Should everyone be church-planting missionary disciples?


The weekend was rather stormy, with thunder and lightning and some heavy downpours in places. The weather wasn’t that good either, but I am referring to the Church of England on social media.

The storm brewed up because of an article in the Church Times about the plan, as part of the new ‘Vision and Strategy’, to ‘plant new 10,000 worshipping communities’ which will primarily be lay led.

In other countries, including parts of Africa, it was lay leadership that was enabling rapid church growth, he said. “Lay-led churches release the Church from key limiting factors. When you don’t need a building and a stipend and long, costly college-based training for every leader of church . . . then actually we can release new people to lead and new churches to form. It also releases the discipleship of people. In church-planting, there are no passengers.”

The phrase that lit the blue touch-paper was ‘limiting factors’. Clergy up and down Twitter and Facebook decided that this was an official dismissal of their vocation, ministry and hard work: they were a key ‘limiting factor’ to the turn-around of the Church from decline to growth.

Adrian Hilton took aim with both barrels of hyperbole:

Gone are the naves, altars, vestments, organs, icons, stained glass windows and the monuments to centuries of parish continuity: in come rows of plastic chairs in a magnolia hall, where all eyes are drawn to the only point of interest: the lay leader wearing trainers and trackie bottoms, who declares ‘This is the day that the Lord has made!’, introduces the latest Graham Kendrick chorus (guitar, drums), quotes a few more scriptures, and then speaks on the absolute authority of the Bible in all our lives and how we all need to repent of our sin and love one another.

What is curious about this, and other similar reactions, is that it assumes that this one quotation, taken out of context, now describes the totality of the Church of England’s official policy ‘from the centre’ for the future of the Church.

There are several problems with this, not least that the person who said it isn’t even employed by the Church of England. John McGinley, whom I know and like, was vicar at Holy Trinity Leicester—where by all accounts he did a good job and saw growth in a local parish church as well as overseeing the planting of worshipping communities in the area. He is still an associate in the team, but is now employed as Director of Church Planting for New Wine, the evangelical charismatic network.

And John said this, not as part of a presentation about Vision and Strategy, but at a church-planting conference. It would be odd in that context for him to be anything other than enthusiastic about church planting! There is clearly truth in what John says: if you want to plant a congregation in an area that the current parochial system is not reaching, and you want to do this in many places at once, then you cannot invest first in a building and a trained, paid staff team—you need to be much more direct and creative.

This might not be the end of a church plant, but it must surely be the beginning. Yes, this was how much church planting was done in Africa—after which, African church leaders recognised that, once the churches were established, their leaders needed more depth and training, and so they asked for help in establishing good theological education. But John was here talking about starting out, not where the end might lead.

So why was there such a reaction to these two words ‘limiting factor’? The first is highlighted by Stephen Cottrell himself in the Church Times article.

“There is a lot of tiredness in the Church,” he writes. “We have had lots of initiatives. They have not always been well received. Neither have they always been particularly effective. It is very likely that the Covid-19 crisis has increased this sense of weariness.”

And this has been compounded by several other things. The release of Church Commissioners’ money through the Strategic Development Fund (SDF) has been a boost to dioceses, but there has been an inevitable sense of ‘them and us’ between clergy who have been involved in SDF projects, and those who’ve not, and feel that they have been bypassed by the initiative.

Added to that the news that several dioceses are making clergy posts redundant gives a sense of insecurity for those in parish ministry that they have not known for a long time.

Stephen Cottrell does not want the ‘Vision and Strategy’ approach to seem like one more initiative, but there is a lot going on in the C of E just now—some would argue too much. On top of adapting to the constraints of lockdown, and many feeling as though the approach of the House of Bishops to Holy Communion has been distinctly unhelpful, as well as the financial pressures both parishes and dioceses are facing, we are also expected to engage in an extended debate about sexuality, all the while concentrating on church growth and church planting! There comes a point where, at local and national level, we simply do not have the capacity to do all these things at once. It takes courage to say ‘This might be a worthy thing, but we cannot do it just now’; no-one has yet found the courage to say this.

I support many of the ideas in the Vision and Strategy document, but I have observed in discussions in Archbishops’ Council (and I repeated only last week) that it is short on using theological and biblical language that is recognisable as Anglican, and that has clearly put some people off. There are signs of this in the latest version, but we could do with more.

But the moment we talk about church planting, using the kind of language that John McGinley deploys, we are stretching the cords of the wide tent of the Church of England even further than it already has been. St Paul committed to ‘being all things to all people’, but he didn’t try and do it all at the same time. These debates once more raise the question about how far the coalition of the C of E can stretch; can it really be a hospitable place for views which are coming to be almost contradictory?

This was highlighted for me last week when, once again, I engaged in a discussion with Angela Tilby about whether the language of ‘missionary disciples’ was really Anglican. We have been here before! The language is clearly biblical, and features in the ordinal. It has not been a historically important part of Anglican language—since that has made the assumption of Christendom, so that mission was something you did elsewhere. But if we cannot throw off the shackles of a Christendom mentality we are in trouble.

The phrase is actually borrowed from Pope Francis.

First the pope said, “The missionary disciple has first of all a center, a point of reference, which is the person of Jesus.” He noted the several instances in which Jesus is acting in these verses: It was he who called them, he who sent them, he who gave them power, he who commanded them. In almost every sentence, Jesus is the subject and the apostles are the direct object. This repetition, the pope noted, “highlights the fact that the Apostles have nothing of their own to announce, nor capable on their own to show for themselves, but they speak and act as those ‘sent,’ as messengers of Jesus.”

