by Danielle Earle
If you’ve sat in on one of our Sunday meetings recently, or enjoyed a hot coffee with someone after the meeting, then chances are you’ve heard about Terry Virgo and the Amazing Grace conference. In June, Terry and Wendy Virgo are visiting Trinity Central, and Terry will share an incredibly important message about God’s amazing grace.
Perhaps, though, you’re new to Trinity Central and you’ve never heard of Terry Virgo or don’t know what Newfrontiers is.Well, here’s a bit of the story to get you caught up:
In the mid-1950s, 16-year-old Terry Virgo became a Christian after his sister shared the gospel with him.
A few years later, as a young adult, Terry was filled with the Holy Spirit which transformed his walk with God – and yet his experience of his local church was lacking. Although he benefited from strong biblical teaching, he found less community there than he experienced among his non-Christian friends. It bothered him that prior to becoming a Christian he had experienced deep friendship with others, and yet, in the church he experienced isolation and formality. But what he discovered in the Bible was different: the church was community, togetherness, family.
In the late 1960s, upon completing his theological studies, Terry was invited to be the pastor of a church on the south coast of England. Following through on his convictions, Terry transitioned that church from being a place where people gathered only on Sundays and had little to no relationship outside of church meetings, to becoming more like a family, with regular mid week gatherings and actual friendships among the church members. He fought hard to break the formal atmosphere so commonly experienced in churches of the time, and slowly the relational feel began to change.
Terry surrounded himself with a team of men who he encouraged to practice and grow in their gifting. He partnered more experienced leaders with less experienced ones to help build their confidence and encourage their growth.
In the early 1970s nearby house churches began inviting Terry to speak about the work of the Holy Spirit. In no time, the number of house churches seeking input grew, as did the number of people gathering in these homes. Men were able to leave full time jobs and pastor their house churches full time. Many of these churches gradually moved from homes to larger venues to accommodate their growing numbers.
Terry’s goal was always relationship and family. He knew that if the church were to grow and impact the world, it would be through a mix of fellowship and prayer. And so this family of churches grew organically, because the relationships grew organically.
In 1980, Terry invited a group of men to form an apostolic team. This originally took the name ‘Coastlands’, meaning ‘to the ends of the earth’ but later became Newfrontiers.
In the early 1980s a church in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, in need of help with leadership approached Terry. Terry and the apostolic team sent a full time pastor for 6 months to build strength and health into the Bombay church. Gradually the team began to work with churches in South Africa, Mexico, and other nations.
At a prayer gathering for leaders, a prophetic picture was shared of a “herd of elephants crashing through jungle terrain and going into new frontiers”. Two key prophetic phrases came out of this picture, namely that ‘there are no well-worn paths’ ahead of us and that ‘we can do more together than we can apart’. This prophetic direction fostered an ethic of mutual support and honour as the churches moved forward in new ventures of pioneering faith. It was also out of this picture that the name ‘Newfrontiers’ emerged.
Despite some international connections, most Newfrontiers churches were located in the south of England. One day God gave Terry a prophetic picture of a bow and arrow being placed in the south east corner of the UK. The arrow was pointing toward Europe and the rest of the world, but it was clear that the arrow would not fly far unless the bow was drawn back. The interpretation of this was that we should plant churches right across the UK for the sake of mobilising world mission; and so, in the 1990s church planting became a major priority, with pioneering initiatives led by Colin Baron in the Manchester area and David Devenish in the Midlands of England.
Also as a result of this prophetic picture, the annual Newfrontiers conference (then called Downs Bible Week) was moved to Stoneleigh in the centre of England. The Stoneleigh Bible Weeks drew thousands of Christians each year from New Frontiers and other church groups. About 28,000 people attended the final Stoneleigh in 2001.
The annual Bible Weeks spawned a Leaders Conference, the Mobilise Conference for students and 20-somethings and eventually the New Day conference for teens. All the while, more leaders were being raised up, strategic relationships were being built, churches were being planted, and people were being saved and experiencing what a church family was.
The Bible Weeks were important contexts for shaping a vision of churches which shared certain values:
- an emphasis on God’s grace and acceptance rather than legalism or striving;
- being a family of friends together;
- strong emphasis on teaching the Word of God and experiencing the Holy Spirit;
- Spirit-filled worship and prayer;
- the priesthood of all believers and growth in spiritual gifts for all believers;
- team leadership and ministry by a local eldership team; and
- apostolic teams filled with Ephesians 4 gifts serving the local churches and seeing them grow into maturity.
In 2011, the Newfrontiers family had grown to some 800 churches in over 70 nations. Recognizing that a centralized structure would inhibit rather than release growth, Terry and his team redefined Newfrontiers as a network of independent yet interrelated apostolic spheres, passing the baton on to 15 apostolic leaders. Seven years later, the family has grown to more than 1500 churches and church planting continues unabated all over the world.
And this is where we find ourselves today. The sphere of which we are a part, Christ Central, is led by Jeremy Simpkins who, together with his wife Ann, has visited, ministered, strengthened, and encouraged our church many times over the 6 years since Trinity Central was started.
This is the soil in which we, as a church community, are growing. Be refreshed in your faith as your hear Terry’s words:
“Remember God has accepted us. The gospel of grace is a message of breathtaking freedom. It must be embraced with faith and thanksgiving. You are thoroughly accepted just as you are. Jesus Christ is your righteousness and he is never going to change. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. When you wake tomorrow, he will still be your righteousness, before you have done anything to enjoy God’s favour. You have to earn nothing.
Your spirit needs to bask in the brilliant sunlight of this reality. You need to know it inwardly and celebrate it on a daily basis.”
(Next week we will focus more on Terry’s Grace message, be sure to subscribe to our blog so you don’t miss out)