Why plant churches?

Dr Christian Selvaratnam is Dean at St Hild College in Yorkshire and founder of the Centre for Church Planting. He has just written a Grove booklet on Why Plant Churches? and I was able to ask him about some of the remarkable impact of church planting.

IP: I was amazed to read how important church planting has already become for the Church in England—new church plants are, in size, ‘the equivalent of a small Church of England diocese’. Why has church planting already become so significant, and why do most people not realise this?

CS: One reason is that the abundance of terminology surrounding church planting can overwhelming. The landscape is constantly evolving, with concepts like ‘mixed economy’ now becoming ‘mixed ecology’, alongside terms like ‘fresh expressions’, ‘church revitalisation’, ‘new Christian communities’ and ‘resource churches’. In my church planting teaching, I cover 20 different categories and terms, and these are just the primary ones. While this diversity of terminology reflects the dynamic nature and growing understanding of church planting within dioceses, it’s understandable that this continual shift in language and concepts can be perplexing for some people.

In the last two decades, views on church planting within the church have seen a considerable shift. For most dioceses, church planting has moved from being a somewhat optional aspect on the edges to a central role in their overall strategy. This change, particularly noticeable in the last five years, signifies a major and rapid shift in attitude and awareness. Church planting is no longer just an add-on at the fringes; it’s become a vital part of how most dioceses and an increasing number of parishes operate. 

One clear illustration of this shift is the increasing participation of church planters in significant church structures like the General Synod, where at least 25 church planters are current members. Trends like this highlight how church planting is moving quite quickly from the background to playing a major role in evangelisation, church growth and church revitalisation in the thinking of the Church of England. 

I feel that all ‘planters’, myself included, should aim to step up and engage more deeply with the Church of England’s wider activities wherever they can, avoiding the comfort of just staying within their own circles. This is crucial, not only for their own growth but also to showcase to others the remarkable work God is doing in this area of the church. Perhaps a symbolic milestone might be when church planters are visibly present and actively involved in every deanery synod!

IP: You cite the ministries of Jesus, Peter and Paul as offering examples for us to follow ‘which hold together missiology and ecclesiology.’ Some would object, and note that these come from a unique period of early growth of Christian faith. Why should they continue to apply today, in our post-Christendom era?

CS: Noting that Jesus, Peter and Paul, in different ways, either promote or model an implicit connection between mission and the extension of the church is, of course, an important place to start. In an era of inaugural evangelism, the New Testament as a historic account (particularly the book of Acts) exemplifies this connection. This pattern is also repeated in all accounts of the first evangelisation of nations, where evangelistic mission is nurtured and sustained through the establishment of growing networks of new churches. So, the logic of church planting as a component and consequence of evangelistic mission in a pre-Christian context is clear.

As you say, some might contend that since the Western church today already has many churches our aim in mission should be just to add people to the existing churches. However, I think there are several reasons why we should also be planting missional churches in the post-Christendom West. The current situation, where UK church attendance has dropped to its lowest since the World Wars, should prompt us to be open to consider fresh tactics. It’s essential that we approach any mission strategy with humility and a willingness to embrace new ideas, especially those that draw inspiration from the foundational era of the church.

As I argue in the booklet, often church planting proves to be a more effective way of connecting with new people groups and un-evangelised existing sections of society. Look around during your Sunday church service and you are unlikely to see all the social and ethnic groups in your community represented properly. Sometimes starting a new church is a better way to reach new and unreached people; or it might be the case that a newly evangelised group of people might be more naturally discipled in a new Christian community. (In either case, we should be attentive to the theological and practical problems associated with homogenous Christian communities.) One thing I have certainly noticed is that new churches have the potential to remind the existing church of our apostolic heritage as a ‘sent people’ and of our commission to fresh mission in every generation.

