Ben, can you give us an update on the Franks family? Remind us a bit about the Rhondda Valleys?
We are Ben and Lois Franks. We live in the Rhondda Valleys in South Wales, UK. We have two little boys; Evan who is three and a half and Caleb who is nearly two.
We absolutely love where we live. Our region is a network of small villages and towns that came to prominence during the industrial revolution and became the heartlands of spiritual revival in the late 19th and early 20th century. Sadly, the heavy industry has long ceased and has left a bunch of socio-economic challenges, an unchurched population (less than 1%) and a lot of hopelessness.
It’s into this context that we planted Hope Church Rhondda a little over 5 years ago. Our vision is to see a vibrant, gospel-centred and spirit-filled church at the centre of each of the villages and towns in the Rhondda.
You guys are now into your 6th year, what are you enjoying about this season?
I think it would be no exaggeration to say that we are in one of the sweetest seasons of church life that we have known. As a family we are in a fun time. The boys keep us busy but they never stop making us laugh. Evan loves making conversation in Welsh and English and rarely stops. Caleb is a bundle of energy and is usually found climbing up the kitchen cupboards or sat on top of the piano!
Church life is also a lot of fun! Over the last couple of years we have seen a number of local people come to faith and we are now beginning to see these disciples making disciples of their own. A 72 year old lady from a pagan background came to faith a couple of years back. She told me that she had struggled with anxiety for 50 years and no-one had told her than Jesus was the answer! Last summer, Pam turned up in church with a gnarly looking 30 year old pumped up from the gym, covered in tattoos and with a drug habit – her grandson. Now her grandson and his partner have come to faith and despite a whole bunch of challenging circumstances they are learning how to follow Jesus.
We are seeing new faces and unbelievers among us most weeks and our refurbished shop that we use for church on Sundays is now pretty full!
As such, the most exciting thing of all right now is that we are gearing up to start our second site in a place called Treorchy.
We have about a dozen adults that are part of our core team (which Lois and I will lead), all of whom have come to faith in the last couple of years and live in the area. This group of new converts are so passionate about what the Lord has done and is doing in their lives, they want to tell everyone (which is amazing!) so we decided to start an Alpha course together. Each night we have a testimony from someone in our group (or another local Christian), followed by the Alpha videos (we’ve found the Youth ones to be more relevant in our context) and then discussion groups. Most weeks we have around 30-35 people and the openness to the Gospel has blown us away. We’ve seen two individuals come to faith so far and know that there are several others who the Holy Spirit is powerfully at work in.
What advice do you have for planters who have made it through the first 3 years and are looking ahead to the next 5?
Firstly – I’d say well done. The perseverance and determination needed to believe God and keep going for those first 3 years is huge and something to celebrate.
I think my advice would be to believe God for a big and long term vision for your church. I have a friend who talks to his church about their 100 year vision. He wants to build towards something that is bigger and greater than he is. He wants the church to outlast him and go beyond him to the glory of Jesus. I love that!
I think in the early days of church planting the vision is simple – plant a church. You spend your time thinking about getting from nothing to something – and that journey in itself is all consuming. But when you are a few years in, you’ve got some people, seen some fruit, maybe got some elders and a tidy venue, there can be this subtle temptation to take your foot off the pedal. To think ‘we’ve done what God called us to’. Of course, the great commission is so much bigger than just getting a church plant up and running, and then adding a few people year by year. But to keep on pressing on, we have to fight the temptation towards something that is comfortable and containable and keep on dreaming; believing God for bigger and better things.
For us that means having a vision for many churches scattered across the Rhondda Valleys. It means growing the church in breadth and depth. But what it always means is keeping mission at the cutting edge of church life. We certainly found that as the church began to grow it has been more and more of a challenge for us to stay on mission. With increasing pastoral needs in the church family, and with more and more energy expended on operations and logistics, its easy to forget that there are people all around us desperately in need of a Saviour.
I really believe that we need a long term, God sized vision for our churches and church plants that keeps us focused on mission not for 3 years, or even the next 5 years, but rather for long after we’re gone!
What can the movement pray for?
Please pray for the launch of our second congregation
For our growing group to mature at rapid pace. For our evangelistic zeal to stay strong. For the practicalities of our family moving house to Treorchy (the house we’ve bought is currently falling down so we can’t move in) and for God to send some mature Christians to help us build. We are particularly aware that despite the Holy Spirit working and quickly maturing some of our Core Team in a miraculous way, the longest any of our group has been a Christian is two years (apart from Lois and I).
Please pray for our congregation in Tonypandy
That Simon and Lucy who lead this site will settle into life with their newborn Reuben. For the team there to have fresh energy, creativity and conviction about our mission to the town and for the congregation to transition well as we start the multi-site journey together.