The Holy Father went on to note that our status as missionaries is not a consequence of ordination, but of baptism, [my emphasis: please note Angela!] that all of us are called to be missionary disciples, to be sent by Jesus and speak on his behalf, not on our own.

“And even for us this mission is authentic only if it begins from its unchanging and consistent center which is Jesus,” he said. “It is not an initiative of individual believers, groups or even large groups, but it is the Church’s mission inseparably united with her Lord. No Christian proclaims the Gospel ‘on his or her own,’ but only as one sent by the Church who received the mandate from Christ himself.”

If this is good enough for the Church of Rome, why won’t it do for the Church of England? If we cannot agree even on this central, basic idea, then the coalition is going to pull apart.

Three issues here need further consideration. The first is the developing vision for lay ministry. If the vision of lay-led church planting was the entirety of the strategy, then we will have lost a real vision for what it means to be a lay member of the people of God. The recent report Setting God’s People Free offered a rather different perspective:

The task we face as the Church is not a functional or managerial one. We are not trying to train up new volunteers to fill the gaps left by declining clergy numbers or make people work even harder to rescue the institutional Church. Rather our aim is that all should be able to respond to the saving work of God in Jesus Christ and rejoice to the full in following the vocation and using the gifts he has given them. Our aim in this paper is to find a way to enable Christians to live the life of Jesus Christ in all its fullness.

God uses people to reach people, and he has put each of us in a particular place to reach the people—our friends, neighbours, families, work colleagues—in that place. Lay-led church planting might be an important, even essential, part of what we need to do right now, but it cannot represent the vocation of most lay people.

Just as ‘those who were scattered preached the word wherever they went’ (Acts 8.4), taking the seeds of the gospel into all manner of fields, so lay ‘missionary disciples’ are to live out their lives scattered amongst the population, testifying to what they have found in the person of Jesus.

The second issue is the question of theological training for those leading churches. Adrian Hilton mentions this, albeit in his usual sardonic register.

A parish-based innovation which is overseen by qualified parish clergy is welcome if it leads people to Christ. But church leaders who have not submitted to a “long, costly college-based training” will have little theology and poor (or no) formation. You end up with a Wesleyan model of church (conveniently forgetting that the Wesleys were steeped in theology and had a profound understanding of Anglican orthodoxy), with all the inherent dangers of error and heresy being lay-preached.

Dr Brett Gray, who is chaplain of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, focusses more directly on it in his online comment:

My main problem with 10,000 new churches and the Myriad approach? I’ve read too much Wendell Berry, Eugene Peterson, Calvin and Barth. So, I think this is a consumerist/technological response to a spiritual problem.

Theological education and formation, vital for both clergy and lay leaders, is an enabling and not a limiting factor. Unless one is using ‘limiting factor’ only in a resource management context. The problem is, having lived in that part of the Evangelical world for a while, that’s not completely the bounds this language stays in. I can’t tell you how often the ‘heart knowledge is better than head knowledge’, and ‘theological study is bad for your faith’ tropes played out in parts of my Christian formation. This is not true of all Evangelicalism. There are other, deeper, traditions. But it plays out in parts of Anglican Charismatic Evangelicalism still, alongside a deep seated pragmatism (and not the good sort of pragmatism).

So, for those saying ‘calm down, limiting factor is about resources not a judgement on people’, that’s not really, completely, true. It’s language which betrays deeper commitments and it’s not harmless.

I think he is quite wrong on seeing church planting as ‘consumerist’; consumerism is what you get in large (and mega-) churches, which can often be more about broadcast and less about relationships. But small group church plants will be high on relationships, and in that sense the antithesis to consumerism. Churches become ‘mega’ when they don’t plant, and if larger churches (from which it is easier to quietly leave) change and become clusters of church plants, this will be a good thing.

I also disagree with his ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’ about the language used. But I agree whole-heartedly with his concern for theological education and formation. The Resourcing Ministerial Education (RME) process of 2015 introduced radical changes, apparently unintentionally, even though there was clear warning this would happen. It has led to a whole-sale shift away from full-time, residential training to part-time and context-based training, neither of which (though they have some important pedagogical and practical advantages) give nearly the same time for learning and formation. I teach on both context-based and local courses, and they have a valuable and vital contribution to make. But the wholesale shift in the national patterns was unplanned and not given proper consideration. This has not solely been the result of ‘charismatic evangelical pragmatism’ as Brett assumes, but the result of pragmatism in all quarters, including liberal pragmatism.

And for the last 40 years we have had a pattern of theological training which is fragmented (since there is no common syllabus) and, historically speaking, very thin on the traditional disciplines of biblical studies and doctrine. If Stephen Cottrell is right, and ‘Whatever strategies we develop need to begin with and flow from a profound spiritual renewal and a greater waiting upon God’, then this should begin with having a shared, depth syllabus for ordination training.

The third and final issue is one that casts a shadow over all this. As long as bishops make divisive comments about sexuality, in which they denigrate those in their care who actually believe what the Church teaches, then we are compounding the stress, overload, fragmentation and disagreement that already exists.

