The History of Newfrontiers

  1. The origins of what became later known as ‘Newfrontiers’ lay in the early days of the Charismatic Renewal Movement in the UK in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Terry Virgo had been converted in the context of a Baptist Church in Brighton where the Word of God was taught faithfully and prayer and world mission were strong values within the church. However, there was very little life in the Spirit and Terry experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit elsewhere in these early days of Charismatic renewal.
  1. At that time there was a longing amongst many Christians in the UK not only for personal renewal but for churches to be restored to New Testament principles and practices, referred to as being built on an apostolic and prophetic foundation. This was known as the ‘Restoration Movement’ and a number of so called ‘restoration’ groups of churches started around that time.
  1. In the early 1970s, Terry Virgo was based at a church on the south coast of England which he had led through charismatic renewal and into an appreciation of the values of New Testament church life. A number of small groups started meeting in houses around Sussex at that time and invited Terry to teach them on good foundations of church life. Terry used to visit with a team of young men from his home church and teach in these new ‘house churches’ as they were called and then used to gather them once a month for a celebration in a large venue in Brighton. These ‘house churches’ grew in size and outgrew their houses and therefore became known as part of the phenomenon of a ‘new church movement’ which was occurring within the UK. The new church movement represented a number of different groups of churches that were beginning to develop. Simultaneously, Terry started visiting a few existing churches in South London to help them experience the same moving of the Holy Spirit within their churches.
  1. Bible Weeks had been a phenomenon in the UK stretching back over 100 years from the foundation of the Keswick Convention and in the mid 1970s a number of Bible Weeks reflecting the charismatic renewal and the desire for restoration of the church started, including one in the north of England which Terry and other leaders from the south used to attend. In 1979 an equivalent Bible Week was started in the south of England. Known as the ‘Downs Bible Week’, it started with nearly 3000 people and grew over the next 10 years to 8,500.
  1. To begin with the house churches and other existing churches that received Terry’s ministry were not linked together in any way as a movement. However, following the Downs Bible Week of 1980 Terry invited a group of men to form an apostolic team. This took the name ‘Coastlands’ meaning the ‘ends of the earth’, reflecting a verse in Isaiah. A few years later this was changed to New Frontiers International (NFI) and subsequently to Newfrontiers.
  1. At a gathering for prayer of the leaders of these churches, a prophetic picture was brought about a herd of elephants crashing through jungle terrain and two key prophetic phrases came out of this picture, namely that ‘there were no well-worn paths’ ahead of us and that ‘we can do more together than we can apart’. This prophetic direction led to the supportive and honouring relationship between the members of this family of churches as they outworked the prophetic word through new ventures of pioneering faith.
  1. The emphases within Newfrontiers churches were on grace and acceptance by God instead of any sense of striving or legalism; a relational family feel in church life; the five-fold ministries of Ephesians 4:11 being recognised as needed for the church to bring it to maturity; a strong emphasis on teaching the Word of God and experiencing the Spirit of God; team ministry through the establishment of eldership teams in local churches; and apostolic teams serving those churches with the various gifts of Ephesians 4. There was also a strong emphasis on Sprit-filled worship and prayer and practising all the spiritual gifts of New Testament times in the gatherings of the church.
  1. At this time the churches were primarily based in the south of England but then Terry Virgo had a prophetic picture about a bow and arrow being placed in the south east corner of the UK. It was clear that the arrow, which was pointing to Europe and the rest of the world, would not be very effective unless the bow were drawn back. The interpretation of this was that we should plant churches right across the UK for the sake of energising world mission, and therefore in the 1990s church planting became a major concern, starting with initiatives led by Colin Baron in the Manchester area and by David Devenish in the Midlands. Similarly, the Bible Week was moved to the centre of England to a site at Stoneleigh near Coventry, which grew to 28,000 people in its final year.
  1. In parallel with developments in the UK in the late 1980s and 1990s, a number of churches in other nations had asked Terry and his team for help and wanted to work in fellowship with Newfrontiers and be built on the same apostolic and prophetic foundation. These churches in turn were encouraged to plant other churches and therefore Newfrontiers became an international movement.
  1. In the year 2000, the international apostolic team then leading Newfrontiers felt that God was telling us not to continue with the successful and growing Stoneleigh Bible Week that had been held over the previous 10 years; he spoke to us that we should ‘Go’. We also had prophetic words that we would be scattered like seed which would take root in many different environments. As a result, the Bible Week of 2001 was the final one and we gathered fresh energy to be on world mission together. We continued being a family of churches with the relationships that we had had from the early days while becoming the equivalent of a mission agency (though we worked together with a number of mission agencies to learn from their experience which we very much valued). The result of this was that over the next 10 years Newfrontiers grew to around 800 churches in 40+ nations with a strong emphasis on church planting and mission into new nations.
  1. During this time there became a much stronger focus on the Kingdom expression of church life, particularly in the apostolic burden to reach the poor. This came through a clear prophetic teaching to us at one of our leaders’ conferences when we were encouraged, as were Paul and Barnabas when they were given the right hand of fellowship by the other apostles, to ‘remember the poor’. The whole of this period was an exciting time of development and pioneering again. We set up a number of task teams to enable us to become what we felt God was calling us to – these included task teams on mission to new nations, work amongst the poor, reaching major cities and evangelism. These task teams began to help us form who we are as mission- and Kingdom-minded communities though still based on friendship and relationship.
  1. As a result of another message at one of our leaders’ conferences, the international team began to consider whether Terry Virgo should now hand over executive responsibility for the Newfrontiers family to a younger generation. We resisted the idea of appointing a next generation successor to Terry and instead felt God leading us to multiplication of apostolic ministry. We treasured the fact that we were a family of churches and families grow into the next generation, not by appointing a new leader but by ‘sons’ becoming ‘fathers’. We therefore recognised a number of brothers who had already become like fathers to other churches and who also had a clear apostolic calling, and it was agreed that Newfrontiers would multiply into autonomous but interdependent apostolic spheres. Those who were leading these spheres did not want to move apart from each other even though they appreciated the freedom given to develop their own apostolic call and their own apostolic family. They therefore invited David Devenish to lead what Newfrontiers continued to be together in its interdependence. So from January 2012 David took on that role with a team that became known as the Newfrontiers Together Team. We therefore continue to have international conferences in some form or other bringing the leaders of the spheres together once a year.
  1. Since making this move, the overall size of Newfrontiers in its various spheres has grown so that we are now working in many more nations and have planted a number of other churches. We do not know the exact extent because other embryonic apostolic spheres have even joined us in a number of different nations where we have helped to lay the same foundations that we felt God had given to us at the beginning of our movement and had reinforced by other emphases that had come to us on our journey together.