Church Planting: the next wave?
How do we reach the vast numbers of towns and villages across the country that are not large enough to sustain a church plant?
Church planting in the UK seems to be slowing down and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
We’ve seen an explosion of church planting activity over the last six years, and although there are new churches still being planted into needy locations, it may well be that most of the ‘low hanging fruit’ is now being harvested.
So, what of the future and the challenges to reach the vast numbers who are still without the gospel?
It is becoming increasingly obvious how difficult it is to plant new Sunday congregations across Great Britain. For one thing, church planting churches are themselves feeling the cost of their activities. They’ve sent members out, committed ongoing finance and feel the need to consolidate before they take on the next challenge. And the locations being considered are not always large enough to sustain an autonomous congregation.
So, what to do?
There are 1095 towns in England and Wales (Scotland uses a different metric) that have a population between 5,000 and 75,000*. This makes up about half of the total population, and yet these towns are not all large enough to plant a self-sustaining church into (although in the goodness of God there are a number of FIEC fellowships that exist in such towns).
At the same time the rapidly increasing number of church closures presents gospel people with some wonderful opportunities to either revitalise these works in creative ways, or to use these empty buildings as a base to work from. It may be that we need to view such areas as fields to evangelise before we start thinking in terms of a building-centred ministry. This is especially true for the 4450 villages (with populations between 500-5000) that are scattered throughout.
So, if we’re unable to plant a self-sustaining work into these areas, what can we do to reach such places?
One answer being looked at is the development of mid-week small-group work. These are strategically located to work out of the homes of Christian residents who themselves travel into a larger fellowship and operate under the authority of that church. Their gathering certainly doesn’t look or feel like ‘traditional’ church, but as a few believers gather with missional intent and centre themselves upon the Bible and live out Christ-shaped care, then a gospel witness is established in an area that wouldn’t otherwise have been attempted.
Of course, such a gathering is unlikely to ever become large enough to become self-sustaining, and believers will still travel on Sunday to larger ‘hub’ churches, but by re-focusing upon small, intentional mid-week gatherings, then the gospel message can increasingly be seen and heard.
Overly simplistic? Of course! But it may be that God is raising up a new generation of church leaders who can think biblically, creatively and strategically.
*Figures based on the 2011 census.