Adrian Hilton ends his article with this sarcastic summary:

Isn’t it a curious vision for renewing and reinvigorating the Church of England that the strategy is apparently to inculcate a new generation with the theology of the Free Church: you don’t need knowledgeable priests, you don’t need beautiful buildings, and you don’t need rigorous qualifications in theology: these are key limiting factors to mission.  All you need is a passion for Christ and the ability to lead a Bible study. The rest is otiose.

Possibly by accident, he has made a true observation: what we need is a passion for Christ. All too often learned traditionalism lacks this infectious passion. How else can you explain that fact that only 17% of the average Church of England congregation would even contemplate inviting a friend to a service? By contrast, new church plants see that figure rise to 70%, 80% or even 90%. We don’t want ‘zeal without knowledge’ (Rom 10.2), but neither will we survive with the knowledge without zeal that is all too frequent.

The church will only grow with passion; it will only endure with understanding. We need both.

Signup to get email updates of new posts
We promise not to spam you. Unsubscribe at any time.
Invalid email address

If you enjoyed this, do share it on social media (Facebook or Twitter) using the buttons on the left. Follow me on Twitter @psephizo. Like my page on Facebook.

Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, you can make a single or repeat donation through PayPal:

For other ways to support this ministry, visit my Support page.

Comments policy: Do engage with the subject. Please don't turn this into a private discussion board. Do challenge others in the debate; please don't attack them personally. I no longer allow anonymous comments; if there are very good reasons, you may publish under a pseudonym; otherwise please include your full name, both first and surnames.

64 thoughts on “Should everyone be church-planting missionary disciples?”

  1. I think that Archbishop Cranmer’s blog is still pseudonymous – would it be sensible to remove the author’s name from this article?

        • Ah, my mistake – thankyou for the correction. I was under the impression that the blog was more secretive than I thought! That may have been the case a while ago but it is clearly not any more.

        • You don’t *need* to pay me to post my opinions; I make no charge for people to read. However, each article takes between four and six hours to write, and I do this out of my 32 years of study and ministry, hoping to offer valuable reflections to encourage others and build their faith, and helping leaders of all kinds think clearly about mission and ministry.

          St Paul says ‘Do not muzzle the ox’ and ‘A worker is worthy of his hire’, and is clear that it is right that people should make a living from the gospel. I have no salary or stipend, and only earn what people feel they want to give for my services. If you think this blog is valuable, you might like to make a donation.

  2. I wondered what your thoughts might be regarding the responses, specifically how these correspond to theological leanings? Regarding Twitter responses (and only from what I have personally seen) it seems that it is the liberal-leaning clergy who are more inclined to be opposed to Myriad. Do you think this is rooted in a theological conviction around the nature of sin/salvation, that perhaps then filters down to a resistance of mission/planting?

    • Yes I do. People won’t say it aloud, but one of the reasons for much C of E hesitation here is that so many are universalists and don’t think anyone needs to be ‘saved’.

      • It seemed to me ironic that the complaint about people who have not had a long training going out and telling people that they need to repent was made just before the weekend when the Gospel reading in the lectionary has the twelve going out (how long had they been with Jesus at this point?) and “[they] preached that people should repent.” (Mark 6:12).

      • People won’t say it aloud, but one of the reasons for much C of E hesitation here is that so many are universalists and don’t think anyone needs to be ‘saved’.

        That… makes so much sense of so many things.

        Do you think there is a way to get people to say it out loud?

        • Much of my experiences of being in training for the last 12 months have confirmed as much.

          So why do you think they don’t say it out loud? What would it take to get them to say it out loud?

      • “….don’t think anyone needs to be ‘saved’. “

        What do you actually mean by ‘be saved’ .? Jesus could be quite clear in speaking about those who were sure of their salvation – and he was clear that those who didn’t seem to be saved were going in to the Kingdom first.

          • That’s a fair surmise. But don’t expect Andrew to give a straightforward answer to a straightforward question.
            He’ll go down byways about definitions or tell you really don’t understand the question or that the Bible says both things or the Bible isn’t clear. Whaf he won’t do is tell you what he, Andrew, actually believes. Eely Theological College 🙂
            Yes, liberal Protestantism is largely universalist in its beliefs and however it understands the Cross, it usually doesn’t consider personal faith the sin-bearing Messiah as necessary for gaining eternal life – inded it may kick that question into the long grass with “What do you actually mean by eternal life?”
            It is not likely that liberal congregations, including liberal catholic ones, are going to warm to this proposal. But they do face a very real problem of thousands of small rural congregations that are not really sustainable beyond ten years. This is especially a problem for the eucharistically minded.
            But if there is a silver lining from the past year, it is that technology can overcome distances much more than we appreciated. Why not a sermon/teaching zoom link for four or five rural “parishes”, meeting in halls or larger homes?

          • But don’t expect Andrew to give a straightforward answer to a straightforward question.

            This ain’t my first rodeo.

      • I think it has far less to do with theologies of salvation and far more to do with the unease about neoliberal approaches to growth and productivity which are seen, by critics of these approaches, as both instrumentalist and secular. As well as being doomed to failure, like every other evangelical initiative of the past 30 odd years.
        The excellent articles by Martyn Percy and Jonathan Draper in Modern Church and Giles Fraser in unHerd are sharply critical of the capitalist ecclesiology of this initiative, not of its soteriology. Though the multiplication of shiny, happy, productive and active Christians makes one shudder. The Church is the Body of Christ and, as Percy observes, untrammelled growth is cancerous.

  3. I often noticed that church leaders would make derogatory remarks about Alpha testimonies etc.. As though that is not the real world, because it is so distant from their own experience.

