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13 November 2014

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You are in: Suffolk > Faith > Features > The Christianity factory

Sunday Service waving

Sunday service

The Christianity factory

No hymn books or collection plate, but guitars, drums, amps, dancing in the aisles, flag-waving, clapping, cheering ... and not many Suffolk churches can claim they meet in an air-conditioned ex-factory where they're hoping to get 1000 worshippers!

The River of Life church in Felixstowe began when Pastors Terry and Juanita Baker felt God was calling them to establish a new form of evangelical worship. A free church is one not associated with any particular denomination of Christianity. 

Pastors Terry and Juanita Baker

Pastors Terry and Juanita Baker

Beginning with just one convert soon there were enough people to begin Sunday services at Brakenbury Sports Centre.  When it became obvious that a central office was needed, a café in the town centre began to serve a dual purpose as a church office and a coffee bar!

Finding a home

Two years later, in 2004, when the weekly congregation reached three hundred, the church had obviously outgrown  the sports hall according to Pastor Terry Baker: "The Lord told us to buy a building with more than a thousand seats. And so we looked at the Spa Pavilion (the theatre in Felixstowe) and realised that it had 907 seats and we thought, Lord where is this building?

River Of Life church, Felixstowe

River Of Life church, Felixstowe

"We’d been to a church picnic and we brought a lady home to Adastral Close and we came past and there was a 'For Sale' sign just put outside this building. We walked in and we knew in the Spirit this was ours."

Prayer and a direct appeal for funds from members led to the deposit for the £700,000 purchase price being raised and the River of Life church found themselves the proud owners of the modern air-conditioned former Actaris factory with 24,000 square feet of prime real estate, an empty shell waiting to be fitted out.

Sunday services

I visited the church in the peak holiday season, when many families were away,  but still a hundred or so people of all ages were gathering to sing, pray and worship, and around thirty children would leave the service mid-way to go into classes for Junior Church.

Sunday Service 2

Sunday Service

As you enter the light and airy building, the modern reception area of the previous owners is still in place, making it look more like an impressive office entrance than a religious building. Inside the main area a large coffee bar, with catering standard kitchen, is the venue for coffee after worship and Alpha course meals. Glass-sided  rooms form the children’s classrooms, crèche, offices and meeting rooms.

In one of these rooms, before the main act of worship, a small group of members gather to pray and prepare for the service. The service itself begins with worship songs, accompanied by the waving of large coloured flags, many waving their arms or dancing and then there are prayers, bible readings and a sermon.

Worshippers are invited to come forward to bear witness to God and most of the congregation follow the proceedings in well-thumbed and highlighted Bibles which they've brought with them.

Fishing for new members

Everyone I spoke to stressed that they were not trying to take Christians from other local churches but were aiming to "grow" new Christians via their outreach work and to encourage lapsed Christians to return to a place of worship.

River Of Life cafe

River Of Life cafe

The church is proud that they don't have a regular Sunday collection plate.  If they need money for a specific project they appeal directly to the congregation via Gift Days and members believe in a tithing form of giving.  10% of their income goes directly to the River of Life and no-one, not even the pastors, are paid for their work.

The church is not far from its aim that the premises should be used for conferences for up to fifteen hundred people during the week, a facility that is currently lacking in the area. 

And the ambition to have one thousand members?  "I can see us achieving that within four years" says Pastor Baker.

It was a very different experience to a more traditional style of Sunday Christian worship, but I really enjoyed my morning in church and junior church ... and everyone seemed so happy!

Rachel Sloane presents a faith-based show on BBC Radio Suffolk every Sunday morning 6-9am.

last updated: 17/11/2008 at 14:23
created: 03/08/2006

Have Your Say

Is there a place for a free church, or is it a threat to denominational churches?

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

My church is exactly like this one in the US and I can assure you Free Church (we call it, non-denominational) in no way treads on denomination or vice versa...we are one body, many parts. If you truly are Holy Spirit driven, the results are consistent anywhere in the world. By the inspiration of God, my Pastors built our church from a printing factory and it is beautiful and most important, anointed!

Matt Willoughby
Jesus said I will make you fishers of Men. That means everyone!! Men, Women and Children, and it is up to Christians to do this. There will always be a place for a free church, alongside denominations!!! We are not in competition - we all want to worship the LORD! Worship is just different in different denominations. The Free Church will always have a place in Christianity, never are we told, 'Thee must worship in this denomination' or 'Free Church's are wrong'!! Praise be to God through the work of Pastor Terry and Junaita, God Bless them, and their ability to trust in what the LORD said!

Go ye into the world and make disciples of all nations that is what the bible says and it did not record that you must belong to a particular denomination to accomplish this I pray for strength for Pastor Terry & Juanita as the strive to accomplish this great task.

Dave Phillips
Yes, of course there is a place for a free church. Why should it be a threat to denominational Churches. As Christians, we should all be willing to serve and worship God.

Peter Taylor
There is a place for free churches so long as their aim is to bring the true gospel message to those who are seeking God and to be free from the slavery of sin. It is not a threat to the established denominational churches. When you consider that only a small percentage of people are active churchgoers in this country. There is plenty of room for more churches of all denominations and styles of worship

wow I feel that you have honoured God in the work you do. In these end times we need to worship Him in freedom and truth and do away with the religious spirit that chokes the Holy Spirits free access to our hearts.

Joseph Spear
Free churches like this one in Felixstowe are breath of fresh air because they serve their local communities. I suppose it's fairly rare in society that any organisation exists primarily for non-members! But free churches are very outward looking and not exclusive like some other institutions. For what it's worth, my family and I personally visited this particular church when on holiday and it was a totally positive experience. Joseph Spear

Susan Way
Yes, it is good to have a large range of churches,so people can choose which type of church they attend. Also free churches of this type are more likely to attract young people.

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