If you had asked economics graduate Wole Agbaje whether he was considering ministry after graduation, the answer would have been a resounding ‘No!’. The 24-year-old had plans to move to New York to pursue a career in finance.
Then, in his second year, Wole had a dream that he held a Gospel showcase telling the story of Jesus through music, dancing and drama. The dream was vivid and colourful, all the more so because Wole rarely dreamed. At first he thought nothing of it. But after the seventh night of the same dream he sat down to pray, feeling that God was calling him to hold a showcase.
With the support of his friends, Wole organised the event.
‘400 students came,’ he says. ‘It was a really profound experience. People came who weren’t necessarily Christians, but they were affected. Afterwards, lots of people got involved in Christian societies and churches. My friends said that I needed to do another one.’
And he did. By this time Wole had become involved at Holy Trinity Leicester. He arranged to hold a second showcase there. It was as popular as the first, and on the back of these successes, Wole was offered a place on the Church of England’s Ministry Experience Scheme. He refused it.
The opportunity kept presenting itself, but Wole persisted in his plan to go to New York. ‘I thought, “Do you want to stay in Leicester over New York? No!” ’ After much reflection, Wole said yes to the scheme, starting his placement in September 2016.
‘While I was doing the placement, the vicar called me into his office. He said, “I feel like God has asked us and the local diocese to support you with starting a church.” I went mad and started shouting. “You just asked a 21-year-old to start a church, you must be crazy!” ’ Despite Wole’s initial reaction, he opened IMPRINT Leicester – a predominantly student church – in October 2017.
Helen Ajayi, a recent graduate in medical genetics and member of IMPRINT Leicester, is now doing a placement on the same Ministry Experience Scheme as Wole. Part of her placement focus is on women’s ministry, and her excitement is apparent as she talks about the recent success of Wonder, the women’s group she is leading.
‘Wonder was free, but we had tickets so we’d know how many were coming,’ she says. ‘When it got to sixty, I had to release more tickets. The capacity for the venue was thirty. I said, “God, you’re going to have to release more space!”
‘We’ve been praying for freedom and transparency in our message. Everyone is so open about their stories. There’s no façade of the perfect Christian. There was healing in the room. Girls need more time alone, more discussion together. We don’t have that space normally.’
So why has IMPRINT – both the church and the showcase – been so successful?
For Helen, it’s about relatability. ‘The showcase plots are about what we’re going through, things like graduation, family dynamics. People are healed. It’s great to see what God is doing in people’s lives.’
Sam Hodgson, who has been involved in IMPRINT from the start, agrees: ‘People aren’t struck by words anymore. They need things to come to life.’
It’s clear that drama, music and dance are thriving at IMPRINT. Wole breaks into song walking down the street, and he and Helen start dancing as soon as they enter the church where their services are held. Their enthusiasm is contagious.
‘IMPRINT is a really big creative outlet,’ explains Wole. ‘It feels like everyone is creative for the glory of God. It’s about intentionality – how to use the gifts God has given us for His glory.
‘It’s important to disciple creatives. The media that people are watching are giving the narrative to people, telling them how to lead their lives. It’s important that this leads to Jesus.’
This creativity hasn’t been limited to Leicester. The first showcase outside of Leicester was held in London, and it was so successful that Wole and his team started a second church in London in September 2019.
‘People heard our stories, heard that they can meet God in brokenness. More started coming. When I look around now, it’s a collection of friendship groups where people have encountered God for themselves. Then they invite their friends, because if you have something this good, why wouldn’t you share it?’