    That is precisely correct. The exciting ‘My God Is Real’ life is indeed totally distant from institutional Christianity – like chalk and cheese. It is the Spirit that brings growth (so if the Spirit is quenched through compromise with the culture at points where the culture is inferior to the church, then there is no growth).

    • Hello Christopher,
      A husband and wife started an Alpha course. The wife continued to the end, including the Alpha Holy Spirit away day.
      The husband left after the first video as he thought Nicky Gumbel was so far removed from his everyday working life.
      The wise CoE minister gave him David Watson’s My God is Real, to read, which led to his conversion to Christ in his 50’s – a remarkable changed life as gospel testimony, witness to Christ.

      • I am a middle aged slightly sceptical Christian, and have attended HTB Brompton for several years. During this time I have seen and heard many Alpha testimonies from former murderous bouncers, to former gangsters to ordinary folk. Former Atheists are also very prevalent. The one thing they ALL have in common is the profundity of their encounter with the Holy Spirit. In addition the retention rate of Alpha converts is high.

        Also, as a contribution to the topic of this thread, the Church Revitalisation Trust (CRT) seems successful in planting new churches. They might be worth consulting?

        • That reminds me: a Christian friend said her mother heard in her CoE church the conversion testimony of a former gangland leader (converted under the ministry of J John).
          Her response to her daughter was something along the lines of, “well, if they let him into heaven, I don’t want to go.”
          Eternally tragically, she may have got her wish.
          Under the vibrant, enthusiastic leadership of CoE ministers, Daniel Cozens, Peter Adams and John Hibberd, Through Faith Missions with a short training program for interdemoninational lay enthusiastic lay people, teams went into pubs, schools, onto streets with acted sketches, and song, door knocking with a Spiritual Questionnaire, mens breakfasts, conversion testimonies from the ordinary and famous, armed with prayer, bible devotions together, sleeping on church floors, carrying a maximun of £2 per day and the Agape, 4 Spiritual Laws booklet.
          They were some high times of memorable mission in the UK, welcomed by some bishops such as Nazir-Ali in Rochester, welcomed into churches, CoE, Baptist, Methodist, (Catholic?)

          Some history is here:

          In these times, when street preachers are arrested has the joke been turned in on itself – if Christianity were a crime, would you be convicted? It is all to real in some countries today.
          As recounted only last week in our mid-week group by an indigenous Asian woman we have it easy in this country, and from a husband and wife team, returned from ministry in Morocco, to be converted to Christ is to be disowned and ostracised.
          Only when we are upward – looking will we be outward-looking, otherwise we will remain ever -only inward, internal focussed even when we reach out. As coined in the comments on this blog it’s of eternal significance, substance, weight. As it was stated: “it’s eternity, stupid.” An eternal life starting now, in Holy Spirit union with Christ. Or to put it another way, in a paraphrase of John Owen, it is communion with all persons of the Trinity. (Now and forever kept).
          Before the throne of God above…

  4. I do also think there is a massive divide between those who think people should be Christians because that is what they were born into (or because performatively they will then be fulfilling an appropriate social function within their particular society) and those who see it as the Life (one has to choose the best available ground for living one’s life, and people discover this to be it). Real vs cultural.

  5. I entirely agree with you about the dilution of theologcal education in recent years. I don’t want to argue for academic study in itself, and I’m afraid we may have to live without knowledge of the biblical languages in many cases. The most important thing is that clergy are able to think theologically from a foundation of biblical theology and doctrine. Sadly that is lacking in too many cases. The problem, I think, is that part-time courses tend to focus on training people to do a job without laying adequate foundations. The result is that hungry sheep are not fed and are not motivated to be missionary disciples.

      • Me too Ian. A person whose limited theology is all attached and arising from their spiritual life is the person that any plan needs to empower. That person’s understanding and depth of relationship can be grown. And those whose endless theological knowledge is disconnected from their life walk bypassed. The latter aren’t just people who will never see God’s kingdom grown through them – they are poison!

    • I teach on a course, having taught in a residential college – and on a diocesan training scheme. We don’t take the approach of training people to do a job. We focus on formation and theological reflection. You can’t do the latter if you have not learned any theology and you won’t get the former if you train for a short period of time. Ian’s critique re. how much depth courses inculcate / can deliver is a question worth asking, though I think we do pretty well under difficult circumstances. These circumstances include a desire by some bishops to train people as quickly as possible – that makes our job as TEIs harder. I could offer some critiques of some colleges that they teach theology which is unconnected to ministry and mission – but there are examples of good and bad practice in both sectors.

    • Agree Frank but if we were more effective at enabling all of the priesthood of all believers to access good theological education things might be better – that said many of the good theologians I know are lay

  6. Why would it matter if ‘missionary disciples’ were nonAnglican?

    That would make ‘Anglican’ more important (self-important?) than ‘Christian’ (not to say Henry VIII more important than Christ). A self-contradictory position – and an ill-thought-out cliche to boot. Does a subset say to its set ‘I have no need of you?’.

  7. I am grateful for the wider context in which you have set the debate and agree with much of what you say. I was on one level surprised by the antagonistic response because I have been aware of the Roman Catholic Church using lay pastors to provide sacramental outreach in Latin America back in the 1960’s. From my sabbatical in 2006 in Pennsylvania I discovered the use of of lay pastors heading up R.C. parishes in the USA as an alternative to closure.

