Better together - crazy apart
The task we face is the re-evangelisation of Britain. More and more Brits know less and less about the Bible, the gospel and the church. Hence the importance of initiatives like Back to Church Sunday and BibleFresh. The task is huge and the planting of fresh expressions of church will have a vital part to play, if we are to make a substantial impact. 'Come to us' mission will continue to have a substantial part to play, but 'go to them' mission is essential if we are to reach a large part of the population. Nor will it be enough to serve our communities in the hope that we will also build new relationships so that people come to church with us. We serve because it is what Christians do, rather than to achieve something else. The challenge is to plant congregations where we serve. We will need many, many, more than we have so far.
None of this is new, but what I want to emphasize at the start of the year is the necessity of acting together. Competitive, uncoordinated planting of churches and fresh expressions of church could cause as much harm as it does growth. Professor Robin Gill has argued convincingly that competitive planting between denominations was one of the factors that triggered numerical decline in the 19th century. Making our own local or denominational plans without reference to others is habitual in the Church, but very unwise.
I am not suggesting that all church plants and fresh expressions have to be planned and delivered ecumenically. Fresh expressions are best planted by local churches, as an extension of their ministry. But I am saying we should consult one another, coordinate our plans and seek to complement one another's ministry. Sometimes this will mean planting together, as a sign of the reconciling power of the gospel, or simply because together we have the resources and apart we do not. Nor am I suggesting a 'master plan'. The task needs discernment in context, not large scale strategic planning, but why can't we listen to God together, enrich one another's processes of discernment, and at very least, keep one another informed.
There are a number of ways to do this. It could become part of the rhythm of life of local Churches Together groups or minsters' fraternals. Where there is a FEAST (Fresh Expressions Area Strategy Team) a county or area could be sub-divided into smaller areas of mapping, listening and cooperation. Churches sharing in Hope Together have a natural opportunity to extend their shared ministry, of word and deed mission, with a relational and coordinated approach to planting.
The pressing question remains, 'Who will never be reached if we only do what we do now?' It is better to ask it together, but it's crazy to ask it apart.
Rt Revd Graham Cray