Pastor Geoff Folkes is a busy man, leading Calvary Church of God in Christ (COGIC) in Tottenham, a community that’s long faced great challenges, as well as working as a business advisor. But he was able to spend some time with me to share how his church is making disciples.

Tell me about your church and community?

We’re one of the oldest Pentecostal churches around. Being right on Northumberland Park, near Tottenham Hotspur football stadium, we get heavy footfall, so we try to engage with the community in practical ways and let people know we’re here. The local community is diverse, made up of a range of nationalities and cultures. Sadly, many in the community face great challenges. There are high levels of homelessness, single-parent households, low-income families, gangs (one of which is active in our neighbourhood), drug abuse, hate crime, and domestic violence.

How does COGIC respond to these difficult circumstances?

No church can tackle all those issues in isolation. One of the main ways we engage with the community is through a fortnightly community lunch, which includes a hot meal and provisions for people to take away. We also work with the local authority to provide a safe space for female victims of domestic violence. They can come in and alert us to their situation and we can help them move forward. Going forward, we’re praying we can get a community house or refuge to expand this work.

COGIC’s efforts are admirable and a real example of love in action.

We want to be a lighthouse in the community so that people see that this church is seriously concerned with responding to people’s spiritual and practical needs. During the pandemic, many families were facing such difficult times, and those who had lost loved ones really wanted to remember them by having a funeral. So we stayed open as much as we could, and I said, If I can, I will do it.” People could see the church was active.

I’m also involved in the community’s multi-faith forum, the Safer Neighbourhood Board and Haringey Giving organisation. I’m getting to know people and I’m finding out what’s affecting my parishioners and what to pray and seek God for. This is a challenge because not everyone sees the need for this. Some people may think, you’re in your corner and I’m in mine, but Jesus was a person who came out of the synagogues into the streets and healed people who had some of the most challenges.

It’s not about me but about what I can do to demonstrate the love of God through personal as well as spiritual support; and God will make a way for me when I give everything to Him.

Have you any examples of community outreach resulting in conversions?

We’ve seen some non-Christians think more seriously about God after they’ve lost loved ones in the pandemic. They have come to church to worship and have even taken an active part in what we’re doing. One lady who wanted to volunteer actually gave her heart to the Lord the day she offered her help.

Then there was the lady who was disillusioned by church who came to our community lunch and found herself back in the house of God, and back with the Lord. Lives are changed when they impact Christ through His church.

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It’s not about me but about what I can do to demonstrate the love of God through personal as well as spiritual support; and God will make a way for me when I give everything to Him.

It seems there’s much you can teach your congregation about following and sharing Jesus, even when it’s uncomfortable or challenging.

I was in prison ministry for 20 years in a young offenders’ institution, and I’ve been involved in youth ministry and street evangelism. When Christians say, I don’t know what to say,” I’m not trained to do that,” and I want to be trained,” it’s often fear speaking, because it’s a challenge to discuss Christianity with unbelievers confidently. But sometimes it’s as simple as saying, Jesus loves you and He died for you”, letting them know He’s the way, the truth and the life, and leaving it there. Or you can share your own personal experience of what God has done for you and how your life has changed.

Yes, perhaps many of us do overcomplicate sharing our faith and then scare ourselves.

Fear is often what I encounter when I disciple people. Many don’t realise that their testimony can be of great encouragement to people. Share it with people and encourage other Christians to be willing to testify too. Just what you say and how you live could be a witness to people. You might thank God for the day aloud, and that will open up a conversation. Someone might say they don’t believe in God, and you could ask them why. Opportunities will come up; it’s just knowing how to encourage your faith when they do. Jesus opens the door.

How do you take your congregation from a place of reservation to raring to go?

We encourage our members with a programme of good Bible study and try and get people to see how they can help the church, from youth to mission, from music to hospitality. I also help people find out what their gifts are, to enable them to do the Lord’s work. It’s about more than Sunday morning. As Christians, we must step up and ask, what could I be doing better? and then move forward.

You mentioned Bible study – which key scriptures underpin this work?

Matthew 28:18 – 19 says, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” All power is given unto Jesus, and therefore we have power too, so we need to go out and do what God has commissioned us to do.

The most important thing is love. In conducting all those funerals, God encouraged me: What you’re doing is in love and it is a form of evangelism.” I’ve been able to meet all these people, share the gospel and maintain contact with them. When they share that they’re having a hard time, I can say to them, if you need to talk just give me a buzz.

God has called us to love everybody, no matter their colour, race or sexual orientation. Not excluding people is a way of loving people, and maybe one day they’ll come to know Jesus as saviour.

How can we pray for your ministry in the community?

Please pray for our work in Tottenham. Pray for the local gang I mentioned; pray against drug problems; for children who have been affected by county lines; for families experiencing domestic abuse; and for our services not to be blocked on match days. The Bible tells us that the harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few”; pray for workers, to work towards God’s vision.