    On another level I understand the wariness of many because the CofE seems to undervalue its rural parishes who are starved of resources while “mission centres”, invariably of similar theological strand, are supported.

    There is too a difficulty over the language in which many initiatives are delivered, a kind of evangelical patois, where I find myself having to internally retranslate.

  8. The CoE seems to talk a lot about formation which seems to mean sending evangelicals to High church Liberal churches for all their placements but strangely never the other way round.

    I found the comment “to inculcate a new generation with the theology of the Free Church” rather depressing. The level of biblical exegesis in most free churches is significantly higher than the vast majority of CoE churches. You may not always agree with their interpretation but they know their Bibles, read it and try to follow it. This simply shows the level of Christian ghettoisation in the CoE and lack of knowledge of the wider world.

  9. On “taking a friend to a service” – this is not so problematic: think of baptisms, weddings and funerals to which people gladly (or sadly) invite their friends in large numbers. And a comment I heard third hand – ‘but what about people like me who have no friends?’ Friendship may be a scarcer commodity than we realise. From these observations, much flows, of course. But my point is that the language conceals truths we could usefully notice.

  10. This small group church idea may be an example of God using unrighteous people to do his bidding. If someone had asked me what the key principle that would have to be followed for the C of E to have a future I would have said that there would have to be a plan to completely bypass existing leaders and existing theological institutions. If this plan does both it will at least line up at the starting line.

    I think that groups who believe everyone is saved or who are committed to other such heresy will not join small group churches because they are attracted to the fancy building and stylish preacher/pastor. They will remain at their existing church – they, their church and the churches ordained preacher – will die together. A successful lay led small group church then take over their building if their success makes that sensible.

    Only the small group churches which have some form of authentic spiritual life will survive – this plan sounds like taking people who churches should have been raising up as higher level leaders and dropping them in the water and seeing if they swim. I certainly don’t think this plan should be rejected because the leaders might teach a lot of wrong things LOL – that’s what we have now! World class compelling online theological training would be a necessary thing – if done well it would allow lay people to take preparing for leadership and becoming strong theologically substantially into their own hands. There is freedom to ENSURE that the standard improves – for example making some online theological training compulsory – or if not passing some kind of test. If the courseware is conservative the C of E has a future – if it is liberal this plan is just a whole of trouble to create the same dying mess all over again.

    Not sure where Bishops and the House of Lords fit in with this – I suggest nowhere. Who cares – it’s not as if the greater hope of the nation is to have bishops in the House of Lords – it’s to have a healthy church. And would help if the C of E was not being tempted as Justin Welby has been to change C of E doctrine to ensure that the C of E be considered suitable as a state church.

    I may not be exactly right on this but my impression is that current interest in theological training is being generated by groups like Alpha and HTB who are pouring more liberal candidates into the system – institutions that are as liberal as St Mellitus won’t turn them into conservatives – they are more interested in pleasing their powerful masters than anyone else. So it’s better that the future of the C of E not rest on the mentorship of liberals like Nicky Gumbel. This plan will likely amplify the spiritual life of the conservatives who are sitting in the pews who are currently powerless to grow their influence.
    It isn’t because of church buildings and theological education that current C of E leaders are an obstacle – it’s because they have turned away from God.

    Of course what I write here is substantially conjecture. My aim is only to raise awareness of what might be needed to make a plan like this work and to raise awareness of what effect changes like this could have.

    ONE final prediction – ANY half way position – for example continuing to give emphasis to theological institutions so that they can train up fast tracked bishops – and if bishops have any authority over these new small group churches is pursued – it will see the entire plan defeated. We should pray that there will be ABSOLUTELY NO CONTACT between the new and the old. But what about the concern that people will protest about being sidelined. It’s not an issue – people who have managed to pretend up to now that they were achieving great things – those who haven’t taken an axe to themselves – will be happy to continue as they have without protest as long as it SEEMS like the place in the C of E they have had up to now still exists. A that only leaves faithful ordained clergy who can continue to grow their existing churches as they have been doing.

    In all this is the issue of women’s leadership. Again I can imagine this looking after itself. I believe that small group churches with women leaders – even with women leaders with drive and what one might call entrepreneurial spirit – will gradually descend into mother’s groups – they will be so affirming that people will not be able to distinguish them from any social circle they might otherwise choose to be part of – men won’t wish to be mothered even if they are “modern men”. But let this magnify the test that has already been playing out in the last 25 years which has shown – correct me if I am wrong Ian – that churches that are growing numerically in the C of E aren’t being pastored by women. It’s the modern ambitious woman the chance to have what she believes has been holding the church back. Some women who only wanted to be in front of a big crowd will turn their attention to something (in the world) which they see as more in line with their capabilities. Women who like a considerable number of men only wanted to lead in the C of E because of its prestige and because of all the ceremonial aspects of leadership like robes and church traditions – will bow out. And yes some men will also not be interested for the same reasons.

    • It just struck me that this plan will also greatly help the creation and growth of churches targeting non-Anglos.

    • This is not a plan, it’s history. Pioneer, New Frontiers and other New Churches were treading this path decades ago. Your post seems to me to be a rather unflattering eulogy for a CofE already dead, with no hope of resurrection. Rather like some funeral tributes I have heard, I do not recognise the body in the box.

      • It is good for Christians to act thus, but there are distinctive strengths inherited by this denomination, upon which they need to capitalise. The parish system and the buildings which are a resource and a half and integral to and vital within their communities.

