This year’s Church Planting Conference, hosted by the Bishop of Islington, explored how we can re-imagine the Church in this generation. Philippa Guy takes us through some of the key moments.
COVID-19 has presented us all with huge challenges and disappointments, but also with opportunities to adapt, take risks and re-imagine how we can gather together and creatively grow our communities. The Gregory Centre for Church Multiplication, led by the Bishop of Islington, decided at the beginning of lock-down in March to run the planned Multiply: 2020 Church Planting Conference on-line. Last year’s conference in London and Leeds hosted 600 people whereas this year, on Thursday 25th June, creating a digital platform enabled the conference to reach far beyond London – this year’s conference attracted nearly 3000 delegates joining online from 14 different countries. Delegates from the UK came from a diversity of traditions, including pioneer ministries, city centre resource churches and Anglo-catholic parishes.
The theme was multiplying disciples, churches and networks, and the day explored how churches of all traditions and sizes can multiply in their context. Delegates from across the country and as far as Australia joined to hear speakers such as Jon Tyson, Jo Saxton, Ness Wilson, Father James Mallon, Alan Hirsch, Josh Howard, Winfield Bevins, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell. These leaders spoke on the need for change, courage and imagination, particularly given the challenges of our current reality. In the words of Archbishop Justin Welby, we need to be “incarnational, cross-shaped, risk-taking” as we explore ways to reach out to the world around us.
Testimonies and case studies featured during the conference, giving examples of how local leaders are multiplying disciples in their contexts. Chris Hill, a priest in Northolt, shared about his passion to maintain a small worshipping community at St Richard’s, a church on an estate. He spoke about keeping things simple and inviting four people to pray regularly for new life at St Richard’s, which has led to a weekly communion meal open to all. Following the morning’s main talks, the conference’s afternoon seminars, attended by nearly 2000 people, gave delegates a chance to explore specific church planting topics in depth, such as ‘Helping someone grow as a disciple’, ‘Cultivating Spiritual Health’ and ‘Theological foundations for church planting.’ (The 24 seminars can be accessed on the new media platform CCX.media, along with the main conference talks).
As the conference reached attendees across the globe, London is still very much at the heart of church planting for the Bishop of Islington’s team at the Diocese of London and Capital Vision 2030. This 2030 vision is for every Londoner to encounter the love of God in Jesus Christ. This will focus on specific ambitions: confident discipleship, compassionate communities, creative growth, and in all this to become younger and more diverse. The Bishop of Islington’s team has an emerging goal of helping London plant 400 new worshipping communities by 2030, as part of the creative growth stream. This will be across all traditions and planting all types of churches, such as missional communities, estate ministries, starting new services in parish churches, revitalisations and new plants.
It will take creativity and a diversity of tradition in order to fulfill this. The new Archbishop of York, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, pointed out how God is:
“leading us into a new way of being the church and a new mixed ecology of church… where alongside inherited patterns, we will see a whole new smorgazboard of ministries and churches emerging, which is of course what is happening around us at the moment.”
Archbishop Stephen shared his hopes that “this mixed ecology of church will be much more central to all our thinking” as he takes up his new role, having a church that is both “cherishing that which we’ve inherited, and cherishing and encouraging that which is new.” He also reminded us that every church was planted once, at some point in history, by a group of people passionate about sharing the good news of the Gospel with unreached people. Archbishop Stephen then called us to find the networks, neighbourhoods and groups of people across the country where we need to plant some fresh expression of church or pioneer ministry in our day so that the Gospel may be present for them.
One of the emerging Capital Vision 2030 goals is to start 400 new worshipping communities in London, reflecting this desire that the church may be present for every Londoner. Each of the ambitions build upon each other – we want to see confident disciples and creative growth inspired by prayer, which in turn develop compassionate communities who share the love of God across the capital. The Grow Course will be offered to every parish to help churches explore their role in each of these ambitions.
Part of the vision is to encourage a diversity of leaders and ministries. Ness Wilson spoke powerfully at the conference on raising up women leaders and helping young women to discover their calling, releasing them to lead courageously. Helen Shannon, who leads the Estate Course, is supporting people who have a vision to plant worshipping communities on their estates and helping them become Commissioned Estate Leaders in the London Diocese. Wole Agbaje, who planted his second church IMPRINT at the age of 24, shared on the importance of empowering young leaders who can reach their generation in creative and imaginative ways. Finally, underpinning these ambitions and hopes for London is prayer. Jon Tyson, a pastor and church planter in New York City, reminded us of the role of strategic prayer in church planting, sharing how he would spend hours walking around praying the promises of God over his neighbourhood. He encouraged us that
“putting prayer first, seeking God for his power and his presence in a community is the most important thing that a church planter can do.”
Looking back on the day, it is hugely encouraging to see that church planting is a growing movement in different church traditions in London, England and across the globe.