Don and Abi Thomas planted Inverclyde Vineyard Church in Scotland in 2019. Recently we chatted with Don who shared with us about their church planting adventure up to this point!
Where did your church planting journey begin?
My wife, Abi, and I were a part of Catalyst Vineyard Church for a number of years. We’d known for a while that church planting was something that God was speaking to us about. But to be honest, we thought it was for “later on” when our kids had grown up – definitely not for the young family stage of life we are at right now!
But things changed a few years ago when we started to sense that church planting was going to be something we did a little bit sooner. 2018 was a significant year for us where lots of things just seemed to fall into place. God really clearly placed a call on our hearts to move to the West Coast of Scotland – and it wasn’t an obvious place for us because it wasn’t a place where we had any family or friends.
Not having an existing relational network there meant that it was an especially big step of faith! We resigned from our jobs, put our house on the market, and in February 2019 our wee family relocated to Inverclyde.
What did your first year of church look like?
When we first arrived in Inverclyde, we just started doing lots of wee community events, simply trying to meet as many people as we could! We held a couple of ‘Walk and Talks’ in our local park, letting people know where we were meeting on social media and inviting them to come along and hang out with us. We shared a picnic breakfast with lots of families, and even tried kite flying (which was loads of fun but a total fail, because it wasn’t windy at all!!) Having just relocated our lives, both Abi and I had started in new workplaces in the local community – so that was a great way to get to know new people too! In these different spaces, we had loads of great conversations, and the people we were meeting wanted to find out more about this church we were planting. We let them know what we were up to, and people started to gather with us as part of our church community.
The next step was to start gathering as a church more regularly. We found a venue and shared breakfast together on a Sunday morning, and then slowly built on this – adding worship and bible teaching to our breakfast time together. It was simply a really informal church service over toast! New faces started to join us, and during this time we saw a couple of people we had reached around Inverclyde come to know Jesus for the first time which was just so exciting.
Honestly, church planting has been a crazy journey. You go in with a heap of strategy and planning and put in place the structures you think you might need, but then we just found we did the total opposite! We learnt that when you’re a church plant and you’re starting from scratch you’ve just got to be adaptable to the kind of people you reach. Plus we were both working, so trying to juggle church planting around jobs and family life! At each stage, we relied on the voice of the Holy Spirit to tell us what to do next.
What happened to Inverclyde Vineyard when COVID-19 hit?
By the time COVID hit we were regularly meeting in our venue on Sundays and had one Small Group that was gathering mid-week to open the Bible, worship and pray together. Before we went into lockdown, we’d only just told everyone about our vision to multiply our one Small Group. Funnily enough, we did still multiply these groups – growing to three Small Groups in the first lockdown – they just happened on Zoom! As well as live streaming our services, we also ran our first Alpha course online, and two people gave their lives to Jesus through Alpha, which was just amazing.
Online has definitely had some downsides, but we’ve seen a number of people come to know Jesus, and other people have connected back in with us who drifted away before. One lady said it had been years since she’d been able to go to church, but because it was now online and accessible, and she could connect in at her own time, she was able to get plugged into our community.
We recognised that there was so little for kids to do in lockdown, and so we decided to run a free, high-quality challenge to bless local families with something to do – first in the Easter holidays, and then again in the summer. We contacted a local charity called the Men’s Shed who support men with their mental health, and they made us ten beautiful wooden carved creations. We used these to create a fun trail through a favourite local park, and someone in our church designed an awesome map that families could download to do the challenge. Hundreds of families in our community took part and headed out with their maps (often soggy in the rain, but still having fun!). This challenge helped us to build some more great relationships with people in our community.
Since the holiday challenges, a local primary school has just asked if we’d be able to create them a Maths Challenge for ‘Scotland Maths Week’. We’ve designed wee boards with simple sums for the children to do and then submit the answers. It’s fun to see the relationships we’ve built in action and to hear about what we’ve become known for in this community since those challenges.
What does regathering look like for you?
Excitingly, we’ve gathered some new people in lockdown and therefore outgrown our last in-person venue! But it means that it has been a total nightmare to find a new space to meet in person. Recently we found a local sports centre with a sports hall we can use on Sundays. We’re just starting to regather on the 1st and 3rd Sundays of each month. We’ve only just had our first gathering back, and there was just incredible life. We don’t have a separate kids space so everyone is in together and it has an amazing family feel. We have a kids tent at the back and provide kids activity packs for during the service. It’s messy and lively but it’s so much fun!
What are you excited for?
Ooh, good question! I believe that God is saying that there’s been a strengthening in the stretching in this last season. As a community, our faith has been really stretched over the past 18 months, but we know this stretch wasn’t meant to break or snap us. We believe that God has been strengthening us for what’s coming next. We’re excited to see how he will move and bring new life across Inverclyde as we emerge from the pandemic.
If you want to explore church planting our Multiply Team would love to chat with you and support you as you discern your next steps, you can arrange a 15-minute phone call with them through our website: https://www.vineyardchurches.org.uk/multiply/