        Other Christian churches are already treading this path, so let proposed multiple converts ‘go to’ them instead. It certainly would not matter whether the converts went to the Anglicans or not, and the Anglicans seem to be acting as though this did matter. It is difficult for them, since the way to growth and costcutting is certainly through lay leadership.

      • Hi David,
        Thanks for your reply.
        I don’t see why it matters whether the plan being discussed has been used by other denominations.
        Those who know me around here know that I have argued ferociously for people and churches to leave the C of E based on their current direction.
        My intention in my post was only to say that I believe that whilst there have been many C of E plans (I have not been in the UK to know the history) – and whilst I am normally quick to say that most plans will not work because they fail to grasp the nature and scale of the problem – I believe that a plan which involves bypassing existing leaders and theological institutions is the only type of plan that will work IF ANY WILL WORK – I say as much in my post – the idea is about asking people to swim to see if they both have authentic spiritual life and are gifted to share it in a group of twenty or more. Maybe those with authentic spiritual life are already elsewhere – I don’t know. I’m only saying – and with the conditions that I outline about courseware and separation from existing leadership – that if any plan will work this one will. My doubt about whether it can be executed successfully would lie in the following areas:
        –will the C of E be so distracted by reducing it’s current structure because it cannot pay for it that it won’t act quickly enough? It has to start yesterday
        –will C of E theological institutions be required to begin a combined contribution to a SINGLE online training course and all their students required to do that training starting from September of this year – even if websites which administer the training are built after then? Such a course would benefit from the feedback CONSERVATIVE leaders from other streams – they would need to have genuine power to change things if they were asked to be involved (they should think of the course as something potentially usable by their people).
        –every church must be required to choose what path they wish to take with the new plan – are they willing to become churches who actively support their people forming small group churches – certainly no existing leader should be able to stop people forming them and cutting the chord with their existing ordained pastor (each small group church should have the choice as to whether or not to use the leadership of the church from which they are planted and how – for example such leaders might be asked to handle more in depth pastoral problems like broken marriages and life crisis etc) and each existing ordained leader over some determined middle age – if they let go of their people – and whether or not their groups turn to him or her for help – should continue to be paid exactly the same whether or not they have a congregation. It would for many amount to early semi-retirement.
        If my conditions were met it I see this plan as amounting to the C of E leaving itself.

        • The kind of people that I am talking about being able to speak into the content and structure of the courseware would be people like Andrew Wilson from New Frontiers, and Phil Moore from Everyday church. Conservative teacher/leaders.

  11. I do wish people would use a bigger fag packet when they dream this kind of stuff up! Would we like to see shedloads more young people and families in church? Yes. Would we like to see 1000000 new worshippers over the next 10 years? Yes. Is that best achieved by planting churches? Possibly not.

    According to the 2019 statistics for mission we have 12300 parishes in the CoE and just less than 15550 church buildings. There are just over 1,100000 members of our worshipping community, 33% being over 70 and 20% under the age of 18. There is a median attendance of 31. Do we really need, or are we able to resource, an additional 10000 places of worship? That’s a staggering increase. Now, Canon J envisages initial communities of 20 to 30 people meeting in front rooms, open to all….. My home can just about accommodate 7 people in the front room and few people live in enormous barns able to accommodate that number. Assuming many communities will not have houses big enough, what other plant could be used? Can parish churches really lose 300000 of probably the most active people in our worshipping communities to enable this vision? Without being ageist, this number would account for 50% of those under 70. I suspect the answer is no. Good grief, many clergy struggle to get PCCs and reading rotas filled.

    There is no attempt to address serious issues like oversight and safeguarding (because nothing ever went wrong in the house church movement did it, or the established church come to that), other than to say it needs addressing. How can these churches be sacramental, in the traditional use of the word, without ripping up the canons of the church? How are these new leaders and churches going to be trained and equipped? Enthusiasm is no replacement for competence and could do shedloads of harm in the process, as it has in the past……You would not let an enthusiastic person who had watched some you tube videos be your surgeon or pilot. The notion the gospel shall be preached in each place suggests that doesn’t happen at present; or does the good Canon just mean a gospel he approves of? That is an entirely different thing.

    I appreciate Canon J is invested in this, he left a stipendiary post in Leicester Diocese to take up his role. However, it is not surprising that someone who heads up a project to plant 10000 churches should think it a good idea. It doesn’t mean it is. I am glad of your clarrification that his is funded by New Wine. Whilst not directly drawing on CoE finances, however, that organisation would struggle to operate without the patronage of CoE churches, not least in terms of its leadership in which it appears to be heavily subsidised. It has always struck me as curious that NW should have a church planting stream – it is not a denomination, although I suspect many wish it were, but a movement. Indirectly, at least, there is a cost. Church planting, resourcing churches (which I hold is a term which means they are a church which sucks in resources in terms of money and people regardless of the impact on existing churches), the strategic development fund and so forth are separate, but not unrelated, matters.

    The allocation of resources within a Diocese is a Diocesan responsibility, not one for the centre or for other movements. It is certainly not the role of the centre, or church movements come to that, to impose a vision of planting a huge number of worshipping communities, almost one for every parish we have, regardless of the contexts into which they are placed. The fundamental unit of the CoE is not the parish but the diocese and I would like to say I am surprised this is ignored but I am not – we seem to be becoming more and more centrist by the day.

