One question that comes up when thinking about planting is whether or not we should have a particular model/approach in mind. What will a new plant look like? This includes questions about the style and structure of a plant but also the exact nature of the beast. Is it actually a new church you are starting or part of something else -a ministry, a small group, a repeat service, a congregation, a site?
My view is that it is best to be reasonably flexible about such questions and willing to accept a certain level of mess and uncertainty whilst encouraging people to see the direction of travel and consider what might be.
However, rather than focusing on questions about what type of thing are you trying to start, it is better to focus questions on “what type of people are you trying to reach?” That way, you’ll begin to think in terms of the specific people you are reaching and the needs that they have. What is it that they are likely to come to? When are they likely to come and where are they most likely to feel comfortable coming to? How are we going to help them meet with the risen Jesus.
This means first of all that we think less in terms of “how do I get someone to come to church” and more in terms of how do we take church to where they are. Let me explain with an example. When we joined Bearwood Chapel, there was a little youth group on a Sunday evening but we found that some of them were hungry for more, they wanted to dig more into God’s Word. So, we began to offer a weekly Bible study as part of the youth club. The young people would all meet together for pizza and chips and then those that wanted to study the Bible came together and we looked at it whilst others continued a mixture of games/activities and more topical discussions.
After a while, we realised that some of these young people were becoming Christians. We’d also opened the group up to all ages and we were getting people coming in from the neighbouring flats as well. What were we to do with those expressing faith? Well, it was tempting to insist that they now started coming to church on a Sunday morning. However, for various reasons, Sunday mornings didn’t seem to work and what is more, they’d already indicated that Sunday night was a time when they could meet with us.
So, instead of insisting they came on a Sunday morning, we began to think more about how Sunday evening was a church gathering. What did these young Christians need? They needed God’s Word and they were already receiving that. They needed prayer and fellowship. So, we built in more time for that. They needed as growing believers to be joining in with corporate worship. So we introduced a few songs with a bit of help from YouTube. They needed to get baptised. We did some baptisms at this evening gathering and they needed to share communion regularly. So we introduced that too. We built up the key marks of church life around them. We took church to them.
Our attitude was increasingly that we should be available for anyone who was hungry for God and his word to meet them wherever and whenever they were able to do so. That was part of the reasoning behind our decision to multiply congregations.
I think that this is a healthy approach to take if we want to see churches planted swifter smaller, simpler.