I wonder if we have presumed too much that the ecclesial landscape is static. Like all complex, living organisms—which are always active, frequently growing (though sometimes declining) and continually adapting to surroundings—surely the living church should be growing and changing as evidence that it is alive. What might a living diocese look like in this respect?

Today, the Church of England’s predominant method of church planting is the revitalisation of existing parishes. This is a specific practice that exemplifies a ‘both-and’ philosophy, embracing and valuing both new and old churches—in this case, ‘re-newed’ churches. Importantly, it’s aimed at strengthening the parish system, not undermining it, something that I find deeply encouraging.

IP: You note the prevalence of horticultural and organic images in the New Testament. How does that help us shape our thinking about church planting?

CS: A late friend, Theo, a black South African, opened my eyes to how naturally Jesus’ teaching in the synoptic Gospels can inform the practice of starting new churches. Theo shared a dream he had 16 years previously in which Jesus asked him to start village churches across Africa. Remarkably, int he intervening years, he planted 86,000 churches, a fact verified by the American university where he studied.

When I asked Theo how he trained his church planters—hoping to note any learning transferable to Western thinking—I was surprised to hear that he just teaches the parables of Jesus. It seems subsistence farmers found it natural and easy to interpret and apply Jesus’ teaching to church planting. Interestingly, Theo said that when he taught in North America, he found training church planters much harder because people couldn’t directedly relate to parables about farming.

Although botanical imagery is prevalent in Jesus’ kingdom teachings, it might surprise you to know that I think adoption of the term ‘planting’ might be accidental; I also think it is over-realised as a concept. George Lings, in various writings about fresh expressions of church, is also cautious about the use of horticultural terminology, in his case because he feels it implies approaches that inherently lack creativity. The actual term ‘church planting’ is probably only about a hundred years old, perhaps first used by Roland Allen.

The New Testament’s sparse direct references to the founding of new Christian communities suggest church planting thinking might benefit from exploring the broader range of imagery in Jesus’ kingdom teachings and the New Testament as a whole. Take, for instance, Matthew 16.18, where Jesus speaks of ‘building’ the church, and example that uses construction imagery. Awareness of historical terminology can also be helpful. For example, the Victorian term ‘church extension’ resonates more closely with the much longer-standing historic phrase ‘plantatio Ecclesiae’, which carries a more Catholic ecclesiology.

Overall, I wonder if it might be more straightforward to simply refer to ‘new churches’ (or ‘new Christian communities’ for activities that have yet to mature into a recognisable church) and provide additional descriptions as needed to outline the methodology, process or stage of their development.

The most recent term ‘mixed ecology of church’, now promoted as the norm for the Church of England, certainly requires careful exploration. Although it builds upon the well-considered idea of a ‘mixed economy’, there appears to be a lack of theological reflection regarding an ecclesiology where the church is conceptualised as an ecological system. This raises several pertinent questions: what are the possible components of this ecology? How might the various elements within this ecclesial ecology interact? Is there a need for an ‘ecology manager’—a kind of gardener who oversees and nurtures this diverse environment?

IP: You offer a whole range of practical reasons why church planting often leads to growth. What is the evidence of the personal of engagement in church planting, in terms of both discipleship and mission?

CS: My evidence for this is mostly anecdotal. Some longitudinal studies about discipleship impact in church planting are about to be published; however, there is not nearly enough research on topics like this for an activity that is now central to the mission and ministry of the Church of England.

Church planting does seem to stimulate a return-to-basics impact on discipleship, encouraging people to engage more deeply in prayer, Bible reading and active witnessing. It also seems to inspire more people to assume leadership roles and to enhance their ministry skills. However, there’s a darker aspect to consider. Church planting (and pioneering ministry in general) seem also to be associated with higher instances of burnout, dropout, moral failure, substance abuse and even apostasy. While the underlying reasons require more in-depth research to be fully understood, my intuition suggests that church planting may amplify pre-existing traits. If so, this emphasises the importance of careful selection and preparation, and robust support for those involved. This area—resilience—is one that I’m currently researching.

