Stop Starting with Church

"We may get back to recognise that the New Testament principle of mission, is more about gospel planting than church planting. The church gives itself away in offering Gospel, not itself, to different cultures and contexts. And leaves it to the Holy Spirit working with the sociological patterns present in that context to rebirth church... "

Bob Hopkins

This article was written by Bob Hopkins. Bob and his wife Mary have over 30 years’ experience of planting churches and Fresh Expressions. They lead Anglican Church Planting Initiatives (ACPI). They are currently part of the Archbishop’s Fresh Expressions Team having previously developed a church planting and leadership school, and helped to start the Cell Church movement. They have authored a number of books including ‘Clusters’, ‘Evangelism Strategies’ and ‘Coaching for Missional Leadership’.

‘Stop starting with church!’ This was the dictum that we developed early in the 1990’s as we observed the ever-increasing diversity that God was initiating in the early UK church planting movement. As we sought to describe and classify these diverging streams, we quickly increased from 8 types to 15 types.

Then by 2004 the Mission Shaped Church Report identified some 20 categories.  As we carefully examined the UK mission field and the outcomes of mission engagements, we came up with this diagram to expand on and illustrate our dictum.

The circle represents the national population with increasing age upwards. Crudely the top left slice, reflects stats in the 90’s which showed that the existing regular church membership had become less than 10 percent anywhere. And that there was a predominance of the older age groups. Research further showed a more or less closely associated “fringe” of occasional attenders… at most a further 10%.

At that time, one home mission agency training local church, suggested that the strategies aimed at attracting and engaging this fringe would be the most fruitful and should be prioritised.

Fortunately, the fledgling ‘church planting movement’ was changing the direction of travel. However, as Lings and Murray-Williams critically observed … though the movement was now OUT from existing church…


a) In multiplying we were often carrying our assumptions of church with us. What they termed “cloning rather than planting! And they further challenged …
b) That this was largely only proving effective in reaching the “open de-churched”. And having little impact on the more challenging fields of the “closed de-churched” and the “non-churched”.

The analysis of these trends led us to represent the more radical mission initiatives that were ‘leaving behind conforming experiences and influences of inherited church … and allowing the diverse contexts to shape the emerging church’.

These developments, which involved counter-intuitive instincts, led me to this challenging dictum…“Stop starting with Church!”… And this recognises the fact that Jesus commissioned us to ‘Make disciples’ while assuring that ‘He would build his church’!

RETHINKING CHURCH

Thinking afresh about church is a mission priority. To re-imagine church requires a clear picture of what church is. What can change and what has to stay the same?

REIMAGINING WORSHIP

Reimagining worship starts with our understanding of what worship is. A crucial word is ‘indigenous’ – in other words, how can you take activities that your community feels passionately about and turn them toward glorifying God? It’s about not forcing assumptions about church onto communities.

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