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Proclaiming Christ in a Post-Christian Country

Moody-trained pastor grows home church amidst historic decline of Christianity in UK

by Eric Romero

When James Martin arrived in rural England in 2015 to pastor his home church, he had just graduated from Moody Bible Institute with no real-world pastoral experience. More significantly, he was about to begin his ministry in a country undergoing the worst crisis of faith in its history.

“It’s like I was moving to an unreached nation,” James says.

Losing their religion

According to census data tabulated in November of 2022, England is now a minority Christian country for the first time since census-taking began in the 1840s. The portion of England’s population who describe themselves as “Christian” decreased from 59 percent in 2011 to 46 percent. Conversely, the percentage that identify with “no religion” increased from 25 percent to 37 percent.

As a result of this downward trend, 423 churches in the UK closed from 2010 to 2019 according to The Telegraph newspaper. What’s more, the Faith Survey website reports that in 2015, the same year James launched his ministry, the percentage of once-a-week churchgoers had dipped to just under five percent—as opposed to 22 percent in the US.

 For evangelical leaders in the UK like James, lead pastor at Bradfield and Rougham Baptist Church (BRBC) in Rougham, England, these were sobering statistics. Of the factors contributing to England’s religious decline, the two most notable are the “Christian” population dying off while failing to hand down their beliefs and the centuries-old Anglican Church becoming irrelevant and outdated to younger generations.

“The churches in England don’t do a good enough job at engaging with the culture and equipping each person in the church to share the gospel,” James says.

‘From the library to the pulpit’

Located about 100 miles northeast of London, Bradfield and Rougham Baptist Church is one of 650 churches belonging to the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches in the UK. It’s where James accepted Christ in 2003 at the age of 17 and currently serves with his wife, Quincie, and their children Jude, 10, and Rosalie, 8.

Since James’s first moments of faith, BRBC has played a major role in his life, including offering him his first job out of college. Halfway through his five-year Pastoral Studies degree at Moody, the church asked James to return to England and serve as an assistant pastor after graduation.

But those plans quickly changed. BRBC’s lead pastor left with no qualified candidates to replace him. This departure, coupled with the shifting religious attitudes within the UK, helped cause a precipitous drop in membership.

“They were desperate for somebody to come and do pastoral ministry,” says James. It was May 2014, and he was just wrapping up his fourth year at Moody.

“They wanted me to be their lead pastor when I finished my studies—I’d be going straight from the library to the pulpit!”

After much prayerful consideration, James and Quincie believed God was calling them back to England. He accepted BRBC’s offer, and the Martins joined the church in September 2015.  

James Martin with wife, Quincie, and two children at his 2014 graduation from MoodyJames Martin with wife, Quincie, and two children at his 2014 graduation from Moody

‘He called me pastor’

If James had aspirations of a pastoral career after graduation, he certainly didn’t have them when he enrolled at Moody in 2010. In fact, it was the furthest ambition from his mind.

“Preaching? That’s the opposite of what I wanted to do in ministry,” James says.

He began his Moody studies as a sports ministry major, having previously traveled the world with On Goal, an organization that reaches youth through their love of athletics.

But that all changed when his first Practical Christian Ministry assignment at Moody was preaching to residents in a local retirement home on Sunday mornings. Moody students are required to serve in practical Christian ministry (PCM) once a week every semester. James remembers feeling unmotivated.

“I didn’t like (preaching) and was really rather sore about it,” he says.

Reluctant as he was, James kept showing up, sharing God’s Word, and unbeknownst to him, changing hearts with his preaching. He befriended a Vietnam veteran named Ken, who told James early on, “I don’t believe this stuff. I don’t want anything to do with it.”

Not long after, Ken was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. When faced with his own mortality, he trusted in Christ—largely due to hearing James communicate the gospel every week.

As Ken’s condition worsened with no hope of recovery, he asked James to officiate his funeral. “He said, ‘You’re my pastor, so you have to do my funeral,’” James recalls. “I was shocked and honored—but felt unequipped.” When Ken passed away, James honored Ken’s request and spoke at the funeral.

“That was the first time anybody had called me their pastor, and it stuck with me,” James says.

Survival mode

That experience changed the trajectory of James’s life and cemented his ministry calling. It’s also one of many challenging situations in ministry when he had no other recourse than to trust God with the outcome. But none was more meaningful than leading a struggling church in a nation of widespread spiritual disillusionment.

“We landed in England with a three-year-old, one-year-old, four suitcases, and about $600 to our names,” James says. “When I got there, nothing was set up—I had to hit the ground running. I was continually in survival mode.”

James took over BRBC with a congregation of 60 members. In three years’ time the church had tripled in size, and it now boasts a membership of 350. “That makes us a megachurch for rural England,” James says.

The biggest reason for this growth, according to James, was BRBC’s ability to attract nominal Christians not living out their beliefs and those disillusioned by their previous churchgoing experience. The church draws in these two groups through Christ-centered teaching that both churchgoers and the unchurched can relate to, a genuine love of others, and the church’s various outreach ministries.

“We saw loads of people coming back to church and experiencing a personal renewal,” James says. “I really try hard to preach in a way that everyone can understand, and our church does ministry that helps best connect with people. A comment I’ve often heard is, ‘I’ve never really understood anything in the Bible until now. It’s all starting to make sense to me.’”

BRBC’s congregation also grew by beginning to reach Americans serving at nearby RAF Lakenheath, a British air force base about 20 miles north of the church. US service personnel and their families now represent about 30 percent of BRBC’s church body.

Eight years later, BRBC continues to flourish under James’s leadership. The Martins are grateful for the opportunity to return to James’s home country and give back to the church that introduced him to the gospel, nurtured his faith, supported his training, and launched his ministry career.

Quincie, James’s wife and partner in ministry, has seen God’s hand moving in the church and the surrounding community. “I’ve seen God work in the hearts and minds of people who have been truly captivated by grace for the first time,” she says. “It’s been amazing to witness the transformative, restorative power of the good news in the lives of many people that call BRBC their home church.”

Passion for caring

James credits his Moody training and the professors who mentored him as a student for preparing him for those early days as an inexperienced pastor at BRBC.

“Moody is an amazing community,” James says. “From the way the classes are taught, to the hearts of the professors, to the PCMs—it’s all just tremendous.”

Dr. Laurie Norris, professor of Bible at Moody, was instrumental in James’s development as a preaching pastor. “James was an earnest and dedicated student of the Word but initially did not pursue the gift of preaching,” she says. “But he was faithful to cultivate his ministry calling to serve Christ and the church, which was a delight and honor to watch unfold.”

Moody professors Dr. John Koessler, who shattered James’s preconceived ideas about being a pastor, and Dr. Rosalie de Rosset, for whom his younger daughter is named, also played key roles in James’s growth as a believer and training as a pastor.

“At Moody, you’re genuinely loved and encouraged to do well,” James says. “And I believe that’s one of the best things I’ve brought with me back to England—a passion for caring for people and investing in them with the love of Christ.”

James, his family, and the members of BRBC know they won’t be able to fix England’s Christian identity crisis. But they will continue working and trusting God to change lives with the gospel in their quiet corner of the countryside.

About the Author

Eric Romero is an editor for Marketing Communications at Moody Bible Institute.