The impact of church planting on vocations is an area of discipleship that is more easily measured. In my experience, multiplying churches—those that are new or involved in sending out church plants—tend to report higher numbers of candidates for ordained vocations, sometimes significantly higher numbers. For instance, a small church plant I was involved with generated vocations at approximately 25 times the diocesan average (adjusted for congregation size); another church I’m familiar with accounts for a significant proportion of the vocations in its entire diocese. Even when considering other factors that might influence these numbers, such limited yet compelling evidence suggests a strong and important link between church planting and the increase in vocations within the church.

IP: You also highlight the institutional impact of church planting. Why do you think this is so important for the Church of England?

CS: In my doctoral studies on church planting, I saw an intriguing parallel with Richard Sennett’s concept of craftwork in The Craftsman (2009). Sennett’s notion that true mastery in craftsmanship is achieved when one can both repair and create tools is a fascinating lens through which to view Christian ministry in the Church of England. Adopting this perspective, the role of a Christian minister could be seen as akin to that of a craftworker, an idea I explore in my book The Craft of Church Planting (2022). Following this line of thought, could ministers best learn how to revitalise a parish by mastering the skills to both establish a new church and effectively rejuvenate a struggling one?

Establishing new churches is a critical part of the strategy to rejuvenate the Church of England. It may even symbolise the essential skills needed for general effectiveness in Christian ministry our current times. Which raises the question: should key leaders in the church demonstrate their leadership through proven abilities in both repairing existing churches and establishing new ones? 

In the global church, particularly in the Global South where growth is most rapid, it’s common for ordination candidates to have experience in church planting (often through house churches) as a testament to their calling and emerging skills in mission and church growth. In these regions, lay roles like ‘evangelist’ often involve starting new churches, and catechists typically lead new congregations. I have even heard of an Anglican theological college in Africa where students must plant a new church and train a successor before they can graduate.

In light of this, should it become increasingly normal for clergy, bishops and other leaders in the Church of England to have experience in starting new Christian communities? Such experience might be crucial for the revitalisation skills needed in all areas of Christian ministry today. Provocatively, should the next Archbishop of Canterbury be someone with a background in church planting?

IP: There have been a good number of objections to engaging in church planting from within the Church. What are the most important of these? Are they easy to answer?

CS: Good question! Let’s look at two.

First, the notion that starting new churches conflicts with supporting existing ones is a common concern. Someone important once shared with me: “I’m against church planting, because I believe in the parish.” This perspective seems to presume a dichotomy where one must choose between the two. However, history demonstrates that the church often rejuvenates through periods of innovation and fresh mission. These phases of growth and renewal eventually integrate with and strengthen the existing infrastructure. We might be in the midst of such a transformative phase right now. I don’t believe that church planting opposes the parish system; rather, I see it as a vital component in revitalising the whole church for mission.

Secondly, the wider debate over church planting often centres on the distribution of financial resources, with some arguing that the focus should be on investing in existing churches, especially those facing challenges, rather than in creating new ones. Whilst there’s a need for thorough research on the ‘return on investment’ in church planting, I already know we might find the quality and volume of mission and discipleship generated by some churches started on small budgets to be quite impressive.

In fact, this is something I’ve experienced first-hand—I’ve started missionally-effective churches with modest investments, one with just a few hundred pounds and another for about a thousand pounds. Nevertheless, it’s important to consider the long-term perspective. Ultimately, the sustainability of the church is secured by attracting new generations of people who commit to following Jesus, and by healthy local churches. This is where our investment should truly be directed.

IP: What do you hope people will take away from your booklet?

CS: I aim to normalise church planting in our understanding of the church. After all, since every church was once started, we are all part of a church planting legacy. Thus, church planting isn’t a novel concept but a revival of an ancient ministry, highly relevant to today’s church needs. I view church planting as a reawakening of the church’s apostolic mission, and I hope readers of this booklet will see this.

