Fear Grows with Church Planting


Fear grows with Church Planting

At a recent meeting with senior leaders in the Church of Ireland I was confronted with some of the fears surrounding church planting.  The mood was candid and even warm.  Those present were genuine in their concerns.  It was obvious that their questions surrounding the activity of church planting were, in the main, unencumbered by agenda or prejudice.  For all these reasons, it made my conversation all the more worrying.

These leaders anticipated any Anglican church plant would be seen as direct competition to the local parish ministry in which it takes place and suggested that it might even be thought of as an attempt to cannibalise the existing ministry of said parish.     

‘Survival is seen as success, in many parts of the world today’, I was told.  The implication being, I think, we must not be so arrogant to assume that what applies to the life of communities and even nations, is not equally true to the life of the church today, and should not be belittled.

Competition.  Cannibalism.  Celebrating a flagging church.  Could this be the context of church planting in the Church of Ireland? Should this be the context of church planting in the Church of Ireland today?

The conversation sent me back to consider what exactly we mean by church planting in Ireland and especially in an Anglican context.  The truth is well acknowledged.  The Church of Ireland is a minority religion in Ireland.  Any diocese sits in the broader context of counties where scores, if not hundreds, even thousands of people, have no active religious affiliation, apart from births, weddings and deaths.  Of recent there has been an accelerated move away from the institutional church.  Yet still the judgement of those in leadership in the Church of Ireland is that parishes will reject any attempt to reach out to those who are not coming into our church families.

Evangelising New Churches into Existence

So perhaps a little clarity around what we mean by church planting will help.  At this point I’m shamelessly borrowing from a seminar I attended just before the summer, where the speaker, Andrew Heard of Geneva Push, explained that what they want to see in their part of the world is thousands of churches evangelised into existence.  

That is it.  We may not be so bold to seek thousands of new churches.  In ICM we are only looking for 10 in the next 10 years, but the means of seeing these churches started and established is the important thing here.  In ICM we’d love to see new churches evangelised into existence too.

By saying it like this, hopefully our intentions are more clear.   Our intention is not to compete with any local parish.  There are plenty of people in any geographical parish who are not attending any church at all.  We certainly do not wish to cannibalise the existing ministries of such parishes.  We want to reach those who are not being reached.

Should we be able to evangelise new churches into existence, (and this is a very big ‘should’ for the task certainly feels impossible at the moment) then small parts of certain dioceses might be strengthened, corners of Ireland might be lit up with the gospel, little communities of sure and certain hope might bring rich eternal blessings to their neighbourhood.  Over time this might even lead certain parishes to celebrate more than just survival.  In the end, however, what we truly long for is not simply the growth of any parish, diocese or even the census figures of the Church of Ireland.  What we long for is to share in the joy of heaven as sinners are brought in repentance and faith to make much of Jesus and his cross.

Jesus said it so plainly.  ‘Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance’.  Luke 15:7.

David Martin