Over the past decade, there has been a renewed interest in church planting. It’s something I write about quite a bit with a particular focus on reaching urban contexts. Since we moved to the West Midlands, we have been linked with an initiative first known as 2020 Birmingham and now as The Birmingham Collective. The initial aim was to plant 20 new churches by 2020. Now, the focus is on going forward beyond 2020 and from around 2019 people began to talk in terms of an additional 30 churches by 2030 with the hope that if each church was then to plant again then
20+30 = 50
50*2 = 100 new churches for Birmingham
I’m highly supportive of that aim. However, there’s something we don’t talk about so much. If we seek to plant 30 new churches in the next 10 years, that doesn’t mean that those 30 churches will all be there in 10 years. Sadly, not every church survives for the long term. I know of two fairly new churches that have had to close recently. I know of at least one other which is in a critical condition and whether or not it survives is touch and go. The pandemic has been a particularly tough time for many and we are seeing not only new, small plants struggling but also larger, historic churches.
So, I wanted today to draw your attention to the fragility of new church plants and offer a few reflections. First of all, I want to encourage you, particularly if you’ve been through a church closure. You may well feel like the effort of planting was a waste of time. However, it wasn’t. Even for the short time that the church was up and running, it meant that people were able to hear the Gospel and respond. It means there was a witness in the community, it means that people were discipled and encouraged to grow in their faith. You may not be able to see at this time the longer term impact of seed planted or how people who spent time with you will go on to serve fruitfully elsewhere but that doesn’t mean that those things haven’t been happening.
Secondly, this shouldn’t put us off of church planting. We know from Scripture that there will be challenges and disruptions. The majority of the soils mentioned in Jesus’ parable prove unfruitful. Most of the seven churches planted in Turkey by the apostles are warned in Revelation that their candlestick will be removed. Yet this didn’t stop the early church from continuing to obey Jesus’ command to make disciples.
Thirdly, we need to be alert to the needs of church plants and I hope you will be challenged about how you can support a plant. Could you commit to praying regularly for a small, young church? Would you be willing to give? Might you be able to help a church find a venue? Have you time to give even for a short season to go and help a young, small church?
Finally, returning to those of you who have been through the pain of church closure, I often find it helpful to remember that the Biblical pattern is of death and resurrection. It might help you to think in those terms. There has been a form of death and you will need time to mourn. However, new life does follow death and there are things to hope for and look forward to.