Small towns don’t mean small thinking

Influence Church has just planted their newest campus in Penrith, Cumbria, their third location. Ben and Gale Dowding took over what was then called Richmond Pentecostal church in 2008, with a congregation of 70-80 people and a population of 10,000. Now there are 450 people attending church across their three locations.

The Penrith plant started in September last year and already has local people as part of the church and serving on teams, and a connect group.

Ben said: “In many ways the plant in Penrith makes no sense - but when has kingdom advancement been about common sense. There were lots of potential obstacles to us planting this congregation, including that it’s 50 miles from Richmond.

“But over a six month period in 2015, we strongly felt the Holy Spirit prompting us to step out in faith and obedience. So that’s what we did.”

A team of 8-12 people travel to Penrith each Sunday to help run the service, including the campus Pastor and one of the Senior pastors. Already over 90 local Cumbrian people have attended a service in Penrith. 

Influence church got its new name and the idea of planting new locations in 2011, when God gave Ben and Gale a new vision for the church. Ben said:

“In 2011 God started to speak to us about a whole new season for our Church. This included a change in our identity and an expansion of our vision.

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“At the same time, God had been speaking to us about increasing our influence and planting congregations beyond Richmond. In 2012 we planted our second location of Church in Barnard Castle (Country Durham). 

“That campus is five years old this year and continues to grow in strength and influence in that community.”

The Barnard Castle campus now has weekly Sunday services, four Connect Groups and a number of community outreaches including Children’s ministry and a food bank, which has brought several local families into the church. Two families from elsewhere in the UK have also moved to be a part of the church.

We asked Ben what he was excited about in the next couple of years in church. He said:

“Every week feels like an adventure in Church. And adventures aren’t always what you expect… sometimes they’re a little uncomfortable… but the experience is always worthwhile.

“2017 has started really well across all our locations, not only with an increase in size, but with strong depth in people growing in their walk with God and experiencing the presence of God.

“One of the biggest things we had to develop as leaders was a vision that was bigger than our ability and a determination to not settle for what we could see in front of us. We plan to keep our ears open for that still small voice, so that we’re always obedient to His purposes, not our plans.

“There are loads of developments and strength we want to see grow in these three locations and if at some point God speaks to us about a fourth… we’d be up for the challenge.”