Often, the rationale for establishing new churches is narrowly seen as just evangelisation. While evangelism is undoubtedly a fundamental motive, there are additional reasons and wide-ranging benefits for the entire church, which I discuss in the second part of the booklet. As we think about church planting strategically, I think it is important to consider all these aspects.

Lastly, I say in the booklet:

… given the pressing urgency of the church’s present decline, one might reasonably conclude it is now essential that every church leader (or leader in training) should be able either to plant a church, send out or supervise a church plant, or train or work with a church planter—or indeed all of these.

In my opinion, there is an urgent need for church leadership to be well-versed in church planting. This involves skills in initiating and overseeing church planting and collaborating with church planters. As someone training the next generation of church leaders, my goal is to equip them for this critical aspect of church ministry. I trust the ideas in this booklet will contribute in a small way to their preparation.

You can buy Why Plant Churches? Theologial and Practical Reasons from Grove Books website for £4.95 post-free in the UK or as an ePub digital booklet.

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52 thoughts on “Why plant churches?”

  1. The evangelical CoE congregation I am in was overflowing and a failing CoE congregation a few miles away accepted our offer to plant into them; the bishop was OK with our curate becoming vicar there.

    The big question is how independent of the planter(s) the new congregation should be at various stages. Another issue is the balance of new converts, believers who moved to start the plant, and believers attracted to a growing congregation.

  2. I wonder how much of the new plants consist of those who have a liberal/catholic disposition theologically, as opposed to those of a evangelical/conservative one.

    • Rather few, I would imagine. Church planting is for younger people motivated to establish family churches, and the age of liberal/catholic congregations is fairly old, and the style of worship tends to be staid (eucharist and choir, organ, songs from the 1970s). That’s a generalisation, of course, but it’s not an accident that HTB church plants have usually been in university cities.
      Remember also that evangelicals move more easily between Anglican and new charismatic churches and don’t mind worshipping in schools and halls.
      I hope people from lib/cath backgrounds chime in here.
      What about the Baptists, Chris? How does church planting happen in your corner of the vineyard?

      • Hi James,
        I know of a few Baptist church plants in the south west where I am based, which have been supported by initial finance from the Baptist Union. Some have been successful while others haven’t. The BU is not adverse to closing Baptist churches if they are not viable and the money used to strengthen churches which are and it is not hamstrung by parish issues of course.

        I would guess that plants which are most successful have a core of highly committed members keen on spreading the gospel and have a common vision and I think this is true of any church which goes down the plantation route.

        I think Christian Selvaratnum talks a lot of sense in this article and plantation is going to be a key player if the CofE is going to be revived and grow.

      • James

        I think all of that is true.

        Also evangelicals are by definition more interested in growing the congregation than others and have more resources to do it.

        Also lots of cofe liberals really believe in the parish system, which planting churches usually (not always) undoes.

  3. I’d better buy the book. The article seems concentrated on the CofE whereas much church planting in the UK is by other groups, particularly New Frontiers for whom church planting is the raison d’etre. The New Frontiers churches I am involved with as trustee/mentor/adviser raise none of the above issues as they’re in places no other Christian denominations seem to have a vision for and where mainstream denominations are effectively dead or defunct. Young couples are responding to the call of God to become downwardly socially mobile to take the gospel to these places and bring their families up there.

    I will come back to you on agricultural metaphors. I prepared a discipleship course for a diocese in Rwanda which is basically an extended agricultural metaphor. Lay and ordained Christians there get it and have grasped the concepts and implications with both hands and obvious results. Our vicar wants me to teach it here in the wealthy West Midlands suburb I live in. I have real doubts it will have much obvious impact for the very reasons mentioned in the interview though obviously we pray that’s not too true! We shall see.

    And I’d better order the book.

