, and how to do it when lockdowns and restrictions keep imposing so many variables. May the Lord send the right people to us and keep us trusting that it’s His church and He will build it! 

Do you, like Tim, feel called to ministry among least reached people groups here in the UK? Take a look at some of the opportunities to get involved in UK church planting ministries with OM below!

Church planting options in the UK