Church plants come in different shapes and sizes

Church plants come in different shapes and sizes.  In this article, I’d like to describe the main ones to help those thinking about urban church planting to consider which option would be best in their context.

Mother-daughter plant

This seems to have been the most common approach to church plant in recent times. This approach will involve an established church setting aside a number of people from the congregation to join the plant. The “mother” congregation will often also provide help over a period of time. This mighr include shared leadership and asking some people to help with things such as music, children’s work etc without permanently joining the new church.  It is also likely to include a level of financial support.

The mother-daughter planting strategy shouldn’t be confused with language suggesting that there is a permanent mother church with subsidiary congregations. In such an approach, the “daughter” churches often act as satellites to a main church and the leaders of the mother church have hierarchical authority over the new church and its leaders.  In addition, the relationship often assumes a flow of resources the other way. Instead of the mother church supporting the plant financially, it expects to receive tithes and gifts from its plants.

Mother-daughter planting tends to assume that the sending church will be reasonably large. The expectation is that the plant will start viable with 30-40 people joining.  This means that you might often expect the sending church to be over 150 members in size before it is able to send without too much disruption to its own ability to function healthily. 

Re-planting

This is when an existing church is at risk of dying or drifting into an unhealthy existence.  There is an existing congregation but it is small and may lack key demographics.  Another church, or multiple churches may offer to partner with the existing church by helping it to recruit new leaders and staff and then grafting members of their congregations into the replant.

We sometimes talk about this work as “revitalisation” but the word revitalisation could describe the need that any church at any stage or size has for renewal and reformation.  With a replant, there will be a sense that there is something new and distinctive about the church. In effect the old church has to die first in order for there to be new life.

A replant will still need significant outside support in terms of people and resources but may bring some existing resources including church members, buildings and financial reserves to the party. 

It is my view that post the pandemic there are many churches in need of some form of replant.  Additionally, even fairly new church plants may need a form of replanting work if the original plant hasn’t gone in the way expected. The best option may well be to in effect reboot rather than attempting to make modifications as you go along. This may be hard to admit and difficult to do but may protect a church from taking a wrong direction that leads to problems and unfruitfulness down the line.

Cellular multiplication

Like “mother-daughter” this is about an existing church multiplying from 1-2. However, rather than there being the perception that one church sends a small number out, the sense is more that there is an equal division. Additionally, churches are set up to intentionally multiple and replicate once they reach a certain size.  This is what some house-church movements are aiming for and what has happened in other cultural contexts.  A church family know from the outset that the congregation can be no bigger than who will fit in the host’s lounge.  This means that when  a church reaches about 15-20, then the congregation will divide so that 7 or 8 people can meet in one home and 7 or 8 in another.

Multi-congregation or multi-site

This is a slow burner approach to planting.  A church may run two or three gatherings on any given Sunday either by using the same building at different times or by operating across several sites.  At Bearwood Chapel we ran two congregations on Sunday mornings, one on Sunday evening and a Saturday night, Spanish language option. We also attempted to establish a Sunday afternoon congregation though this struggled. Over the past decade, Church Central followed a multisite approach with services in four parts of Birmingham, North, South, East and West. Although there were four different congregations meeting in different places, they remained one church with shared leadership and resources.

Multi-congregation planting enables you to take things at a slower pace.  It means that the core team at a site or time-slot can focus on evangelism, discipleship and pastoral care without having to worry about infrastructure, finance, HR etc.  Over time, there may be the expectation that each congregation or site will evolve into a church in its own right.  This happened for example with Nueva Vida, the Spanish speaking congregation at Bearwood Chapel. Church Central now functions as a family or micro-network of three churches each with their own elders.

Pioneer Planting

This is when a few people (it may even be just one person or one couple), intentionally set out to reach a community. They do so without the comfort of a core planting team. Their aim is that the vast majority of people who join the church will be people coming from non-Christian backgrounds.

Implications

We have often assumed that church planting must take time and that it’s not realistic to expect many new churches in the hardest to reach places. That’s because much of our focus has been on the mother-daughter approach.

If we primarily think of church planting as “mother-daughter” then we will no doubt also expect it to be a long time before our church is ready to plant.  However, some of the other options make it possible for us to plant healthily without having to wait a long time before we are ready to send people off. This means we can expect to plant smaller, swifter, simpler. 

It is possible for a smallish church to be involved in church planting, for example by partnering with a pioneer planter. The planter(s)’ focus is reaching neighbours with the Gospel whilst being part of the church family of an existing church.  This means that instead of losing people the existing church gains a few people for a period of time. This starts to put church planting within reach of most of us.

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