LONDON (BP) — The southeastern London borough of Greenwich, chosen in 1884 by delegates from 25 nations as the location of the prime meridian, or Longitude 0°, has served as the standard for mapping and world time zones ever since.
The Royal Observatory is perched on a hill in the historic borough, home to the University of Greenwich and located just across the River Thames from Canary Wharf, London’s bustling financial district. Greenwich’s 270,000 residents are largely young professionals and students. Grounded in a secular worldview and seeming success, most of them feel no need for religion, much less the Gospel.
However, International Mission Board church planter Chad Rigney and his wife Lynsi have seen God open a door for ministry to these millennials and are praying for the Gospel to transform this community and impact the world.
When the Rigneys arrived in London in 2013, they settled into the northwestern London borough of Harrow and began visiting churches in the area to determine where God was at work. Although initially saddened by the number of Gospel-less and dying churches, they eventually launched a “missional community” — a group of believers who grow together in their faith, serve one another and seek opportunities to bring the Gospel to their neighborhoods.
The group has met in the Rigneys’ home the past two years, focusing on a three-part rhythm of discipleship — up, in and out.
Chad Rigney explained: “Up — meaning we need to have times when we’re worshipping God and we’re learning in the Scriptures. In — we need to do family and take care of one another well. This means hanging out and having dinners together. And then, out — we need to have a mission that we’re doing together focused outward.”
The missional community, for example, organized a Christmas party for their first outwardly focused event and invited non-religious friends. One of those who came remarked how great the party was and asked how the group knew each other, which opened the door for a spiritual conversation.
Interaction with the missional community has helped Rigney understand the culture around him, both religious and non-religious.
“It’s been a really good learning experience,” Rigney said. “As missionaries and working with nationals — they’re British and we’re the only Americans — it’s been a good three years of learning the culture and learning the difference between the States and here. … Even the worldview of Christians here [is a little different].
“I’ve had to remove a lot of my Christian vernacular, even among Christians. It’s been a longer journey than I thought it would be.”
A partnering church
Rigney attended Criswell College and served as a youth minister for a number of years before sensing a call to missions. Connection Community Church (C3) in Rowlett, Texas, embraced his desire to reach London with the Gospel and has served as the sending church, providing financial and prayer support in addition to sending mission teams to help the Rigneys.
Teams often conduct surveys in neighborhoods, transitioning to spiritual questions at the end in order to open Gospel conversations. This past summer, a team also met practical needs in Harrow, receiving permission from the local council to beautify a park, which created a platform for the missional community to be involved in community development.
C3 missions pastor Mike Julian said the church is excited about the Rigneys’ focus on missional communities and church planting.
“Really, the overall goal is to plant multiple churches through missional community,” Julian said.
“I know Chad’s heart is not necessarily to be the front man for the next 10 years. His heart is to build a missional community and have a local come in and pastor that, and then go grow another missional community and have a local come in and pastor that. It’s been exciting, working with Chad, because I know he’s not in it for selfish gain. He’s in it for Kingdom ministry.”
Venturing to Greenwich
Earlier this summer, God opened new doors for church planting in Greenwich, providing the Rigneys with a church planter’s dream — a permanent building. While visiting with a local Baptist association, Rigney was told that a Baptist church in Greenwich had recently closed its doors and disbanded. The leadership at the association shared Rigney’s vision for church planting and offered the building, which he accepted in October.
As his family moves to Greenwich to start this new work, Rigney said he’s confident the missional community in Harrow will be in good hands, as one of the men in the group will take the lead. Rigney plans to start new missional communities in Greenwich, which dovetails into the IMB city strategy for London — one of five newly announced megacities being piloted as part of the mission board’s new Global Cities Initiative.
In Greenwich, the Rigneys hope the transformation involving missional communities and church planting will spread globally as university students and business professionals move back to their homelands as witnesses for Christ.
“We’re not here for us,” Rigney said. “We’re going to exist for people who aren’t in our community yet, who aren’t Christians yet.”