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Archbishop of Canterbury endorses urgent plan for church-planting

02 July 2021

‘We need to open the church and let Jesus out’ MultiplyX conference is told


The Bishop of Islington, the Rt Revd Ric Thorpe

The Bishop of Islington, the Rt Revd Ric Thorpe

THE Church needs to plant churches to “let Jesus out”, the Archbishop of Canterbury told a conference last week.

MultiplyX 2021, hosted online by the Gregory Centre for Church Multiplication, secured an endorsement for an urgent programme of church-planting from both Archbishop Welby and the Archbishop of York, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, who emphasised the historical precedent for the work.

“Every church we ever go to has been planted at some point or another,” Archbishop Welby said. “In every generation, if we are going to make a difference, we have to get the church out. And we have to get out of the church as it is normally seen. . . To quote Pope Francis, we have locked Jesus into the church and we need to open the church and let him out.” New churches “go out because there is no choice, because there is no one coming in”.

He diagnosed a need for culture change. “It’s a new discipline for quite a lot of people, Anglicans, that we are meant to witness. That we are not meant to leave Jesus inside the church when we go out, and pick him up again when we come back in the following Sunday but to go with him. . .

“We don’t preach morality, we plant churches. We don’t preach therapeutic care, we plant churches. We are not deists, we believe in a God who intervenes — and plants churches.”

In his remarks, Archbishop Cottrell said that the only thing new about church-planting was “that we stopped doing it, and, in recent years, it has been reawakened in us as absolutely central and fundamental to the commission of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ to all people and in all places”.

The Bishop of Islington, the Rt Revd Ric Thorpe, who holds a national church-planting brief, said: “As we look out at the huge need around us, growing existing congregations is never going to be enough. It must be done, but we find it difficult to change our ways, and it’s slow. It is always new churches that are best at reaching younger generations, the unchurched, minority groups, and groups of people not seen in the existing churches. Church-planting is the most effective methodology on the planet of growing the Church.”

The existence of concerns about church-planting was acknowledged in a talk by Toria Gray, the media lead for the Gregory Centre. She explained the “stakeholder tool”, designed to help church-planters identify those with a stake in the success or failure of their proposed plant, and assign them to one of four categories: “Stop it; let it; help it; make it”.

The centre heard a lot about the first category, she said. “It might be neighbours worried about what you are going to do, neighbouring churches concerned about losing congregation members. Sometimes, existing members of a church may want to stop it when a new plant is proposed into their parish or church for understandable reasons: they don’t know the people, they fear being sidelined and seeing changes that they might not want. . . What does it take to move that group to let it, as often that is all that is needed?”

Dozens of speakers addressed the conference. They included the Assistant Curate of St Helen’s, Bishopsgate, the Revd Dr Jason Roach, who described planting a church on a housing estate in west London; the Archbishop of South-East Asia, the Most Revd Ng Moon Hing, who has planted more than 50 churches; and Pastor Agu Irukwu, who, as head of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, oversaw the planting of more than 800.

Among those offering a Catholic perspective was the Revd Dr Simon Cuff, a tutor at St Mellitus College, who argued that the eucharist was not a “stumbling block” or “obstacle” to church growth, but “the centre or fountain from which church mission and growth can spring”. His theme was remembrance, including failures of memory. Catholics could forget their own history of planting — “this mission is in our very DNA” — but it was also possible to be guilty of “pneumatological amnesia, if we only locate the work of the Spirit in the new, the novel, the modern”.

The Priest-in-Charge of St John the Baptist, Owlerton, the Revd Joy French, described working on the Winn Gardens estate, in Sheffield, for more than 15 years. “If we are working alongside people whose spirits have been crushed by life, it won’t easily make for our usual metric of a successful church,” she said. “We can expect our gatherings to feel more messy and to meet our needs less; so we need to ask ourselves: what is it that we really want?

“Are we ready to clear some paths so that people who don’t know Jesus yet can meet him? . . . The way that Jesus measures success and failure looks nothing like our metrics.”

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