THE establishment of 10,000 new, predominantly lay-led churches in the next ten years is among the ambitious targets that will be discussed at the General Synod this month when the Archbishop of York, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, delivers an update on the Vision and Strategy discussions announced last year (News, 26 November 2020).
It is one of six outcomes set out in a briefing paper, published last week, which also envisages the doubling of the number of children and “young active disciples” in the C of E by 2030.
More detail about the 10,000 was provided at last week’s MultiplyX 2021 church-planting conference, held online by the Gregory Centre for Church Multiplication, which is led by the Bishop of Islington, the Rt Revd Ric Thorpe (see separate story). The initiative has been given the title “Myriad”, and is led by Canon John McGinley, the head of church-planting development at New Wine and a priest in the diocese of Leicester.
In his talk, Canon McGinley described Myriad as a vision that people could join, rather than a project or initiative. Its scale — it is envisaged that the 10,000 new churches will make one million new disciples — was deliberately big, to “cause us to plan and pray, and work differently than if we think we just need to do a little tweak or add a few extra things on the side”. While he was aware that not all of the Church’s 12,500 parishes were able to plant, “this is the scale of the call of God upon his Church and this nation.”
In other countries, including parts of Africa, it was lay leadership that was enabling rapid church growth, he said. “Lay-led churches release the Church from key limiting factors. When you don’t need a building and a stipend and long, costly college-based training for every leader of church . . . then actually we can release new people to lead and new churches to form. It also releases the discipleship of people. In church-planting, there are no passengers.”
The vision had emerged from the Gregory Centre, and Bishop Thorpe had since tested it by speaking to national leaders, including every diocesan bishop. There was still work to do, Canon McGinley acknowledged, to work out the matter of priestly oversight and sacramental ministry.
Many of the 10,000 churches would start small, and some would remain as 20 or 30 people meeting in a home. But the definition of a church was “tight”, he said: it must proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, have regular worship, be open to everyone and sacramental, and have more than 20 people.
Among the examples were the churches planted by Wole Agbaje, a lay leader at Holy Trinity, Leicester, who had planted churches in Leicester and London (Features, 1 May 2020).
The Bishop to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Dr Emma Ineson, noted that “throughout history, most of church growth has been lay-led. . . Numbers should be seen as an invitation and an inspiration rather than a pressure.”
The establishment of new worshipping communities is at the heart of Vision and Strategy, the attempt to set the C of E’s agenda for the next ten years, currently being formulated by a working group chaired by the Archbishop of York. Most key measures of attendance fell by between 15 and 20 per cent from 2009 to 2019, and a median church has all-age average weekly attendance of 31. For one quarter of churches, this figure is 11.
Archbishop Cottrell believes that the solution is more, not fewer, churches. His paper reiterates the commitment to a “mixed ecology”. The new term is used to include church-planting, fresh expressions of church, and chaplaincy, as well as a “reimagined” parish system. The target of doubling children and young people is to be achieved by increasing the number of churches with more than 25 young people, currently only 900, to 3000.
The paper expects challenges to the direction of travel being indicated, including a weariness with central initiatives. “There is a lot of tiredness in the Church,” he writes. “We have had lots of initiatives. They have not always been well received. Neither have they always been particularly effective. It is very likely that the Covid-19 crisis has increased this sense of weariness.
“We need to avoid this vision and strategy appearing as ‘one more initiative’. Rather, it is a resetting of the compass around our basic vocation to follow Christ and to make Christ known.”
A final list of “ten things which must constantly be kept in mind” includes the observation that the decline that the Church of England has experienced over a long period of time is “not simply a result of failure. We cannot simply say, if only we had different strategies, better plans (and better bishops), all would be well.
“We have undoubtedly failed many times. There are things we should have done differently. But it would be foolish to ignore the huge shift in the tectonic plates of European and world culture that have shaped the world in which we serve and witness.
“Similarly, it would be disastrously foolish to ignore God. Whatever strategies we develop need to begin with and flow from a profound spiritual renewal and a greater waiting upon God.”
Read the Vision and Strategy briefing paper here