CHURCH-PLANTING should entail consultation and co-operation, but may still require “disruptive leadership”, the House of Bishops has said.
A statement setting out ten principles for church-planting, issued on Tuesday, advises that churches “grafted” into existing church communities should be “respectful of existing traditions and practices, and seek to value and preserve those as far as possible”, but states that existing churches cannot veto plans, and gives a reminder that the ultimate decision lies with the bishop.
“We welcome planting new churches as a way of sharing in the apostolic mission by bringing more people in England to faith in Christ and participation in the life of the Church,” it reads. “We will encourage it, and not seek to limit it, wherever the good practice in this statement is being followed.”
Intended as a guide for dioceses, deaneries, and parishes, the statement envisages that church-planting will become “a normal part of a diocese’s approach to mission”, and advises that “thriving parishes are required to be open to sending people and resources . . . and also to receiving church plants within their parish boundaries, wherever this can benefit the Church’s mission.”
It states that, before a new plant is established, “sensitive and full consultation and joint work” should be undertaken with neighbouring churches. But it goes on: “This does not mean that existing churches have a veto over plans to plant new churches.”
The statement observes that “despite the principles of consultation and support . . . sometimes successful planting requires the disruption of existing patterns of church, and requires disruptive leadership to bring it about.”
It seeks to set church-planting in a historical context. “All our churches were once planted”, it states: previous periods of “intensive planting” included Queen Anne’s Commission for Building 50 New Churches. While acknowledging that, in the past, it generally led to the formation of new parishes, it argues that this system has “always evolved”. The Bishops saw “no binary divide between traditional and new, as forms of church evolve”.
On Tuesday, the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, said that church-planting “only feels like something new, because we forgot to remember it”. It was “a great movement of the Spirit, and a huge blessing to the nation we are called to serve”.
In recent years, the Church Commissioners have given millions in grants to dioceses that seek to expand church-planting (News, 20 January 2017). The Bishop of Islington, the Rt Revd Ric Thorpe, the lead bishop for church-planting, reports that dioceses have committed to planting more than 2400 churches “of all shapes and sizes” by 2030.
The statement says that more material on the theology and ecclesiology of church-planting is available from the Centre for Church Planting and Growth.