In September 1849 Horbury Chapel, Notting Hill was officially opened. It was built as an outreach into this fast developing area of London by Hornton Street Congregational Church situated in the nearby village of Kensington.
The event made the front cover of the Illustrated London News. Members of Hornton Street Church had been deeply moved at a recent prayer meeting and many had wept as they commissioned 37 people who were to pioneer the new work in Notting Hill. They also donated significant sums of money for the project.
This dedication was soon rewarded as the new church grew to around 600 people with a Sunday school of 200 and a day school of 300. The church was socially-minded and ministered effectively to the poor in the area.
It had a godly pastor, Rev. William Roberts, BA who was described as an “earnest, thoughtful and evangelical” minister. The church also had a strong missionary emphasis supporting many overseas missions. Gladys Aylwood, the great missionary to China, found Christ following one of the services at Horbury Chapel and Rev. Charles Spurgeon, the great Baptist minister preached there. It is interesting to notice the similarities between the days of that Congregational Chapel and what have now become the distinctive features of Kensington Temple: fervent prayer, vision for the lost, church planting, effective ministry to people and sacrificial service.
George Jeffreys and the early days of Elim
The First World War and the general spiritual state of the nation during the first few decades of the 20th century meant significant decline in many British churches, including Horbury Chapel. For this reason, it was rented out and in 1931 finally sold to a new and growing movement known as Elim Foursquare Gospel Alliance. The Alliance had been formed by its leader, George Jeffreys whom the Lord had been using along with his brother Stephen in a powerful revival of healing and evangelism. Kensington Temple was a part of the revival of those days. In 1921, the Daily Sketch newspaper carried a front-page picture of Stephen Jeffreys together with a lady and a child miraculously healed at Kensington Temple. The building was renovated, given new seating to a new maximum of 1,100 and renamed ‘Kensington Temple’. The congregation grew to a regular 800 people and was frequently filled to capacity.
However in 1939, George Jeffreys resigned from the Elim movement over the issue of the sovereignty of the local church. Shortly after this, in 1943, the majority of the congregation left the Temple in the hands of George Jeffreys’ Trustees and started a new church called ‘The West London Christian Fellowship’. The new fellowship, kept its link with Elim and met in a series of different venues under the leadership of a succession of different pastors until 1958, when Eldin Corsie assumed the pastorate at Holland Park Mission.
The opening of KT, 1965 under the leadership of Eldin Corsie
The return to Kensington Temple
Following the death of George Jeffries in 1962, the Trustees of Kensington Temple offered to sell the building to Elim, and three years later in 1965, Eldin Corsie led a congregation of around 60 people back into KT. The Kensington News and West London Times on Friday, 7th May 1965, took up the story of the opening that was to take place the following day.
“A few weeks ago three people stood in the empty, dusty building (Kensington Temple) and prayed that God would restore its former glory. One of the three was the Secretary of the Elim Church at Holland Park, who in his youth had witnessed great scenes of revival there; where Sunday after Sunday the Temple was full to capacity and people were reluctantly turned away. These were years of plenty indeed!”
The young Eldin Corsie at Kensington Temple
They certainly had been years of plenty and this was soon highlighted during a basement clear out. The cleaning party found crutches and wheelchairs that had been discarded during the great healing meetings. They also found the ‘Church Full’ sign that had been placed outside the church when there was no more room inside. “Do it again, Lord!” became the constant cry of the new congregation. Eldin Corsie’s ministry in the Temple continued for a further 15 years after which he became Principal of Elim Bible College. They were years of preparation as he laid new foundations into the spiritual life of the church. He also saw the congregation grow to 600. Eldin laboured effectively in every area that was later to bear fruit in the 1980’s.
He placed a strong emphasis on prayer, developed fellowship groups (the forerunners of today’s satellite churches), welcomed members from the international community and exercised a strong evangelistic and teaching ministry.
Wynne Lewis and the 1980’s
Opening Kensington Temple after extensive refurbishing – 1982. Far right is Eldin Corsie, with Wynne Lewis third from the left.
In September 1980, Wynne Lewis hit the church like a human tornado! His dynamic leadership style, together with his ability to hear from God and implement His plans, took the church forward by leaps and bounds. During his ministry at KT, which lasted just over a decade, he led the church from 600 to 5,000 people. Much of the growth came from the international community that was attracted by the fellowship groups that Wynne Lewis started but the real breakthrough came in 1983 after Wynne was laid up for many months following a car crash.
Wynne Lewis Preaching
In hospital, God clearly spoke to Wynne about his intentions for KT and when Wynne finally went back to work he was a changed person. He ministered under a new anointing and the church began to grow rapidly.
In 1985, Colin Dye joined the leadership team and founded the Bible Institute. He also planted the first Satellite Church in Barnet where a fellowship group had been meeting in Eldin Corsie’s time. During the second half of the eighties, the church’s missions ministry also took on a greater significance when the entire leadership accepted their responsibility for world evangelism. The church was now filled several times each Sunday, and there were up to 40 different satellite congregations. In 1991 Wynne left KT for the post of General Superintendent of Elim, and Colin Dye was appointed Senior Pastor.
Colin Dye and the 1990’s
Colin Dye preaching
Under the leadership of Colin Dye, KT continued to grow regularly reaching up to a maximum of 15,000 people. Church planting also continued to be a major focus and with that Colin developed Kensington Temple and its satellite churches into a city-wide structure called the ‘London City Church’. This network linked everyone together and initiated a comprehensive strategy to win London for Christ. Colin instituted the ‘City Celebrations’, which aim to bring together the central congregations and the network churches into a large venue on a regular basis. In 1992, 4,600 gathered in the Royal Albert Hall and in 1993, 10,000 came together in Wembley Arena. These developed into full scale ‘Holy Convocations’ held at the Wembley Arena (October, 1998-1999). In 1999 the ‘Revival Healing Services’ at the Royal Albert Hall were reminiscent of the great Elim Meetings with George Jeffreys earlier in the century.
From March 1996, Colin was able to preach and share the vision from Kensington Temple into many different venues at once. A number of the London City churches were linked together through a special satellite broadcast. This networking programme helped the churches to share a common vision to build a City Church as well as becoming an effective church planting strategy.
Colin’s apostolic anointing, drive and teaching ministry encouraged hundreds of Christians to be involved in building the city church. The main goal of the 1990s was to develop 2,000 churches, fellowships and groups by the end of the year 2000. The goal wasn’t totally fulfilled, but the 1990s saw Kensington Temple plant more churches than any other group in Europe. It would have been very easy to be hampered by a building that was too small to contain the attendees back in the 1980s, let alone to allow for further growth into the 1990s, but Colin made sure that through live link congregations, networking and church planting growth continued apace. The church offices moved into a former BBC building in North Acton in the autumn of 1996. The scenery construction warehouse space adjoining was converted into a 3,000-4,000 seater auditorium. It was renamed `The Tabernacle’ and opened in March 1997. The training aspects of the church played an increasingly key role in the growth of the church. The Bible Institute under Colin Dye grew to be the largest Pentecostal Bible School in Europe attracting students from many nations.
In 2000, Kensington Temple and the London City Church network began to transition into a cell church, following the G12 cell church model pioneered by Cesar Castellanos in Bogota, Colombia.