    That people are the most expensive cost in an organisation such as the church is hardly surprising – they are in many places. That they are seen as a limiting factor, unless they can be acquired for no cost, is bad presentation of a message at best. It is mischievous to portray this outrage as clerical insecurity, or a daft notion that any priest can undertake a ministry which ticks every box. It is more of a reaction to the notion that you can plant and subsequently maintain churches without investing in the training and ongoing development of the people who will lead them. It also seems to assume that all of the work associated with running a church can be done in our spare time. Now, if that is the experience of the authors, maybe they can share their secret with the rest of us. Taken with other pronouncements of late it is hardly surprising clergy in vast numbers have taken offence, and that offence is not confined to the liberal end of the church by any means. I find the notion of passengers even more offensive – we are all passengers at some point and a culture of incessant activism is not a healthy one.

    If this was a presentation on Dragons Den it would be kicked into touch quicker than you can blink. It talks in terms of big numbers but is so lacking in detail it is, frankly, ridiculous. We are told all our planning should be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable – or even agreed, relevant and timebound). I am not sure this really any of those. What would help the church grow is a root and branch evaluation of lay ministry, which has developed out of recognition over recent years, the relationship between lay and ordained ministry, the place of the diaconate and the role of stipendiary ministers. Maybe we need to look at the perceived growth (I say perceived because I don’t have the figures to back it up) in diocesan advisors of this that and the other which, along with safeguarding, seems to be one of the few areas of church growth! (I am not rubbishing safeguarding but am horrified it does not get a significant mention in these proposals). Maybe there needs to be a re-evaluation of some of the canonical expectations which shape ministerial and church life. Then there’s the place of church planting and the s.d.f……Those are just off the top of my head, but I am fairly convinced we need a bigger cigarette packet!!

    • “Taken with other pronouncements of late it is hardly surprising clergy in vast numbers have taken offence, and that offence is not confined to the liberal end of the church by any means. I find the notion of passengers even more offensive – we are all passengers at some point and a culture of incessant activism is not a healthy one.”

      Agree wholeheartedly – there is a great deal of ‘Initiative fatigue’ around at present; as Ian mentions, oftten exacerbated by the pandemic. Paul planted, Apollos watered, but God made it grow. Church Planting is undoubtedly part of the answer to sharing the Good News of the Kingdom, but it is not all the answer. One of the growth points in our church BC (Before Covid) was a traditional evensong service, and we are a church that has a large group attending New Wine United every summer. Sometimes we need to allow growth to happen organically. God’s Kingdom is not rhubarb, it can’t be forced.

    • Thanks for the interesting comment—but I think this is all much more thought through than you give it credit.

      It is a well-developed practice that has been tried and tested, and there is literature on it. That is not to say that is raises no questions—but I notice many of its critics have never heard of it before.

    • Speaking as a lay person, I think this is an excellent analysis; you obviously have actual experience of an actual parish. Might clergy be having this discussion in an echo chamber? Has anyone who dreamed this up asked 10,000 laity whether they want to do more, or have time to do more even if they want to? I would disagree that the fundamental unit is the diocese – you could take an axe to all the people at the diocese tomorrow and it would make our lives in the parish easier, because they seem to think we exist to serve them rather than the other way around, and they charge us a fortune for bombarding us with undesired communications. If this has been thought through as Ian Paul states, where are the figures?

  12. This kind of initiative, based upon neoliberal beliefs about the unequivocal good of growth and productivity, is the real capitulation to capitalist and secular values.
    Much more so than Bishop Paul’s modest hope that, in looking for equity and justice, the Church might have something to learn from the world.
    Instead, the hierarchs think that what the Church needs to learn is redemption through productivity and jettisoning ‘passengers’.

    • This kind of initiative, based upon neoliberal beliefs about the unequivocal good of growth and productivity, is the real capitulation to capitalist and secular values.

      Surely when it comes to the Church growth is and unequivocal good, because more people coming to Christ => more people saved from damnation, and that after all is what the Church is for, when you get right down to it — to save souls?

      • Surely visible congregations can grow in ways which have little to do with the saving of souls, and inappropriate methods of mission can alienate people who might otherwise be saved – we don’t see the people who don’t turn up. The word “Church” in your formulation is ambiguous between “the collection of the actually saved” and “the people who form the visible community”.

        Reading back in history what would you say of a phenomenon line “The Nine O’Clock Service” which ticked all the growth, engagement, younger people boxes and did a lot of damage to some of the people who joined?

        • Surely visible congregations can grow in ways which have little to do with the saving of souls, and inappropriate methods of mission can alienate people who might otherwise be saved – we don’t see the people who don’t turn up. The word “Church” in your formulation is ambiguous between “the collection of the actually saved” and “the people who form the visible community”.

          Fair points all, especially the distinction between the visible and the invisible Church.

          I eagerly await Penelope’s explanation of how not pursuing growth will save more souls than doing so.

          • I think you have to disambiguate what you mean by “Church Growth” before a reasonable answer can be given.

        • “Reading back in history what would you say of a phenomenon line “The Nine O’Clock Service” which ticked all the growth, engagement, younger people boxes and did a lot of damage to some of the people who joined?”

          I’d say that the Nine O’Clock service is a boogeyman that should hardly ever come back up in this context, only to be resurrected if there are plans to fast track ordination and provide no proper oversight of churches.

          NOS started 35 years ago and stopped running a quarter of a century ago.

          Have there been any other church plants in the Anglican church that “ticked all the growth, engagement, younger people boxes” and on the whole (as no church is perfect” DIDN’T do a lot of damage to the people who joined?