    • Hi Greg,

      That’s interesting. As a preacher and member of the worship team in a New Frontiers church (Beacon Church Camberley, which is part of the Commission network), I completed the two-year ‘Training for Leadership and Mission): https://www.commission.global/training/level2.

      Church planting and global mission was an important module in that course. Nevertheless, the fact that some New Frontiers churches don’t raise the issues in the OP, I would largely attribute to differences in ecclesiology (https://research.bangor.ac.uk/portal/files/20567355/null), especially concerning the relative autonomy of lead elders. When compared to Anglican ministers, the psychological profile of lead elders in our movement is also relevant (https://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/2876/1/WRAP_francis_0673558-ie-170210-lead_elders.pdf)

      Certainly, in relation to New Frontier church planting, both of the cited studies provide considerable food for thought.

      • Thanks for those links David. I will certainly read with interest! I do think that the primacy of vision and call in Newfrontiers church planting gives a freedom that those operating within the structures and ecclesiology of the CofE do not enjoy.

        However, in my own Anglican parish, planting within existing parish structures is being suggested and promoted by the diocese in locations where there are no other local Christian congregations of any size due to the decline of other mainstream congregations, so what’s not to like!

    • Thanks Greg, many years ago I was a Newfrontiers pastor. I still do some teaching for Newfrontiers groups who sometimes tell me they are positively amazed at the level of engagement in church planting in the Church of England. I think the Church of England is still at the early stages of rediscovering the wisdom of planting, including, as you note, the apostolic vision for people to be ‘sent’, sometimes accepting a cost to be faithful to God’s call.

      I wonder if Jesus delivered the kingdom of God teaching today he might use different imagery: electricity, the Internet, telephones, travel etc. “The kingdom of God is like a man who send an email …”

      • Thanks Christian. I think there’s a lot there to chew over. Without reading the research referred to in David Shepherd’s comment above, and without wishing to impugn in any way the motivations of my Anglican friends, I cannot help but sense that for the CofE reaching the lost and institutional survival are inextricably mixed in a way they are not for other planters?

  4. There is nothing wrong with some church planting, especially in urban areas with big and youthful populations. However the focus of the C of E must remain Parish ministry and ensuring a Parish church in each part of the country, city, suburb, commuter town, small town and village and rural area

    • “ensuring a Parish church in each part of the country,” There can be more than one church designated “parish church” in a parish…. The placement of a church building might be problematic and a hindrance . I know of rural churches which are well out of the way and have no “facilities”.

      Otherwise I don’t think “youthful populations” is the criteria…. Shouldn’t it be untouched/unreached areas of any place.

      • We should note that nowhere is fully evangelised. At most, 8% of the population in a place are part of a church and in many places it is lower. We also know that some sections of society don’t organise themselves by where they live. For example, students and younger adults affiliate through their networks and where they study/work (but less so, where they live).

        • Yes and church planting tends to work best where there is not much of a church presence in the area or with students and young people meeting in their house or accomodation living rooms

      • Rural C of E churches are often the only Christian church in the village, hamlet and surrounding area. Most other denominations are based in cities or towns not rural areas.

        Indeed those rural Parishes are often the most connected to the local area and with the congregation engaged in local activities in village halls and on events on village greens etc as well as church. The local community in turn are most likely to know where their church is and the services it provides.

        • That is only the case if you think the word ‘church’ means a building—which in the New Testament it doesn’t.

          Though the C of E has lots of buildings in rural areas, it has often failed to proclaim the good news about Jesus. In areas near me, some of the new churches are re-evangelising the rural areas, but not by erecting buildings.

          • I am on the Catholic wing of the Church of England so of course I tend to think it is a building. Indeed most of the oldest churches in the Church of England, certainly the Medieval ones and those pre Reformation were inherited from the Roman Catholic church when it was the national church in England.

            Being on the Catholic wing, as most rural C of E churches still are, we also aren’t so interested in evangelising everywhere as we are not evangelicals. We want traditional BCP and Holy Communion services with some family services alongside.

