The circus meetings continued for four successive years, until he became aware that many of those who attended did not attend any place of worship between the seasons. He therefore sought out somewhere for them to gather in their own place. He didn’t want anywhere in the city centre, where there were plenty of churches. He observed that many of those who attended came from Toxteth Park, so he sought out somewhere in that district which was not close to any other evangelical church. He eventually found one, being a disused Welsh Chapel, seating 1200 people in Beaufort Street.
In May 1868 this was opened as Ebernezer Chapel, a Baptist Church, and a good number started attending. Open airs were held on the steps of a warehouse close by, prior to the Sunday evening service, and he made himself available to anyone who wanted to speak privately with him.
One of the problems that they encountered in those days was some people’ s reluctance to come to the meetings because they didn’t have anything to come in and this was an excuse often given for not attending the meetings. To meet this objection he organised what was known as "Services for men in working clothes only." These took place on Sunday nights after the ordinary evening service. One of the speakers at these occasions was Hugh Stowell Brown who was well suited for such work.
One of the features of this early period was the commitment of the members who, as far as possible, came to every meeting. They had completely renounced their former manner of life, and gave no further thought to it, but instead fully devoted themselves to their new life in Christ and His service. This certainly formed a solid and firm foundation for the great work that God was going to do in the years that lay ahead.
At the end of the first year they had a membership of 69 persons with 55 people having been baptised, and by the time of moving to their new church this figure had increased to 122 members.
The new Church
The building in Ebernezer Street was to serve them well for nearly two years, but in addition to the annual outlay for rent, there was the constant need for repairs to be undertaken for the building. He therefore sought for a site for the erection of a new place of worship which would be free and open to all who desired to listen to the preaching of the Word. His earnest desire was that this would become a centre of evangelistic work for the South End of Liverpool. He did not enter lightly upon this new enterprise and considered most carefully the necessity and feasibility of it before he went forward with it. As soon as he was convinced that it was right before God he proceeded with it with great enthusiasm and speed, securing the site, deciding the plans, watching the building and collecting the money which was made by him a matter of constant prayer. The site chosen was about 10 minutes walk from the old chapel. On this site stood a house where Liverpool’s famous preacher, Thomas Spenser, the Congregational minister of Great George Chapel had once lived, the church that William Gladstone’s mother attended.
The first sermon that was preached on the ground was when the foundation stone of the new building was laid, by none other than the famous preacher C H Spurgeon, who was a life long friend of Lockhart. The crowds filled every inch of standing room and climbed on the roofs of the adjoining houses. The land above the Tabernacle, however, was still so bare of dwellings that Spurgeon asked Lockhart the question "Where are you going to get your congregation?"
It was always one of Lockhart’s maxims that, if an undertaking were of God, the money needed for it would come and the way in which the money flowed in certainly vindicated his stance on this. He always declared that Toxteth Tabernacle should not be opened until it was free of debt and by the time it was completed, sufficient money had come in to justify the opening service, which was held on Friday evening 20th July 1871, when Rev C M Birrell preached to a full congregation from Acts 1:8. On the Sunday morning Lockhart preached on the "Building of God" and sometime before the commencement of the service the place was full and extra seats had to be drawn out. In the evening he exchanged pulpits with the Rev Verner White of the Presbyterian Church in Islington and the building was crowded to excess, and before the meeting commenced the doors had to be closed. Among those who were excluded were two people who had made generous donations to the work but had not arrived early enough to gain admittance.
Though the closing of the outer doors had not often to be resorted to, crowds continued to throng the building for many seasons, so much so that one neighbouring congregation was frequently augmented at night by the overflow from Toxteth Tabernacle. One visitor described the place on one Sunday evening as being full, ten minutes before the service commenced. Then the sliding seats, which filled the avenues, were pulled out and before the lesson was read, the Tabernacle was a compact mass of worshippers. The sermon, he said, which lasted around 40/45 minutes, was extempore, with the assistance of a small slip of notes and the remarkable singing was such a magnificent burst of congregational psalmody as was scarcely to be heard elsewhere in Liverpool except on rare occasions
The work in Beaufort Street was still maintained, first in Beaufort Street and then in more suitable premises and during the next few years, one and another mission station was successively added, with the Tabernacle being the centre of Lockhart’s work and interest.
Extended prayer meetings with powerful results
Over the following years the work continued to prosper. In a letter to a colleague in 1873 he wrote of the previous Sunday where they had their upper classroom, holding about 80 persons, filled with enquirers, with numbers of them in very deep distress, with men sobbing like children, as they saw their lost condition out of Christ. He said that they had had no extra means, other than much prayer. The previous night their prayer meeting lasted 2½ hours, instead of the customary one-hour, with some people continuing for a further hour to plead further with God. He said to his colleague that he longed to be delivered from natural excitement and for wisdom to discern the real work of God’s Spirit.
Writing to another colleague three years later he again rejoiced in the fact that God had been blessing very abundantly that year with 120 people being baptised as well as many other converts who had not been ready to make this step. However, he concluded his letter with the following statement "Oh for deep work – quality above all; quantity if God sees fit, but quality, true thoroughgoing conversion and deep conviction of sin. I am afraid that we are all too anxious to have sinners awakened at nine o’clock and brought to peace at five minutes past nine!
Hengler’s new circus engaged for Sunday nights
In April 1877 Lockhart decided to temporarily engage Hengler’s large new Circus in West Derby Road for their Sunday evening services and in so doing not only reach many more people for the gospel but also attract numbers of people from a fresh district to hear the gospel. It was here that D L Moody was to hold his second mission to Liverpool.
The actual church membership of Toxteth Tabernacle was 122 members, but within 10 years this figure had increased to 745 members as well as numerous other agencies connected with the church, actively engaged in Christian services of various kinds. In addition to the schools in four missions stations, they had 700 scholars and 60 teachers in the Sunday School at the Tabernacle, with more than 250 of the scholars being over 15 years of age.
In celebration of the tenth Anniversary the 16 elders and 7 deacons signed a statement on behalf of the church, which was read out, expressing their thanks for his years of faithful service, so lovingly rendered, and also presented him with a substantial gift which had been collected by the members of the church.