          I’d venture there have been many that aren’t well know, but how about Soul Survivor in Watford?
          – Started with 15-20 people and now over 1,000
          – The planting pastor was a lay youth worker with the local vicar taking the communion part of a service (once a month?) and now he is ordained
          – The church provides a large minority (majority?) of the ordains in the Diocese
          – They have a great relationship with the local “inclusive” Anglo-Catholic place , and send most of their members who are exploring ordination there for a few months at least. I heard from one of them a number of years back that the vicar was in a same sex civil partnership.
          – Through their festivals they have had a huge impact in calls to ordination in the CofE. I read somewhere that a large number of under 40’s first heard their “call” at one of the festivals even if they felt they had “outgrown” charismatic evangelicalism, so not all the ordinandes the festivals have helped generate are evos, quite a few are now liberal or Anglo-Catholic
          – They pack out the cathedral with youth services for youth of all the diocese (pre covid) including with Welby and the American Archbishop the day after Harry & Meghan’s Wedding
          – Have a decent working relationship with the Dean despite the pastor being vocally behind “Living Out”

          Aren’t they they better plant to look at rather than NOS?

          • Soul Survivor began at St Andrew’s Chorleywood.

            That church already went down this road (multiple lay-led smalledr groups) while their building was being redone, and Breakout is a book that tells how they did it.

            In general, it is one example of a church that has birthed a large number of large initiatives, including New Wine, Soul Survivor, and Soul Survivor Church.

            Compare too ‘Fresh Expressions’ which is not totally different from the present proposals.

  13. Ian thank you for this contribution – as always it is well thought through and fair. As leader of Myriad a few responses and a couple of corrections;

    This has been developing over a two year period with consistent consultation with Bishops and people from every tradition as well as clergy and lay leaders. So while it will have many weaknesses it definitely isn’t a back of a fag packet idea.

    The number of 10,000 is something that we developed because it parallels the number of parishes and invites everyone to be involved if they want to. It communicates the scale of the call upon the church to re-evangelise the nation. And interestingly that number has now been adopted by the church in its national vision and strategy as we have read in the General Synod paper. We are simply wanting to contribute to this alongside parishes, fresh expressions, pioneering and resource churches.

    We have permission to talk about growth and numbers because Jesus did. He told parables of multiplication and gave a vision of the kingdom growing. We are very aware of the exhaustion and challenges for churches and priests at this stage of coming out of the covid pandemic. And so we are simply offering an invitation to anyone who wants to explore this way of planting churches.

    As a number of the comments reflect this vision is motivated by a desire to see people come to saving faith in Jesus Christ and the proclamation of the Gospel is one of the core practices of Anglican ministry. We are inspired by Anglican churches around the world who in missionary contexts are seeing salvation and who develop structures of ministry that see lay people (catechists, pastors, evangelists) planting and leading churches. We are committed to this being developed in a way that is in partnership with parish churches and as a development of Anglican ecclesiology and not disregarding this.

    And this vision is not just for evangelicals and we are working with some key leaders within the Anglo-catholic tradition and looking to a wide variety of sources to inform the development of Myriad – including the recent establishment of lay-catechists in the Catholic church.

    The issue of training is the question of who needs theological depth and rigour. And for some people, particularly Priests who will oversee the lay plants, must have this training. But for others this is not necessary for them to fulfil a missionary and pastoral leadership role. Paul seemed happy to ask Titus to appoint leaders of congregation on the basis of their faith and character and not their theological training because he had trained Titus and they were overseeing these new plants. We need differentiated training pattern.

    My prayer (and the most important work we will commit to is prayer) is that we won’t hold the church as a hostage to only one way of being church but will allow a thousand flowers to bloom within the ecology of the Church of England – we are only wanting to work with those who are sensing God’s call in this.

    A correction is that New Wine are not funding me – a number of personal supporters, a couple of trusts and a willingness to trust God for his provision have enabled this to begin.

    John McGinley (Director of Myriad)

  14. And Martyn Percy’s two excellent articles at Modern Church.
    The second is particularly chilling in its forensic brilliance.

    • And Martyn Percy’s two excellent articles at Modern Church.
      The second is particularly chilling in its forensic brilliance.

      Is this the one where the writer accuses everyone who disagrees with him of being engaged in masturbation? It’s about as far form ‘forensic’ or ‘brilliance’ as it’s possible to get.

      I did a search — neither the word ‘save’ nor ‘salvation’ appears in either article, even once. One has to wonder what the author things the purpose of the Church, or an individual church, even is. Perhaps they think it’s some kind of National Holiness Service? There just to deliver feel-good fuzzies and dispense sacramental wine (except in pandemic times obvs), free at the point of delivery?

  15. It looks like the focus has moved from “should everyone be church-planting missionary disciples?” to “(why) do we need buildings, stipends and training?”

    Disciples should all pay heed to the Great Commission – doesn’t mention church-building but the rest is clear.

    Building is a primary impulse and creates a “place” that can bring much blessing. There is plenty of scripture encoursging us to support full time ministry, and why would we not want leaders to be mature students of the Word?

    As far as I can see people just seem unhappy with the cost of the C of E provisions for these three elements.

    Whilst there is a benefit in reviewing expenditure to avoid unnecessary waste, in the end we (the laity) always get what we are prepared to pay for!


Leave a Reply to Ian Paul Cancel reply