Under its new name, New Community, the 2000s brought a deepening of God’s work through the church. This led to an exciting, and at times challenging, transition from being a large church to a network of communities connected with the vision of bringing the city and wider region into life.
After an incredible movement in the young people in the 1990s, the youth group, Sublime, continued to thrive in the early 2000s, with their ‘Big Story’ event regularly attracting over 500 people. They also had their own website (set up by Dave Boniface and Andy Wright) that featured discussion forums for young Christians. Their 90,000 hits quickly rose to 140,000 visitors a month. It became an essential tool for sharing God’s message with teenagers both locally and beyond.
When Billy Kennedy took over as Senior Leader in 2002, New Community began to experience a deepening of God’s work through all kinds of church activities. Kids Club in Eastleigh suddenly expanded, with 30 leaders appointed to lead weekly small groups for children. The ‘Living Room’ family service at Central congregation was also established, as leaders felt God wanted them to increase work with families.
But the deepening of God’s work wasn’t just confined within the context of the church. ‘Miracle Street’ was set up to bring the church out into the community. Headed by Steve Lee, the team went to housing estates and deprived areas across the south of England to make the gospel come alive to people who didn’t know Jesus. And with the 500-seat portable arena they acquired in 2002, they were able to reach thousands of people who had never experienced God’s love.
Both the Central Counselling and Training Service (CCTS) and Southampton Community Family Trust (SCFT) expanded, offering counselling, advice and marriage courses to those within the church and surrounding community. The Healing Clinic was also set up, along with the Waterloo Sanctuary house for men with addictive lifestyles.
Following New Community’s 25th Alpha course, the church started their first student Alpha and Alpha follow-up course, ‘Growing Spiritually’. The discipleship course ‘Freedom in Christ’ was also established, as well as the more advanced Bible study ‘Deeper in the Word’. Women’s group, ‘Woman-2-Woman’, also continued to grow, with up to 80 women attending each session.
In 2004 the church lost the contribution of two of its senior statesmen when both Tony Morton and Graham Cooke stepped down from leadership and moved away from the city. They – with their wives, Hannah and Heather – had made an enormous contribution to the life of the church and it was a sad time when this massive change took place.
Later, in 2007, New Community was at the forefront of a bid to open two secondary schools in the city, in partnership with Oasis UK. The following year, the Oasis Academies in Lordshill and Mayfield were set up to offer high-quality education and transformational community work.
It was also a significantly fruitful time for the team at the Flowers Church in Swaythling. Leaders Bob and Colette Light ran a Sunday Club; Dip Week; food projects; clothing projects; debt advice sessions; women’s prayer and self-esteem groups; and men’s breakfasts. Their work saw hundreds of people fed and clothed, and met with Jesus’ love for the first time.
All these developments in church activities set New Community on the brink of an exciting transitional period. By the late 2000s, the group had changed from being a large central church with a couple of satellites, to being a network of communities dispersed across the city and region, working in partnership with other churches and organisations.
The city-centre Central Hall location would no longer be used solely by the church, but would become an incubator for other Christian organisations and a home for everyone in the local community.
Central Hall’s coffee shop, Central Coffee, opened in February 2008. But it did more than just serve great coffee and pastries. The non-profit enterprise meant Central Hall was open to the whole community throughout the week. It enabled everyone – from students to local business people, and those from other faith backgrounds – to come and get a taste of what New Community Church was all about.
New Community set up an internship programme in September 2002. Young leaders enrolled in the scheme were given a training package tailored to them, which included Bible studies and life-skills training. They supported the youth groups, technical teams, communication departments and teams in France, to deepen their understanding of leadership. Many interns went on to work in New Community and other churches across the country.
In 2000 the church purchased a property in Normandy, France, that would become a base for ministry in France, as well as a house of rest and prayer for church members.
2000 – Property purchased in Normandy, France, that was to become New Community Le Vay.
2000 – Headed by Steve Lee, Miracle Street began taking the gospel to the streets across the whole of the South.
2001 – The church held ‘HiLife Festival’ in Southampton centre - a week of fun, family-friendly events to show compassion and love to the community.
2002 – Billy and Caroline Kennedy assumed the roles of Senior Leaders.
2003 – David Adcock worked with French church leaders throughout 2003. Expansions were made to the church’s Normandy house, Le Vay, so it could continue to accommodate church families and activities in the area.
2004 – The ‘School of Prophecy’ was developed further, introducing and encouraging church members in the gift of the prophetic.
2005 – Couples in the church treated themselves to a weekend away together to relax, pray and support each other.
2007 – New Community put in a bid to open two secondary schools. Oasis Lordshill and Mayfield Academies opened the following year.
2009 – Billy and Caroline Kennedy took on the roles of Leaders of the Pioneer Network.
Transition of the Church
“Transition came as the church began to engage in the local community a lot more. We wanted to influence and bless the city. I suppose our focus was much more local, whereas previously we’d had a very broad focus with regards to the nation and missions,” Billy Kennedy, Senior Leader.
“We’d received a word about being an old-fashioned steam train that was going through a tunnel. As it went through, it was being completely rebuilt until it was a different shape and made from a different metal. There was just an understanding of what God was doing in the process, recognising that He was bringing us to a fresh new place,” Theo Amer, Senior Executive Leader.
“I remember the most amazing '70s-themed barbecue to celebrate the church's birthday 12 years ago. That was pretty sweet, although I'm not sure my costume of homemade flares, green shirt and orange feather boa was worth writing home about...” Alex Boxall, Central Congregation.
“Anne House painted prophetic pictures that were about 6ft by 8ft. We decided to take 40 of those paintings into Winchester Prison on big metal stands. There were men with sub-machine guns patrolling the walls and I had three bags of 8ft metal poles which I could have done anything with. But they just let me walk straight in. We set up an exhibition of Anne’s paintings and they had a tremendous effect on the staff and prisoners,” Jenny Deagle, Central Congregation.
“We were very involved in the Oasis Academies. I remember driving by Lordshill every day, praying for the site. And here we are now with two new academies in the city – great buildings, great schools and really good places for young people in Southampton,” Adrian Thomas, Central Congregation.
“I’m in the Oasis Academy at Lordshill quite regularly. It’s really exciting to be in a school that people said would never happen, in a building I was told to my face would never be built. It’s a joy,” Chris Thomas, Central Congregation.