            If evangelicals want to start some church plants in rural areas from local residents living rooms by all means let them. However you will find evangelising over widely scattered farms, hamlets and small villages which often don’t even have more than a pub and 1 shop and village hall anymore beyond the church, if that, far more of a challenge than doing so in a busy urban high street

          • Thanks. If you think ‘church’ means a building, then you are misreading the New Testament and ignoring the central understanding of the Church of England:

            ‘The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.’ (Article XIX). The church is not a building; it is a congregation (coming together) of people.

            If you are not interested in evangelism, then your churches will die.

          • “We want traditional BCP and Holy Communion services with some family services alongside.”

            But if the buildings contain few or no members of the congregation or declines; other than the building having some architectural or historical merit, then what is the point of having services?

          • No I am not, the Church of England is a Catholic but reformed church, not a purely evangelical one. If it was purely evangelical those in the Catholic tradition like me would not be in it.

            One can do readings from scripture in church, to congregations of the faithful and administer the Sacraments from an established C of E church and we do.

            Neither Catholic nor Orthodox churches are evangelical. Of the 2.4 billion Christians globally 1.3 billion are Roman Catholic and 220 million are Eastern Orthodox. So far from ‘dying’ the majority of global Christians are not evangelical. Not even accounting for Anglicans and Lutherans and those in the other churches of apostolic succession in the Catholic tradition like me.

            There is of course a place for evangelism and those who want to do it like you are welcome to do so but the majority of Christians globally and in the UK are not Protestant evangelicals

          • The Church of England is, as King Charles noted in his coronation oath, Protestant and Reformed. I have no desire to see it any more ‘evangelical’ than it is.

            I am glad you are happy to be in a Reformed part of the church catholic; I trust that you therefore adhere to its doctrine and practice, as set out in the 39 Articles and the BCP (note what it says about the nature of Communion).

            The Roman Catholic Church is not dying out because it believes in ‘evangelisation’. Do you?

          • We have about 40-50 a week for our services in a small rural area, we are fine as we are and indeed we include some Roman Catholics in our congregation as well as a few evangelicals

          • Older and farmers but with a few families too. Though of course the overall demographic of population whether church attenders or not in rural areas tends to be retired pensioners and farmers mainly anyway

          • The Church of England is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church as it says in the Preface of the Declaration of Assent, Canon C 15 of Common Worship. It is a Catholic as well as a Protestant and Reformed church.

            Yes we have full BCP churches with communion. The Church of England may not agree with transubstantiation like the Roman Catholic church but nonetheless at Article 28 makes clear that ‘the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.’

            The RC in theory believes in evangelisation but in practice does not really beyond missionary work overseas. You won’t see RC priests preaching in the high street or outside stations like Protestant evangelists for example, or many Catholic televangelists either. Nor is there much church planting done by Roman Catholics beyond the Parish church or cathedral

          • ‘The Church of England is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church as it says in the Preface of the Declaration of Assent, Canon C 15 of Common Worship.

            Of course it is.

            ‘It is a Catholic as well as a Protestant and Reformed church.’ No, it is not ‘Catholic plus Reformed’. It is a Reformed part of the church catholic, which makes is (according to the Reformers) the truly apostolic church, since it rests on the teaching of the apostles, and not on later traditions which have at times gone wrong.

            Transubstantiation was one of those errors, which the BCP and Articles roundly refute, as I am sure you know.

          • What a patronising comment. The average age of most rural areas is always about 50-60+ if not higher and has been for decades. So new older people move in once they retire to replace those who die off (the only constant families are the farming families). Young people live, study and work in inner cities and university towns on the whole not villages and rural areas. Middle aged parents and their families and commuters live in suburbs or commuter towns on the whole, again not villages and rural areas. You generally move out to rural areas for peace and quiet when you retire.

