During my visit to the bishop last week I had to explain the vision and basis for the Go and Grow scheme. This led me to reflect on what a fantastic scheme it is. Driven by vision for mission, Go and Grow is probably the most ambitious and exciting church project in the UK at the moment; I certainly haven't heard of anything quite like it. And what it delivers is extraordinary.
Firstly the sheer extent of the building: our facilities will be at least doubled in virtually every area. There will be over double the number of toilet cubicles, over double the amount of hall and community space, over double the size of main kitchen, and over double the floor area of offices. It is really only the main worship space that is not quite doubling (our current church seats something over 300 and the new auditorium to be built on the back of Solar House will seat 500). But then when it is taken with the extensive new foyer, the combined effect of worship space and mingle area is at least double what we enjoy now.
Secondly the location: Solar House sits on one of the most high profile locations in North London, just up from the town centre of North Finchley on the A1000 High Road, with an average of 53,000 people passing the front entrance each week. Go and Grow is no small step up; it is giant leap forward. This project is akin to someone moving from a 3-bedroomed house to a 7-bedroomed house in a vastly superior area.
But Go and Grow is not principally about a building, rather at its heart it is a vision to expand the kingdom of God in North London. The project will deliver a bright and inspiring new worship centre, a community hub with members of the public coming in and out of the building every day of the week, a place of discipleship where we are training numerous people in mission, and a base from which to go out into the highways and byways demonstrating the good news of Jesus' love.
So despite the eye-watering cost, we will get a huge amount for our money. The project represents excellent value for money.
So everything is going to plan? Well not exactly. The scheme is so ambitious that we're having to throw everything at it:
(a) The St Bs PCC has resolved to make available all our existing assets to help pay for it.
(b) We are also aiming to sell off the North Wing. You may remember that the building is split roughly one third/two thirds. The south wing (two thirds) we intend to convert and extend as our new church. The north wing remains a fully let self contained office block, which is surplus to our requirements. So instead of keeping it as part of the whole, which we can't afford, we intend to sell it to part fund the project.
(c) Because of the extremely tight timescale for raising the funds, we have decided to phase the development. We will immediately do the conversion works to the existing south wing, including putting in a new entrance, new toilets, new lift and staircase, new kitchen etc. We will then as a church move into the building before the new auditorium is built. We have established that we can easily fit 300 chairs into the existing space (see picture at the top of this post). So we will be able to function as a church during an interim phase until we build the new auditorium. This will buy us time to fundraise for the major part of the building construction project.
(d) Finally we have had to strip out of the plans all non-essentials. There were a number of nice-to-haves, which sadly we have had to let go. I remind myself and those around me that we never set out to have a fancy building. We set out to be salt and light for the kingdom of God, and frankly we don't need gold taps in order to do that.
Yet despite all these strategies we are still currently nearly £2m short of the necessary amount we need if the project is to proceed. And we need to prove that we can get this extra money by the latter half of October - less than twelve weeks away.
We still believe that this is where God has called us and the basis of the scheme is sound. But we do face a great challenge. William Carey the great missionary evangelist said: "Expect great things of God, attempt great things for God". This is what we are attempting to live out; stepping out of our comfort zone and pursuing what we believe are the purposes of God for us without counting the cost, and at the same time fully expectant that God will provide for us every step of the way.
So over the next couple of months we are going to be asking everyone in and around St Bs to commit ourselves to this work like never before through giving of our time, energy, passion and money. I believe God is going to provide for us. I am praying that God will provide for us, remembering that we are often the answer to our own prayers. But I am also under no illusions: we face an enormous challenge.