At our Church Planting Conference, Bishop Ric, who is responsible for overseeing church planting in the Diocese of London, was asked, “What is the one thing that you can do today so that you can plant in the future?” Here are some thoughts about being intentional today so that you are in a position to plant tomorrow.
Thought from the Bishop of Islington, the Rt Revd Ric Thorpe, during the 2018 Church Planting Conference on preparing to plant, whether it’s for the first or fiftieth time.
The reality of a church plant is the first six to twelve months can be chaos – it’s like moving house with boxes everywhere. However, in the chaos, it’s important to move from a place of things happening to you to things happening because of you. Church planting means starting something with huge purpose and potential, so we need to build time into our diary to think and plan. If we don’t carve out this time, we can become frustrated as we’re reacting to situations instead of taking the initiative. It’s great to create space each week, month and term to reflect, to gather with others to see what we might be missing and to look at where we’re heading, so we can plant again in the future.
Similarly, for those who are planting for the first time, it’s useful to find tools that help to prioritise and simplify different processes. A great resource is Simple Church by Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger, which focuses on four concepts: clarity, movement, alignment, focus. Talking to others about their experiences can also be hugely helpful as we develop our ministries and look at ways to encourage mission and discipleship.
We often say that if Day 1 is about church planting, Day 2 is about church growth. Church plants need to be intentional about growing in depth and breadth as it’s the outworking of a natural kingdom activity. Healthy things thrive, as we see when we read the parables in the gospel. We can be taught as Anglicans that if we do Sunday services well, everything else will develop. Sunday services do help, but disciples are not made just on Sunday – it’s a 24/7 process.
The Anecdote to Evidence report by the Church of England looks at eight activities and principles from churches that are thriving. Each of these principles helps us to be in the right position to develop and deepen our ministries. These include having a clear mission and purpose; being willing to change and adapt; creating a great welcoming team; and having both lay and ordained people active in leadership.
Communication is also a key tool: our communication style needs to show that everyone is welcome, inviting non-Christians into the conversation. Tim Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, once stated that he preached as if half the people in his congregation weren’t Christians, welcoming them and addressing their questions and viewpoints. Over several years, the dynamics in his congregation began to shift until it reached the point where half the people in his church were non-believers, reflecting the change in culture.
If we want to develop and deepen our ministries, we need to pray. In our rationalistic world, prayer is a huge challenge. Our phones, social media and schedules can stop us praying as much as we should. Yet growing churches are churches that pray, so we need to create a practice of praying regularly, particularly with others, crying out to God to bring change to our communities.
It’s tempting as leaders to do everything ourselves, but it’s essential to have a leadership pipeline if we want our churches to thrive. We firstly need to learn how to lead ourselves, so we are responsible for our own development. Secondly we need to lead others well in our churches, and thirdly we need to equip others to lead with us. As church planters or those looking to plant, we can be identifying and training up new leaders – we will accomplish far more if we can take some risks and give away leadership. Ideally, we should be training between a third to 40% of our congregation in leadership.
When Bishop Ric planted at St Paul’s Shadwell in 2005, his first sermon was on church planting. He told his new congregation, “We’re going to plant a church from this church plant”. Even though it took five years to achieve this goal, there was an intentionality about planting again from the start of this new church plant. Part of our DNA is to encourage every plant to think about planting; and not just once or twice, but creating a reproducing movement.
What’s the one thing that you can do today so that you plant in the future?