            I find the obsession with youth from some evangelicals somewhat concerning, no wonder we end up with scandals like Pilavachi. Older people are the backbone of the Church of England and always have been, it is they who are the church wardens, organists and much of the choir and lay preachers on the whole.

          • It is not patronising. It is about reality.

            Research shows that, perhaps, 80% of Christians came to faith when they were young. That is why at AC we are prioritising investing in work with young people.

            The demographic ‘time bomb’ for the C of E is quite well known, and is a serious problem.

          • The fault lies, I expect many would agree, with translations like the KJV, which render ekklesia as church. Etymologically ‘church’ is related to words that mean the assembly-building rather than the assembly itself. The NT does not have a special word for Christian assembly buildings, and is content with synagoge (as why wouldn’t it be), which is far from exclusive since Christians met everywhere and anywhere. But whenever they did meet they were ekklesia. The word ‘assembly’ (as in: AoG) is good (as are: ‘gathering’, ‘convocation’, ‘flock’, and its relative ‘congregation’) because it means not only the coming together but also those who have come together. Ekklesia means literally those/that ‘called out’, but these is less separatism about the word than there is about ‘Pharisee’, since the emphasis is not at all on being set apart from the rest of the world (though it is true that Christians are that), more on being called away from where you were to be where you now are (just as a civic assembly would be).

        • Mostly via their parents.

          Young people who do come to Christianity will tend to prefer charismatic independent churches or Pentecostal churches. A few may go to evangelical C of E churches but the C of E has always been a church with an older than average demographic, much like the RC church and almost always will be.

          • ‘the C of E has always been a church with an older than average demographic’

            That is not at all true in my experience. Think about the Sunday School movement, church choirs, catechism, youth movements.

            What is your evidence?

          • Even by the end of the First World War the majority of the population did not attend Church of England services, at least not on a weekly basis. Although most were christined, married and buried there still. The Sunday School movement was still relatively strong even by the 1950s before declining in subsequent decades but that was more young children brought by their parents than those in their late terms, twenties and thirties

          • T1/Ian

            I think churches in general have older demographics than the general population, but the cofe is not out of line with other denominations in this.

            I think I’ve commented before that I’ve been a “young person” in the church all my life and I’m now middle aged. The boundary of what is considered young by church standards increases every year

    • To comment on this, I thought I would look up some statistic of parish populations.

      – There are about 12450 parishes
      – The mean population of a parish is 4260
      – About 64% of parishes have a smaller population than the mean
      – The median population of a parish is about 1750
      – 50% of the population live in a parish with a population which exceeds about 9600
      – 25% of the population live in a parish with a population which exceeds about 14000
      – the largest parish has a population of over 75000!
      – (from ONS stats) 17% of the population of England live in a Rural area – which includes rural towns.

      I have not gone through the parishes to confirm that the large parishes are basically urban, but it seems unlikely that this is not the case.

      There is a problem with the parish system in that the parishes are not distributed where the people are. The parish system has not adjusted to changing demographics. If the same number of parishes were retained, but the boundaries adjusted so that the population of each parish were about the same, we would be creating more parishes in urban areas, and reducing the number in rural areas.

      • That is already partly happening through combining 3 or 4 or even more rural parishes together. However rural areas also have much bigger distances between them than urban areas and there are limits to how far congregations in one village or hamlet are willing to travel to other villages and hamlets as well on rotation over a month

  5. For the CofE, the key issue has always been the lack of an enduring identity for any church plant (and those who belong to and discover deep fellowship in them) in the context of the parish system (even if some church plants do become fully-fledged parish churches).

    So, despite the statement: “I don’t believe that church planting opposes the parish system; rather, I see it as a vital component in revitalising the whole church for mission”, it would be useful for someone to clarify the CofE strategy for addressing that short-termism that beleaguers church plants?

  6. I ordered the print version of this Grove booklet yesterday! I’m writing a paper on church planting to present at the Wesleyan Theological Society in March and I’ve been struggling to find something that addresses this question specifically and directly. So, for me, the timing really is perfect! I’m interested in how we can nurture healthy church planting that builds up the whole church in a given locality. Church planting as we have it is a very Protestant undertaking, and we Protestants are often not good at fostering catholicity, so I’m writing about that in relation to church planting from a Wesleyan ecclesiological perspective. I’m really looking forward to getting the booklet!

  7. What wasn’t clear to me from the article – the basic objective of the church plant. Is the church plant intended primarily for people who have had the ‘road to Damascus’ experience, believe in Him and have passed from death to life – and, from this perspective are looking for Christian fellowship? Or is it primarily aimed at bringing people to faith?

      • Ian – well, somehow I’m not convinced, because I don’t see some key words and concepts such as ‘conviction of sin’ coming into the description. I think that church planting follows revival – and if there is revival then churches will plant themselves. Simon Ponsonby made me aware of the Lowestoft revival – which was responsible for bringing my grandfather to faith. It seems to me that first people were convicted of their sins and brought to faith – then churches and fellowships began to develop among the fishing communities where the fishermen who had been brought to faith came from.

        • Morning Jock… Isn’t that a tad unfair?

          The article is about planting as strategy not what’s preached or taught. Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence. I’ve led a number of what started as church plants which would testify to “repentance preached”.

          • Ian – the problem is that the model presented here doesn’t chime in with the way I expect a new church to emerge (I’m more-or-less aware of what happened in my grandfather’s village in the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s).

            If repentance is preached then all well and good – but it isn’t so useful if it is preached to a congregation of 5 (including the pastor, the pastor’s wife and the organist). I expect the first step is people coming to faith (e.g. Lowestoft revival, through which fishermen from all over the country came to faith) and then the church plant, to cater for those who have come to faith and are looking for fellowship (which is what happened with the fishing communities in the north east of Scotland after Lowestoft). At this point it is necessary that there are church plants which originate from the sound and sensible – because otherwise we are in great danger of ending up with a Pentecostalist mess stepping in and doing an awful lot of damage (my grandfather’s village gained a bunch of Pentecostalist headbangers – who were able to make themselves look like the serious Christians – and this did an awful lot of damage).

            So I’d say that the better model is that revival comes first – and the church plant comes after revival – and the church should be sensitive and alert to the need for a church plant when this happens, because the alternative can be alarming.

  8. When John Wesley launched his Church Planting Movement in this context, he not only changed the eternal destinies of an estimated one million people who came to Christ through his ministry, he changed their economic status as well. See the rise and decline of his model @
    See Also;The Countess of Huntingdon Calvinistic church planting.
    Both alas dis- enfranchised Anglicans
    Given the Declining, theologically dysfunctional, Methodist /C of E [uncertain /confusing trumpet sound] 1 Cor 14:8
    would church planting solve anything?
    I suspect that it will be Evangelicals with the missional impulse for planting Churches ,but will these be only extensions of an already failing model?
    May be there needs to be the cutting of apron strings as the aforesaid Anglican-methodists.
    Do the current “evangelical” Anglicans have the courage to “launch out into the deep?
    Luke 5:4 Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon,
    “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.

    5:5 And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless, at thy word I will let down the net.
    The kingdom of God is a progresive growth model.

  9. Whilst it’s good to revitalise existing churches in existing buildings it does raise questions about location and suitability sometimes.

    But my main thought is that the CofE might have forgotten that once every parish was a church plant. Our buildings have been a mixed blessing, either providing what was needed (for a season) or anchoring us down in unsuitable or even irrelevant-to-anyone places. We can’t easily change the past but perhaps we should sit more lightly to buildings and be more willing to move on. Sojourners in the land. Missionary minded.

    I do know the difficulties of closing buildings….

  10. It is interesting to note that in rebuilding and restoring a moribund church { the temple at Jerusalem} the people were instructed to put away their “strange wives”


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